20 January 2013

The Bridegroom Gives Life to His Bride

The Holy Scriptures praise marriage highly, and it is highly to be praised.  For it is the culminating high point of the Lord’s good creation: Not simply a man in lonely isolation, but male and female, the Lord God made them in His Image; the woman taken from the man, then brought to the man, to be united with him in one flesh.

In this union of husband and wife — in heart and mind, body and soul — the Love of God is manifested: The unity of the Holy Triune God, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father, in the personal and permanent Bond of the Holy Spirit, each and all of whom is Love.  But, so also, that God has created you in love, in order to make you His own and unite you to Himself, that you should have life in Him and with Him, forever and ever, in heart and mind, body and soul.

So the very Word of God, the almighty and eternal Son, by whom the man and the woman, holy marriage, and all of creation has been made, has Himself become flesh, in order to become one flesh with you, and with His Holy Bride, the Church.  This is the purpose for which God created anything at all and everything that is.  This is the Marriage that every other marriage signifies, and which every other marriage is called to celebrate and participate in.

But there is a tension here: in holy marriage, even at its best in this world, as in the rest of God’s good creation.  There is not only the goodness of the creative Word, which has established it, but also the brokenness of the fall into sin and the curse of death.  It lies in wait even in the marriage rite itself: “Til death us do part.”  And you know, perhaps quite personally and painfully, that many different sins may break the bonds of marriage, even before death, in this fallen world.

Thus, it is all rather precarious, rather than permanent, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider all the ways the wine is spent.  There are those who have no wife or husband, who long to be married; and those who are married, who regret it and resent their spouses.  In all of this, there is the constant temptation of bitterness, cynicism, and despair, whereby God’s good gift of marriage is despised, and its high and holy purpose is denied.

On the other hand, there is also the risk of idolizing marriage and family, both in a general way, and in your own spouse and children, in particular: Whether you have them and make false gods of them, or you covet such people and relationships which God has not given to you.

This is the way of things in the midst of sin and death, namely, that you despise God’s good creation, because you perceive how fleeting and fading this fallen world is, or that you worship the creation instead of the Creator, as though the people and things and opportunities of this life on earth were the source of life and happiness forever.  Either way is sinful, and either way you miss the point; whether you are married or unmarried, whether you are rich or poor, and whether you drink freely of wine or only of water.

There is, however, another alternative, which is found only in Christ Jesus.  The One by whom and for whom all things are made is still an option, and He is the only option that actually does give life and remains forever.  He is no imaginary lover.  His Gospel is no hoax.  He has come in the flesh in order to be with you, to redeem you in body and soul, to pour out His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon your fallen flesh — through His forgiveness of all your sins — and so to raise you up from death and the grave to the life everlasting with His own God and Father in Paradise.

He draws near, beloved, to woo you to Himself in peace and joy; to wed you and make you His own wife.  Here we are speaking, not of human sexuality, nor of mortal marriage “until death,” but of divine intimacy, and of eternal fellowship with the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit.  Put away all perverse and provocative thoughts and the lusts of your flesh.  Purify yourself in Him, as He Himself is pure.  For Christ is all in all.

As you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus, by your Baptism into Him, so are you all together called to be His Holy Bride.  Before God, there is neither male nor female, but you are all one Body in Christ: one flesh and blood with Him.  It is rather in relation to your neighbor, to each other here on earth, that there are varieties of gifts, of stations, and of service.  But each and all of these, by one Spirit, take their cues from the one Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of His whole Body, the Church, and the heavenly Bridegroom of all His Christians.

He is the New Adam, who gives not death but life to all His children.  His Bride is the New Eve, whom He cares for and protects; so that she has life in Him, and so that she in turn gives birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He does not take from her, nor does He give, forbidden fruit, but He produces and pours out the most excellent Fruit of the Vine, which is the Spiritual Food and Drink of His own flesh and blood.  So does the Husband sustain His Wife, the Bridegroom give life to His Bride; for He delights in her forever, and He has named her His own.

You see that in Christ Jesus all things are made brand new.  From the inside-out, He brings about the New Creation in Himself, in His own holy Body.  He first of all becomes true Man, a child of Adam, Himself, because He is conceived and born of the Woman.  And then He reverses the fall into sin and the curse of death, by entering into their arena and taking them on.  He sets Himself against the serpent who beguiles, and He perseveres in the true wisdom of steadfast faith, in perfect obedience to His God and Father.  He is the promised Seed of the Woman, who crushes the serpent’s head by suffering the serpent to bruise Him: By the shedding of His Blood He atones for the sins of the world, and so it is that, by His death, He conquers death and defeats the devil.

His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  For He was born of the Woman, in order to be the New Man, from whom the New Woman is taken and brought to Him, and given to Him, by the Father.  He suffers and dies, voluntarily, in love, so that New Life might come forth out of death and the grave, out of the ground that was cursed by sin.

It is in His Holy Church, by His Ministry of the Gospel, that the New Creation of Christ Jesus is now realized, even here on earth in the midst of sin and death.  That is the Truth, and the Glory of God in Christ, which faith perceives and beholds in the preaching of His Word, and in His Holy Sacraments; despite all of the apparent contradictions in this fallen and dying world.

It would still seem that everything is simply running out, falling apart, turning sour, and returning to the dust, until even the dust shall disintegrate and be no more.  Yet, here is the Bridegroom, who has come; who speaks, and it is so; whose own flesh is the evidence and guarantee that your flesh also shall be raised from the dust of the earth, and shall be glorified in Him, and shall feast with Him in His Kingdom at the Wedding Banquet that is never exhausted and never ends.  Thus do you live, in your body of flesh and blood, within His Holy Church, and within your own place in life.

As the ministers of Christ deal with you by His divine command — as they preach His Word, as they absolve sinners in His stead, as they baptize in His Name, and as they serve His Supper — it is Christ Himself who is at work to fill you up, in body and soul, with His Spirit and His Life.

You also, then, do whatever He tells you to do, in whatever particular place He has stationed you.  Proceed according to His Word, in the confidence that He is at work to accomplish His purposes: for you, and in you, and through you for others, even though you may have no idea at any given point what He is doing or going to do.  The outcome is in His hands, as you, also, are in His hands.  Although you know not when or how He will act, His Gospel teaches you that He delights in you, and that He desires to give you His good gifts.  That, for now, is all you really need to know.

Do not be dissatisfied or discontent with what you have, or with your situation; and do not allow yourself to be eaten up with envy over what you do not have.  Instead, receive whatever you are given with thanksgiving to the Lord, and sanctify all of these things unto yourself by the Word of God and prayer, and put them to use in your life on earth to the glory of Christ’s Holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors in the world.  So shall others see His Glory and believe in Him.

If you are married, then be chaste and pure within your marriage: love and cherish your own spouse, and be faithful to her or him, until death.  And if you are unmarried, then be chaste and pure in your celibacy, and use your time and energies to serve the Church and the community in holy faith and Christian love.  None of you lives unto yourself alone, but each and all of you are called to live unto Christ Jesus, who is your Husband and your Head, both now and forever.

For do you not know that all of you who are baptized into Him, are married to Him as members of His Bride, the Church?  And that is not simply “until death,” but unto the life everlasting.

Pray, therefore, in the confidence of Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Look to Him for all that you need, for all good things, and learn to live by faith in His vows and promises to you.  Be persistent in your prayer; not presumptuous, as though you would dictate what He must do, but in the sure and certain hope that He is gracious, and that He will act in love to save you.  Neither impatient nor willful, but persistent in praying, “Thy Will be done,” and saying “Amen, amen, it shall be so,” with the voice of faith.  That is to live as the Bride of Christ, who always relies on her Bridegroom.

St. Mary sets a beautiful example for the Church, in this regard, in turning to her Son with the need at hand, and then in turning to the servants with the wise counsel to hear and heed His Word.  She is not dissuaded by His reply, which sounds like a rebuttal and rejection.  Nor does she presume upon Him.  She does not command, but she seeks His help, and she trusts that He will provide in due season.  His Hour has not yet come, but His great heart of Love, which takes Him to that Hour of the Cross, is ever the same, and is ever open to His people.  So His heart is open now to you.

Despite your failings and all that you lack, He rescues and redeems you in love; because He is your Bridegroom, and this is how the true Husband cares for His own dear Wife.  He does not hold your sins against you, nor does He even look at them, but He lays down His Life and gives Himself for you, in order to bear your burdens, to comfort you in all your griefs, to cover your shame with the glory of His righteousness, and to clothe your nakedness with the beauty of His holiness.

Where you have been prideful of yourself, and where you have made idols out of created things, repent of your sins.  Where you have despaired of any hope or help to be found in the Lord your God, and where you have despised the good gifts of His creation, repent of your sins.  Believe the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and find yourself, your vocation and life in His Body of flesh and blood.

From His riven side, from the Hour of His Cross, from His open heart of Love, He pours out the water and the blood, and His Holy Spirit generously upon you, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you real life forever with Himself, within His own Marriage and Family, which is the household and family of His own God and Father.

From the sacred waters of Holy Baptism to the blessed wine of the Holy Communion, He cleanses and purifies you, with His Spirit, by His Gospel of forgiveness, through His holy, precious Blood.  And by these same means of grace, He not only quenches your thirst, as with living water, but He also fills you up with genuine joy and gladness, even as He Himself is full of Grace and Truth.

For He brings you to His banquet hall, and His banner over you is love.  Here He fills you with good things, from the abundance of His House.  He takes you to Himself, to have and to hold, from this very Hour, unto the neverending New Day of the Resurrection.  He plights thee His troth, so that He and all His goods are now also your own; and neither He nor they shall be taken from you.

Beloved of the Lord, He is the Giver of the Feast, and He is the Feast Itself, in which you behold His Glory: The Glory of His Cross and Resurrection, and His Glory as your Bridegroom, from whom you shall never be parted; for He will never leave you nor forsake you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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