At first glance, the post-exilic renewal of covenant seems to be an unusual choice for the wedding lectionary. This passage is part of Jeremiah’s “book of consolation,” taking up the 30th and 31st chapters.
The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers: the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt.
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.
But Christians are adept at the creative interpretation of the Word of God, of seeking out aspects beyond the original meaning.
Marriage is certainly a covenant relationship, and the Church cautions couples to treat it with the utmost gravity. Yet this Lectionary choice implies also a break with the past, as the prophet originally counseled the chosen people. In marriage, God is offering a unique relationship, unlike any other previous commitment the woman or man have known.
Through Jeremiah, God urges the married couple to accept the interior commitment of the sacrament. The implication is also that this interiorization will make the qualities of the sacrament obvious to others.
When would I recommend this choice? When the couple has an awareness of the totality of change demanded of them by God. When they realize that marriage is not just an external expression of shared sex, children, bank accounts, or household chores. When they are prepared to be a sign for others in their families, religious communities, and in the secular world. When they are prepared to go deeper.
It’s one of the shorter choices in the Marriage Lectionary, but no less powerful than any of the others.