A covenant made to last forever

Nov 2008    

ONCE upon a time, there was this couple who at their every wedding anniversary would don their wedding clothes and have their picture taken in the living room of their house.

They planned to do this throughout their life together and to collect the photographs in a single album.

I imagine them on their 5th anniversary coming down to the living room for their annual picture. She is in her white gown, and he is wearing his three-piece suit and tie. They are waiting for their neighbour who has gone to get some extra flashcubes.

The first four years they hired a photographer but this has not been a good year for them financially. The economy is uncertain. The husband has lost his job. The wife is only able to get part-time employment and their second child is having medical problems.

Finally, their neighbour arrives. He positions them in the living room of their HDB flat and suggests they hold hands, the way they did when they said their vows. While their friend fi dgets with the focus, the wife notices the stuffing that is coming out of the sofa and wishes they had the money to redo it. The husband sees their daughter’s broken China doll and thinks of one he saw at TANGS but could not afford.

Flash! “That’s picture No. 1,” says their friend. While he steps back for another angle, the wife says to the husband, “Do you remember our vows? We memorised them.”

They think for a minute, then slowly repeat together, “I promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your faithful and loving wife/ husband for better for worse, for richer for poorer …”

Poorer. The word bursts like the fl ashcube on their friend’s camera and highlights the stack of bills and the calendar marked with doctor’s appointments. A look leaps between them. “We promised.”

The camera fl ashes again. “That will be a good one,” exclaims their friend. Next, I picture the couple 10 years later. Things are much better for them financially. The husband has a good job.

The wife has gone back to teaching. They A covenant made to last forever have upgraded their house. Each of the children has a mountain bike, cell phone and computer. But the husband and wife have thrown acid words at each other.

The second child, after all those trips to the doctor, is in trouble. Each partner has said to the other: “If you were not so preoccupied with your job and could give some time to the family, things would be different.”

On their 15th wedding anniversary, they come home and say they are too tired to get into the old wedding clothes. Then they remember that the photographer is coming in 20 minutes and will charge them for the visit no matter what. So they throw themselves into the musty clothes discovering that they have to suck in to get the zippers shut.

The doorbell rings. The photographer comes in and takes control. “Come on now. Hold hands. A smile for the camera.”

While the photographer clicks away, they get lost in the moment and begin to repeat the vow: “I do promise and covenant before God and all these witnesses to be your faithful and loving wife/husband for better for worse …”

“Worse” flashes as brightly as “poorer” did 10 years before, and again the look leaps between them: “We promised.”

Finally, I picture their 40th wedding anniversary. They do not know whether they will make it together to their 50th anniversary. He has a heart attack and a double by-pass surgery. Her hands are crooked with arthritis. She has had a fall and needs to have a hip replacement done. They take turns to be hospitalised and to take care of each other.

Their grand-daughter is upstairs bringing out the old clothes. The dress has yellowed and when the wife puts it on, she tears a seam. The husband cannot get the trousers zippered but if the picture is from the waist up and he buttons the coat, it will be all right. He takes his wife’s hands, her knuckles swollen and knobby, and out of their faltering bodies, arises in a whisper the sacred pledge: “I do promise and covenant before God and all these witnesses to be your faithful and loving wife/ husband for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness … until death … ’’

Words that had slipped easily out of their mouths on their wedding day are now heavy with meaning.

“I’ve got to download these pictures into my computer and e-mail them to our relatives,” says the grand-daughter.

But they are not listening. In looking into each other’s eyes, they see something more beautiful than the prized pictures in their anniversary album: the grace and the glory of a promise kept.

This is our prayer for all couples, that for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part … that you may know the grace and the glory of a promise kept.

May God, who has made an everlasting covenant with us, grant you the strength to keep your covenant for a lifetime.


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