When my son Will and his fiancé Jessica asked me to officiate at their wedding I told them I’d be glad to but that they’d better be prepared for me to cry like a little girl.
I wasn’t joking. I’m not much of a crier (except when the Georgia Bulldogs lose), but when my kids get married, all bets are off. Will—and his sister Katie three years ago at her own wedding—knew what to expect.
As the ceremony unfolded two weeks ago, though, I handled things pretty well. The processional went smoothly as the bridesmaids took their places around the front of the church. Katie was among them, and when she walked past me she gave me a knowing look: “Hang in there, Dad.”
Then it was the guys’ turn, and Will and his posse joined the women. Most of his friends are in the military with him, and they came from all over—Texas, Alaska, Alabama, New York. All in their dress blues. When everything was set we began the service.
Will and Jessica are people of deep faith, so the Scriptures I read weren’t just window dressing for a church wedding. They instead circumscribed the kind of marriage the two of them are committed to building. When I read Ephesians 5—with the challenge for husbands and wives to “Submit to one another in the fear of Christ”—the two of them took it seriously. When the words of 1 Corinthians 13 were spoken over them—“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”—they determined to live out that kind of love in their marriage.
The wedding ceremony I love best is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Those Anglicans (Episcopalians here in the United States) know how to put Christian services into just the right language. So Will and Jessica said the age-old vows and we got through the ceremony without a hitch.
Until the end. At the closing prayer the ceremony almost came to a screeching halt as I asked the congregation to bow their heads. I couldn’t help but to notice again the young men in the wedding party. They were Will’s closest friends, guys who’d stood beside each other through four years of West Point. They went through the academics, the military training. They played rugby together. Tough young men who’ve been through things I can’t imagine. Friends for life. In fact, two who should have been there couldn’t make it because they’re in Afghanistan. The rest of them in the wedding—Will included—will shortly join them.
Those thoughts crowded my brain as I prayed, and I couldn’t help but to take a detour and ask the Lord to protect Will and his friends as they go into harm’s way. Then I had an idea that I almost followed through on. I thought about stopping the wedding in in its tracks, calling them all to the altar and anointing them with oil for a special measure of divine guidance.
I didn’t—not that Will and Jessica would have minded. In fact, they probably would have welcomed that sort of unscripted moment. After I choked up for a few moments, I concluded the prayer, the wedding got back on track and we finished in fine fashion. I pronounced the two of them husband and wife. Told Will to kiss his bride. Introduced the couple to the congregation. Then we all went to the reception and partied. The traditional sword arch concluded the day. It was perfect.
All weddings are joyous occasions. Our daughter also married a military guy—a Navy aviator (yes, the inter-service rivalry at our house gets pretty fierce)—and their wedding was as blessed as Will’s. Still, there’s an edge to both of them, a knowledge that these young couples, like young couples and families of faith throughout our nation, live in the shadow of war and danger.
But they live also in the shadow of the cross–and that makes all the difference. I’m grateful for these brave young men and women. Not just for their service to the nation but also for their commitment to Jesus and their example of faithful living.