In the opening words of the liturgy for Holy Matrimony, the couple presenting themselves to be married, are each asked to declare their commitment to love one another in these reciprocal words, “will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together out of reverence for Christ in the covenant of Holy Matrimony? Will you love her, honor her, comfort and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?” The man answers, “I will.”
The congregation is then asked, “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold this man and this woman in their marriage?” and the people reply, “We will.”
As Fr. Alex Shuttleworth reminded us in an earlier posting regarding the declaration of consent, Christian Marriage is not a private arrangement but a public commitment entered into with public promises. And we, the congregation, make a public response when we say, “We will.” For me, those two words, “We will” beg two one-word follow up questions – “Really?” and “How?”
At a time when so many marriages fail and when so many children and adults are hurt by divorce, we who are married (or remarried) need all the help we can get. At our wedding last year, Andrea and I found the “we will” promise of our family, friends and colleagues present to be super important and very reassuring. We believe they meant those words. We’re counting on it.
But how can we “do all in our power to uphold this man and this woman in their marriage”?
Let me suggest three ways:
We can pray for those married couples who are close to us – regularly, intentionally, and faithfully.
We can be available to our married friends (individually or as a couple) to listen, walk alongside, support, encourage, help, ask tough questions, laugh and cry together, and be present.
We can speak the truth in love by challenging our married friends when we see that their words or actions might suggest that all is not well in their marriage. Of course, to do that implies a level of trust, vulnerability, and permission to speak the truth in love. It’s a two-way street. We who are married need to have people in our lives (be they single or married) who love us enough and with whom we’ve entrusted permission to speak the truth in love to us. And we need to be willing to be such friends, such brothers and sisters in Christ, for others.
Finally, think of a married couple whom you know and love, and let me ask you, in the words of our Anglican liturgy, “Will you do all in your power to uphold this man and this woman in their marriage?” – How will you respond?
About the Author: The Rev. Canon Jonathan Millard is Rector at Church of the Ascension and Canon for Clergy Care & Clergy Families. He serves on the Diocese's senior staff. Canon Jonathan's official bio can be found on the Church of the Ascension website.