Will Willimon observes, in Accidental Preacher, that the promises of marriage are future intent, not present activity. They presuppose challenges to faithfulness will come, and that promise will be needed to undergird service when circumstances would otherwise deter us.
There’s no such thing as instant friends, which is why the Service of Marriage is in future tense. It’s not “John, do you (or have you previously found the opportunity to) love Susan?” It’s “Will you love …?” Promises propel into the future, putting one at the mercy of the vicissitudes of another’s life with little backup but a promise. Love as the fruit of marriage rather than (as most couples suppose) the cause is church wonderfully weird.
The church makes couples promise to stay married “until death do us part.” Strange to bring up death when most couples I marry look like they’re in pretty good shape. Death intrudes into the service of marriage because the promises of marriage are one way of dealing with our temporality, clinch-fistedly saying to the future, “Take form me what you will, by God I’ll still be faithful to this person.” When we promise to love the unfathomable mystery that is another “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” we creatively deal with our radical contingency, promising constancy even amid the ravages of time.
Will Willimon, Accidental Preacher, Eerdmans, 2019, pgs 196, 197.