I bet most of you are familiar with that old tradition at a Passover meal in which a young person asks the question, “How is this night different from all other nights?” It’s a good question because it immediately calls everyone at the table to notice what is special, what is unique, what will never be exactly the way it is (right now) again.
If someone were to ask you how is this wedding service different from all other wedding services—you could make a list of the ways. First off, it’s here, now, with all of us, and chances are most unlikely that this exact combination of people will ever be in the same room again. Some people would point to the fact that the two getting married are not a woman in a white dress and a man in a black tuxedo, like the do-dads on the tops of wedding cakes most of us have grown up seeing. And then there’s the really OBVIOUS thing of someone from Iowa marrying someone from Pennsylvania. These things make today slightly different from other wedding services, but what’s REALLY different is the form of the service—in “church talk” we call this the “liturgy,” from the Greek word meaning, the shape that the public service takes. [A larger explanation of the liturgy and other resources can be found at Church Publishing.]
The most traditional Christian marriage services still view the woman as a possession to be given from one man (her father) to another man (her husband.).
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer was the basis for most marriage services in English-speaking countries and while the man asked, “Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife,… wilt though love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her …,” the woman was asked, “Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband… Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him….”
The 1928 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church dropped “obey” from the woman’s words, but kept the question, as though about to transact a property deal, “Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?”
As the church has continually been open to the Holy Spirit, the church has noticed that the love between two people of the same gender has the possibility for all that one looks for or hopes for in sacramental marriage: the two are called into a holy vocation with one another. The two create a household of mutuality, accountability, and fidelity. The couple’s love bears fruit in the wider community through lives of service, generosity, and hospitality. And finally, as couples are blessed, the church derives a blessing, as well. Love simply overflows.
And so, happily, the Church (and in our case, the Episcopal Church) has done a lot of praying, a lot of talking, and finally, some writing. That’s how we have the service that we use today.
The prayers and promises that Nancy and Linda make today follow less the old pattern of property transfer, but instead, call upon the language and symbolism of Holy Baptism.
Baptism is the way in which we (or a parent on our behalf) say an initial “Yes,” to God’s invitation of love and life. Baptism initiates us into a covenant relationship with God.
Just as baptism isn’t magic (it doesn’t prevent the person baptized from ever doing anything wrong), so the covenant of marriage doesn’t transform Nancy and Linda suddenly into perfect people. But just as baptism names, proclaims, and seals the love of God for each of us… the marriage covenant creates a public naming, a seal, and a bond that protects even as it promises.
Later in this service, just before the final blessing over Linda and Nancy, I will invite them to receive God’s blessing. The invitation suggests that the blessing come along with and because they have been illumined by the Word of God, and strengthened by the prayer of this community. Those two things make this day very special indeed, but like baptism, they’re just the beginning.
Nancy and Linda, I urge you to continue to be illumined by the Word of God. And I also encourage you to continue to rely upon the prayers of this community—your friends and family, but also the faith community of this church and others like it, and the community of all who would wish you well and offer you encouragement and strength.
Thank you for making this day different from all others—with your commitment, your faith, and your love.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.