06 July 2013

This Great Mystery Is of Christ

Lots of questions in the air and on the news these days, concerning marriage, what it is, what it means, and what it’s for.  So, what is it all about?  What is the reason for which God gives this woman to this man?  For, make no mistake, it is the Lord who has created Anna and brought her to this point, who now gives her to Ben.  But, why, and what for?  Why does this son now become a husband?  For what reason and what purpose does this daughter become a wife?

If you polled the room, and if you got the honest answers from each person’s own heart and mind, you’d span the entire gamut with a tangled mess of mixed feelings, conflicted emotions, and competing opinions.  Everything from fairy tale romance and schmalzy nostalgia, to bitterness, resentment, and cynical despair.  As they say, “it’s complicated,” and all so confusing.

Except that none of that chaos defines or determines what marriage really is.  You need a better GPS than that to know where you’re going and how to get there.  And I don’t just mean for these two young people who are getting married, but for each and all of you, whether you are already married, were married, want to get married, or would live a chaste and celibate life, unmarried.

It is not good for the man to be alone; but God is good, and He is with you with His grace and goodness in whatever place He has called you to be.  Not least of all in this good gift of marriage, of the woman for the man, the man for his wife: So, too, with Anna for Ben, and Ben for Anna.

Marriage is not merely a legal formality, nor simply a human custom and tradition.  It is not a man-made thing.  The rites and ceremonies of holy matrimony are, in fact, the Word and work of God, which actually make this man and woman to be, henceforth, husband and wife.  Here the Lord Himself joins them together as one, and sanctifies them, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

He does this in His love, and for their good, for their mutual joy and blessing, to the glory of His holy Name.  The marriage rite has already declared, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, the several purposes of this blessed estate, which collectively belong to the Image and Likeness of God in the union of the man and his wife: To be comrades, first of all, that is, partners in life, friends together on a common road.  And then, in that companionship, not only to be alongside each other on the same journey, but also to be face to face and heart to heart, united in the intimacy of spirit, soul, and body, to find comfort, compassion, and passion uniquely in one another.  Out of which, as the Lord so wills and graciously provides, their love for each other bears fruit after its own kind and is multiplied in the bearing of children, and in caring for them as the dear Lord cares for us all.

Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it?  And, truly, it is.  But we are not naive, nor ignorant of the hurts and fears, the burdens, challenges, and difficulties of marriage in this fallen world.  This ain’t no Disney princess movie, Cinderella!  Adam & Eve didn’t go riding off into the sunset, but were driven out of Paradise on account of their sin.  The curse lay heavy upon them, and upon their children’s children to the present generation.  The marriage rite, therefore, realistically expresses, not only the godly purposes of marriage, but also its inevitable termination: “Til death parts us,” that is the limit of what you can promise to each other.  Ben, you and your family have already known that, painfully.  Fathers and mothers do not always live to see their children get married and have families of their own.  To paraphrase the Prophet:  The food spoils, and the wine runs out.

Even before death comes, mortal life in this perishing world is always dying; and that means more than sickness and infirmity.  Even the best of human efforts will still fail, fall short, and fall apart.  Some marriages do not end with death, but in divorce.  Other marriages persist, but are unhappy.  You already know this, I’m sure.  It’s no surprise, really, that so many are so jaded about marriage.

No, we’re not naive, nor ignorant.  But, of course, you know that I’m not saying all of this out loud to discourage you or put a damper on this day.  On the contrary, we stand here today, before God and the whole world, to rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of marriage, and to face down sin, death, the devil, and hell with the Word and promises of the Lord.  For while it is true that all the sons and daughters of Adam die, it is also true that Christ has died, and He has risen from the dead.

So, then, approach and address the hardships that you’ll face, and every aspect of your marriage, with all its ups and downs and highs and lows, with all its joys and sorrows, with the Word of the Gospel of Christ, and by faith in that Holy Gospel.  That means listening, to start with, to His Word and the preaching of it; and, then, as you have heard, so also speak and sing, pray and confess the Word of Christ, to and for and with each other.  And, whatever He says to you, do it.

Ben, love Anna, even when she’s not so lovely and loveable as she is today.  Make her beautiful with your loving devotion to her, and with your faithful delight in her.  Forgive her sins, overlook her faults, and bear with her in love, as you bear her burdens in patience and peace.  Set aside your own desires, in order to comfort and take care of her.  When Satan would beguile her with his sly temptations and his brutal accusations, take up the Sword of the Spirit to defend and protect her.  Do not stand by silently while she is slain, but breathe Life into her by the Word of the Gospel.

Anna, entrust yourself to Ben, and learn to follow his lead and rely upon him.  I don’t mean that you should not think for yourself or speak your own mind, but let Ben be your husband and your head, as Christ is the Head of His Church.  When the devil would show you his weaknesses, his faults and failings, remember that Ben is clothed and covered with the majesty of Christ’s Word.  He is the one man to whom the Lord Himself now gives you, to protect you and provide for you.

No Christian would deny that Christ, the Son of God, has become true Man, and that He has died for us, to forgive our sins, and has risen again for our justification.  You know and believe, and you confess, that He is your Savior, who saves you by His grace alone, through faith in His Gospel.

But the question is, what does any of that have to do with your marriage?  How does it help?  What is there between the two of you and Christ Jesus?  I mean, aside from the fact that both of you are Christians, baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ: That’s already been the case for many years now, but what difference is that going to make in your life together as husband and wife?  What does your marriage and its daily wants and needs have to do with Him?

It is a great Mystery, as St. Paul has said, but from the beginning — from before the foundation of the world; from before either one of you were even a twinkle in your Daddy’s eyes or a baby in your Mother’s womb — it has been about Christ and His Bride, the Church.  Not only marriage in general, but your marriage, in particular, as it begins today, and as you move forward in faith.

Christ is not simply a guest, with His disciples, at this wedding, but at the heart of the matter, He is the Bridegroom.  It if for His sake that each and every one of you are here; not only that you are in attendance, but that you exist and are alive to this day.  It is for the sake of Christ that Anna and Ben have been created, and for His sake that they are bound together as one flesh by His Word.

Behind the father of the bride stands the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who brings the Woman to the Man and gives her to him.  Behind the Groom stands Christ Jesus Himself.  And behind Anna stands the Holy Christian Church.  That is the reality at work behind the scenes.  Not as a metaphor or a mere analogy.  It’s not that Christ and His Church are like a husband and wife, but that marriage has been made by God to be like Him, to live and to abide by faith in His Love.

Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary in time, is the Image and Likeness of God in Man.  In His own Person, forevermore, is the perfect Union — the perfect “Wedding,” if you will — of the one true God and true Man: without any confusion, but also without any division or separation.  And so it is in Him that the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth is called and gathered together, and united or “married” to God, by the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel.

This Lord Jesus Christ, this Bridegroom from heaven, has come to you in His Incarnation, that is, in His becoming flesh, and in His Resurrection from the dead, and in His Ministry of the Gospel.  He seeks you out and calls you to Himself; He woos you, as the perfect Lover that He is, by His Word and Spirit of forgiveness.  In His great Love, He delights in you.  He joins you to Himself, and He to you, in body and soul: In your Holy Baptism, He has grafted you into Himself, into His riven side, from which the blood and water of His Passion have been poured out for you; and in the Holy Communion, the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end, He feeds you with Himself, putting His own Body and His Blood into your mortal body, to raise you up by the power of His Resurrection, and to abide in you with His own indestructible Life.  As He thus gives you Himself and His Life, He is fruitful in you, and He brings forth good fruits of life and love for others.  For the Tree of His Cross surely bears such fruits after its own kind.

This is what the Lord Jesus does for His whole Church, and for each and all of her members; and this is what He does for you, dear Anna and Ben, within the Communion of His Church on earth.  Do not doubt that, by these ways and means of His grace, within the sacred fellowship of His own Holy Bride, He bestows these very gifts and benefits upon your marriage in His Name.

“Take time to learn your marriage benefits.”  That’s what the front page of the business section of today’s South Bend Tribune advises.  The paper is talking about money, but I’m talking about a richer and more lasting treasure than that.  The goodness and benefits of your marriage, above all else, are those of the Gospel.  Which means that your marriage points beyond itself to that which is divine and eternal; to that which is freely given to all who are wed to Christ Jesus by His Word and faith: to your family and friends who are not married, and who may never be; to those whose marriages are difficult and disappointing; and to those whose marriages have ended altogether.

“The food spoils, and the wine runs out.”  But Christ and His Word of the Gospel abide forever, and He gives life, even in the midst of sin and death, under the weight and promise of His Cross.

Your “happily-ever-after” isn’t in your marriage to each other, but in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, for whom the Father has fashioned you, and to whom He has brought you and given you by His gracious Word and Holy Spirit.  That is the very thing which gives joy and gladness, and grace and every blessing to your marriage, “happily-right-now,” and even til death parts you from this life.

This Gospel of Christ Jesus is the confidence in which you begin your life together, and in which you live in the New Creation: “Naked and not ashamed,” with each other, like the first man Adam and his wife Eve, and like the New Man with His Bride.  Not only on your honeymoon and in your marriage bed, which is to be kept undefiled; but in bearing each other’s burdens and sharing each other’s weaknesses; in the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy of life together; in the cut and thrust, and bump and grind, of life under the Cross; in bearing the Cross for each other in faith.

Live together in mutual repentance and forgiveness; for Christ is with you, with His Love and His forgiveness of all your sins.  He is with you in your vocations for each other as husband and wife, to strengthen and support you in your callings, to sanctify and save you by the grace of His Gospel.

Take heart, and do not be afraid of anything.  Your heavenly Bridegroom is faithful, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He has joined the two of you to Him, as members of His Body and His Bride, and so He cleaves to you forever; He shall not allow your sin, nor Satan, nor even death, to separate you from Him.  He has pledged Himself to you, and has vowed to have you and to hold you as His own; He has sworn an oath by His own honor, and His Word cannot be broken.

That is what He does for His whole Church, and in the two of you today we see that pictured in a wonderful way.  Today, Ben, you and Anna are the icons set before us: of Christ and His Church.  We love you both, but you do us the service of pointing beyond yourselves to Him who loves us.  As beautiful as Anna here appears, so much more beautifully does Christ adorn the two of you, and all of us, with the brilliant and stunning white wedding gown of His own perfect righteousness.

Not only that, but His good wine is not restricted or reserved to this happy day of celebration; it is no less poured out for you in the crosses you will bear together in days ahead.  From His side you have been taken, and to His own side you are returned, even as the two of you now make that journey side-by-side together.  For He who is your Savior, by His Word, turns “ordinary water,” and, yes, even the bitters waters of affliction, into the sweetest of wine; not for drunkenness and debauchery, but for joy and gladness and delight through all your days, unto the life everlasting.

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


Rev. Robert Franck said...

That was SUCH a great sermon and SUCH a great service. It was great to sing BOTH Nicolai chorale tunes, and Gerhard's marriage hymn was excellent, of course. Great to sing that at a wedding--I've never experienced that before.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your kind words, Brother Franck. I'm so pleased that you and your family were able to be here for the wedding, and it was a joy to welcome you all to Church at Emmaus on the Lord's Day, as well.

God bless you and yours with His rich grace and manifold kindness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.