Two rings for a kingdom and a long, happy marriage

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 24, 2009 

Warren and Mary Anna Harbeck on their wedding day 46 years ago.

Friends and family seated in the little white church in the vale wiped their brows more than their eyes on that 100°F day 46 years ago when Mary Anna walked down the isle to join hands and heart with me as we said our vows and became husband and wife.

It was June 29, 1963. The place was Black Creek, N.Y., a tiny rural community an hour or so south of Buffalo and about half-way between the village where she was raised and the city where I was raised. Except for the wedding, neither of us had ever before been in this church. We chose it because of its accessibility for the guests. But we had travelled by it many times on our trips between the college where we’d met and her grandparents’ home in the oak- and maple-covered rolling foothills so full of childhood memories for both of us.

Though we had been going together for a couple of years, I think our feelings that day are summed up rather well in lines from the duet between Tevye and Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof” as each sought confirmation of the other’s love: (Tevye) “I was scared.” (Golde) “I was shy.” (Tevye) “I was nervous.” (Golde) “So was I.”

And, Mary Anna adds, “I was itchy.” Just days before the wedding, she had developed a rash. Her doctor suggested it was probably just nerves. He didn’t have the heart to tell her she’d come down with measles! I don’t think our guests caught anything from her, however – it was past the contagious stage.

Claude Ries, Mary Anna’s and my beloved biblical Greek professor at Houghton College, tied the knot. The ever-smiling white-haired gentleman had a godliness about him that added a certain sacredness to the ceremony, especially when it came to the giving of the rings engraved with words that we hoped would guide us through a long, happy marriage.

On the inside of each of our matching wedding bands is this simple inscription: “Matt. 6:33.”

It is a reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically that part from the Gospel of Matthew that reads: “Seek first the kingdom of God. . . .”

Jesus was teaching about getting life’s priorities straight. Life was much more than food, clothing, housing, and wealth. He called His audience – and on this occasion, Mary Anna and me, in particular – to see the bigger picture, a picture of truly abundant life made possible, not by fretting and acquiring, but by resting in the assurance that we, God’s sheep, could depend on Him, the Good Shepherd. In our marriage vows we were saying “I do” not only to each other, but to God whose sheepfold and ways were to prove far more wonderful than anything we could have ever imagined.

As we knelt, Mary Anna’s Uncle Basil and Aunt Hazel sang Dorothy Thrupp’s prayerful hymn, “Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us.” The first two verses go:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare;
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Thou has bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine; do Thou befriend us,
Be the Guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray;
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

With a kiss and an introduction, thus ended the wedding and began our marriage. We are still striving day by day to understand better what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God” – to be led by the Great Shepherd – and with the help and example of our coffee companions, I believe we are gaining some insight.

Thank you, readers, for your important part in our journey.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page