15 October 2016

Awhile a Bridesmaid, Forever the Bride

The Kingdom of Heaven is not like this fallen and perishing world with its confused and perverted view of marriage and family, of sexuality and the body, and of human beings, male and female, created by God for life and for love in the Light of His Word.

But for those who are called and invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the Kingdom of Heaven is very much like the Marriage of the Man and the Woman according to God’s holy will, as Holy Scripture has revealed and as the holy Christian Church confesses even in this day and age.  Such sacred things are not subject to personal interpretation, nor even to the personal plans and purposes of loving couples.  They are taught by God, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

Holy Marriage is the crowning glory of God’s good creation, as well as the means by which He continues His good work of creation even in the midst of sin and death.  It is the partnership and union of body, heart, and mind by which He intends to guard and guide His creation, to care for it, and to cultivate this world in the fear and faith of His Word, to the glory of His holy Name, and in the eager expectation of the new heavens and new earth in which His righteousness will dwell.

But as profound as all of this gift of holy Marriage is, it does look beyond itself, and it points beyond itself, in anticipation of something far greater and far more permanent.  The virgins and the married alike rejoice and celebrate in the one Bridegroom who calls us, one and all, to follow Him into His Wedding Banquet.  For this great and solemn Mystery of husband and wife, the man and the woman, signifies Christ Jesus and His holy Bride, the Church.

By God’s design, holy Marriage confesses Christ in the world and points all people of all ages and stations in life to Him.  It is for this reason, in particular, that the Church on earth must defend and uphold the integrity and wisdom of holy Marriage in keeping with the Lord’s divine intentions.  Not that everyone must get married in this body and life on earth, but that one and all should be prepared to meet the Bridegroom who is near, to hear and heed His calling in holy faith and love.

For those who are married in this body and life, this “honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise” is the primary training ground in which a man and woman are conformed to the Image and Likeness of God in Christ by the way of His Cross and in His own bodily Resurrection from the dust of the earth to the life that is lived, both body and soul, in the Holy Spirit.

In general, the entire Christian life is to be one of true wisdom, which begins with and continues in the fear, love, and trust of the Lord.  You are called to live in faith toward God in Christ Jesus; and, in His Name and for His sake, you are called to live in love for your neighbor.  Such wisdom is characterized by prayer, praise, and thanksgiving at all times and in all places; by singing and making music to the glory of God and for the edification of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, too, within holy Marriage, husbands and wives are called by the Lord to live by faith in Christ Jesus, by His Word and Holy Spirit, and to live in love for Him, for each other, and for all their neighbors in the world, especially for their fellow Christians of the household and family of God.

For those who are married, including Nicholai and Hannah as of this afternoon, your marriage and your relationship to your spouse are your highest and holiest calling in this body and life on earth.  It is within this station, in particular, that you are called to live as a child of God in Christ, which is and remains your first and foremost vocation by virtue of your Holy Baptism.  Thus do you live as a husband or wife in the hope of the Resurrection and in the expectation of the final judgment.

Indeed, whether you are married or not — for the unmarried life is also a high and holy calling of the Lord your God — your entire life in both body and soul is to be lived in the anticipation of the coming Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in view of His righteous Judgment of the living and the dead.

It is the Marriage of the Lamb (to which all of you are called and invited) which puts the Parable of the Ten Virgins into perspective as a picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven shall be like.

It was, I believe, Hannah’s brilliant and modest proposal to use this Holy Gospel for the wedding, for which I must commend her.  It is brilliant, first of all, because everything in this Word of the Lord turns on the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  There is no more important point to bear in mind for marriage and for life.  Everything hinges and depends on the Lord Jesus Christ.

It was also a modest proposal, I should say, in view of what is missing from the Parable.  Did you notice?  The Bride is not mentioned, not even once.  It’s not as though she’s unimportant.  She is indeed the Lord’s own dearly beloved.  But her absence from the Parable is her now-and-not-yet presence by anticipation, and by the watching and waiting to which the Lord Jesus here calls you.

For this fact, too, belongs to the Mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, that many are called from all the nations of the earth to become disciples of Christ Jesus, the children of His God and Father, who are all together members of one Holy Bride, the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

He is indeed the Husband of one Wife.  But His Bride comprises a great host that none but God could number, whom He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies to be one Body in Christ Jesus: flesh of His Flesh and bone of His Bone.  The Father draws them from the open side of this new and better Adam, from the deep sleep of His death upon the Cross, in the water and the blood.  He recreates them in His Image, and He brings them all to His dear Son as one Woman to one Man.

It is for this one holy Marriage to Christ Jesus that all ten virgins have been created, baptized, and catechized by the Word of the Lord.  Which is to say that all of them, and each and all of you, are called to watch and to wait upon His coming as the Bridegroom.  Each and all of you, regardless of your age or station in life, are called to repent of your sins, to live by faith in the forgiveness of the Gospel, and to let your light so shine to the glory of His holy Name in all that you say and do.

As you are clothed and covered in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus by His Baptism and by His Word of Holy Absolution, so are you called to live righteously in Him by faith.  For it is in this way and by these means that you are well prepared and ready to welcome and receive Him, and to attend and accompany the Bridegroom into His Wedding Feast.

That is what your life in the body is to be about.  That is your duty and delight as a “bridesmaid” within whatever callings and stations the Lord has given you for this little while here on earth.

So, then, Nicholai and Hannah, you are guided and governed by the Word of the Lord; instructed, disciplined, encouraged, and strengthened in the life of faith and love that you are here called and given to live together, with and for each other, to the praise and glory of your Lord Jesus Christ.

There is indeed an irony in this, that in your calling to be husband and wife to each other, you are called to be and to live as bridesmaids — yes, even you, Nicholai — in the Wedding of the Lamb.

In much the same way, your unmarried friends and neighbors here with you today, whatever their role in your wedding, and all of your family and fellow Christians of various stations in life, are likewise called to be and to live as bridesmaids awaiting the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom.

If any of you are baptized in the Name of the Lord, if any of you are a Christian, then you have indeed been called to go out and meet the Bridegroom with lamp in hand.  It is your duty and responsibility, as a bridesmaid for a little while, to watch and to wait for the coming of the Lord.

To that end, each of you bears the lamp that God has provided, that is, your body and life in the flesh, your outward existence in the world.  And with that lamp, it is easy enough to dress the part and look the part, as you’re all decked out today.  But even dressed to the nines, whether a sharp dressed man or a beautiful girl, your own marriage or personal relationships may be in shambles.  You can wear the ballroom mask and party clothes, but what are your life and love really like?

If you are to be a fully functioning member of the Wedding Party, and not just a party crasher, it is by all means most necessary that your lamp be fueled and supplied with the appropriate Oil.  Otherwise, you will be utterly useless.  Sooner than later, you will burn yourself out and go dark.  You will be unprepared, caught off guard, and finally locked out of the Feast forever.

Now, being prepared, ready, and properly waiting for the Bridegroom to appear, is decidedly not a matter of “Do It Yourself Christianity.”  There’s actually no such thing as that, and it would not work in any case.  Relying on yourself, on your works and efforts, and on your good intentions to be worthy of your coming Lord, is still a case of bearing a lamp without any oil to burn in it.

Neither is it possible for you to light your lamp and keep it burning with the oil that your neighbor has obtained for his own body and life in the world.  For you are called to meet the Bridegroom, yourself, and you are accountable to Him for your own life in the body.  So it is that, even now, and every day, you are called to repentance, faith, and life in the Lord’s forgiveness of your sins.

And so it is that you are rightly and wisely sent to the dealers of the Gospel, to the Ministers of the Word of Christ, to the Life of the Church in the Liturgy of preaching and the Holy Sacraments.  Only do not wait until it is too late.  Do not wait for the night to come, when it will no longer be possible for anyone to work.  But seek the blessed Oil of the Lord where it may be found, and keep on going back to that place of grace, mercy, and peace while it is still the great Day of Salvation.

In much the same way that holy Marriage on earth is to be an icon, a confession, and a sacred sign of Christ and His Bride, the Church, so is the liturgical Life of His Church on earth a foretaste of — and a real participation in — the neverending Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom.  Watch and wait upon the Lord in faith, hope, and love, as He waits upon you at His Supper Table here in time, on earth even now as it is and ever shall be in heaven forever.

To receive and participate in the Liturgy of His Word and Sacrament is your training and practice, your wedding rehearsal, for the coming of the Bridegroom and the consummation of all things in the glorious revealing of His crucified and risen Body.  The Life of His Church on earth is not play acting or pretend.  It is the catechesis and confession of Christ and His Word, the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink with thanksgiving.

Not only does the Liturgy teach you how to live; it gives the Life of Christ into your body and your soul, into your heart, mind, and spirit.  Your lamp is filled and sustained by the Oil of His Word and Spirit, by His forgiveness of your sins, by His Life-giving Gospel and His love-abiding Law.

Thus does Christ prepare you by His coming in grace for His coming in glory.  He teaches you and trains you — both by His example and by serving you in peace and love — so that you learn to live and to love as wise and faithful bridesmaids within your own vocations and stations in life.  So that you, Nick, learn how to be a husband to Hannah, as Christ Jesus cares for His Bride, the Church; and you, Hannah, learn to love and serve Nicholai as his wife, as the Church for her Lord Jesus.

And yet, as glorious as this gift of His divine grace truly is, and as profound the Mystery of holy Marriage, ever so much more so is the grace and Mystery of His coming as the Bridegroom of His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church in heaven and on earth.

For so does He come to you in His Holy Supper, week by week, throughout the years of your life in His Church on earth.  And so shall it be in His glorious appearing at the close of the age, when His beloved bridesmaids from all the nations, tribes, tongues, and stations of this life — all who are made wise by His Word and Holy Spirit, who are kept faithful by His forgiveness of their sins — shall enter with Him into the Wedding Feast, no longer as bridesmaids, but forever the Bride, made ready by and for her Husband, beautiful in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

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

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