12 July 2007

Pastoral Care of the Bride and Groom

One of the most important aspects of a Lutheran wedding is the pastoral care of the bride and groom. Without it, none of the other considerations will matter much. I've previously mentioned some aspects of this care, in connection with determining the liturgical context of the marriage rite, and in particular with reference to pastoral oversight of the Holy Communion (in the case of a nuptial mass). But pastoral care begins long before the wedding, and necessarily continues throughout the married life of the bride and groom. In most cases, it is not likely to be the same pastor who will care for the couple throughout their life together, but it is the same pastoral office by which Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, cares for all Christian husbands and wives (and for all who are members of His Bride, the Church).

I have described the way in which the reading and proclamation of the Holy Scriptures provides an ideal preparation for the rite of holy matrimony, whether in the context of a daily prayer office or in the order of the Divine Service. Also in response to a helpful comment on that point, I reiterated that the preaching of the Word leads the couple (and the congregation) to the divine work and gift of marriage, wherein the Lord God joins the man and the woman together as one. This is a particular case of the regular catechesis that always occurs in the service of the Word, which is always a primary means of returning the entire congregation to the significance of Holy Baptism through contrition, repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins. Accordingly, this proclamation of the Word is also the central and primary means of pastoral care. Such preaching in connection with a Lutheran wedding, however, is by no means the beginning of pastoral care of the bride and groom! It is a public confession of that which has been undertaken over the course of many months in preparation for the wedding. Ideally, that premarital pastoral care builds upon a lifetime of ongoing catechesis in the means of grace, in the weekly Divine Service, in daily prayer (at home and in the congregation), in Confession & Absolution.

A Lutheran pastor is not a psychologist or counselor (leastwise not by virtue of his pastoral office). The ways and means by which he cares for the Bride of Christ are the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith. He is chiefly concerned with the forgiveness of sins in the name and stead of Christ Jesus, who gave Himself up for His Bride in holy love. The pastor is therefore intent upon speaking that forgiveness of Jesus to the bride and groom, that they might live in Him, and He in them, by grace through faith in this precious Gospel of His.

The Law of God speaks to the stations of husband and wife, commanding what is good and right, forbidding what is evil, and thereby curbing the lusts of the flesh and guiding the man and woman of faith. The same Law always accuses, exposing the sins of the heart, mind and body, and thereby begins (again and again each day) the divine work of repentance. The Gospel alone completes the divine work of repentance by forgiving all sins, on account of Christ Jesus, who with His holy and precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, redeemed the world from sin, death, the devil and hell, and reconciled us all to God the Father in Himself. It is this Love of God in Christ that freely and fully saves husbands and wives from their sin, and in doing so catechizes each of them to love and serve the other, chiefly through and with the mutual forgiveness of their sins against each other. This is the pastoral care that a bride and groom need above all else, not only before and during their wedding, but throughout their married life.

The man and woman who have stood before God and His Church to pledge their faithfulness to one another, and who have willingly consented to enter the holy estate of matrimony, dare not suppose that they will keep the faith, fulfill their vows, or live the good life apart from the grace of God. It is true that, solely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, He does provide the daily bread of marriage, the good gift of husband or wife, also among the wicked throughout the world. Yet, the good works of faith and love are not possible apart from the Gospel. And the full significance of marriage as a living and embodied icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is not possible apart from the means of grace, the Ministry of the Gospel, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. Sure, the institution of marriage remains a divine and holy estate, even in the case of pagan spouses. But it is only through faith in the Gospel, which is to say, specifically, the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, that anyone is sanctified within his or her station as husband or wife and therein lives before God in righteousness, innocence and blessedness. It is not a life of perfection, to be sure, but a life of faith in the perfect forgiveness of the One who gave Himself up for His Bride, in order to cleanse her by the washing of water with the Word, and receive her unto Himself all glorious.

It is that radiant beauty of the Bride made ready for her heavenly Husband with which genuine pastoral care adorns both bride and groom through the forgiveness of sins. In a very real sense, a pastor is preparing each and every boy and girl for holy matrimony from the moment he first speaks the Gospel to them, from the baptismal font to Bible stories and the Catechism, to the confessional, to the Holy Communion. He will speak both the Law and the Gospel in every case, of course, and he will get downright specific about the bump and grind of married life when he catechizes the engaged couple in deliberate anticipation of their wedding. But it is the Gospel that predominates and has the last Word, which is finally Christ Jesus Himself, the Word-made-Flesh, crucified and risen. He is the Word that continues to sound forth in the pastoral care of the bride and groom for as long as they both shall live, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Grant this, Lord, unto us all.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Sorry to make an off-topic comment, but I wrote something about you on my homeschooling blog. :)