16 September 2017

Like Those Awaiting the Marriage Feast of the Lamb

Have no fear, little flock, not even in these grey and latter days, though there be countless attacks against the Word of the Lord and His good gift of holy matrimony.  For He is faithful nonetheless.  He is the One who builds the house, not in vain, but in peace; and He gives to His beloved sleep.

But, yes, it is true that, in the world, seemingly everywhere you look theses days, the sanctity of marriage is assaulted in both attitudes and actions.  The mainstream media for young and old sets forth a daily barrage of confusion, perversity, and lawlessness in regards to what it even means to be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, while the good order of God’s creation is routinely denied.

There are all manner of selfish separations of marriage, sex, and childbearing, whereby loins are not girded for good works of love but loosed in pursuit of lustful passions.  Fornication, including cohabitation, is now regarded as an acceptable norm.  Adultery, too, including its most common form, divorce, is practically taken for granted.  It is no wonder that marriage itself is no longer held sacred as the lifelong union of one man and one woman in heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Such prevailing depravity denies and contradicts, not only the Law of God, which is good and wise and true, but also the Gospel of Christ Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the Law and the one true Bridegroom to whom the Church is given.  He is the One who is rejected when marriage is denied.  But so is He also the One we are called to confess in the faithfulness and love of holy marriage.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect Man, the Image of God in whom Adam was created from the dust of the ground, and for whom the Woman is brought forth from His riven side, brought to Him and given to Him in love.

This is the picture we are given today in Daniel and Elle, and which they and all husbands and wives are called to portray in their life together: Within their home and family, and in the world, in whatever portion of His Garden the Lord entrusts to their stewardship.

It is also there that Christians, in particular, are tempted to a very different misunderstanding and abuse of marriage and family than that which is posed by the world with its idolatrous lusts and faithless passions.  For it is with holy marriage as it is so often the case with God’s good creation, that you are tempted on the one hand to demonize it, and on the other hand to idolize it.  Instead of receiving it from the Lord’s hand in faith and with thanksgiving, and sanctifying it by His Word and prayer, you either despise it with the world, or you worship it as though it were your god.

But do not run down either of those dead end roads.  Unless the Lord builds the House — as the Wise Man, Jesus, builds His Church — their labor is in vain who build it.  Which is to say that you are called to approach your marriage, home, and family in accordance with the Word of the Lord.

Your marriage is a fundamental stewardship of the Lord’s things.  For those who are married, in fact, it is the primary place within which you serve the Lord by caring for and cultivating His good creation, His Garden, His household and family, to the praise and glory of His Name.

The goal is not to establish a little kingdom of your own, to make a name for yourself, to build a tower to the stars, or to find and preserve your own life within your own home and family.  And though your spouse — and, in time, your children — do take priority over your other neighbors in the world, as per the Lord’s Word (the 4th and 6th Commandments), your marriage and family do not take precedence or priority over the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness in Christ.

Your first and foremost vocation, as a Christian, is to be and to live as a child of God in Christ Jesus, as a member of His Bride, His household and family, His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  First of all in your receiving of His gifts.  Then also in your giving and serving.

Your marriage and family on earth are temporary — they are only until death parts you — but they point beyond themselves to the Marriage of the Lamb and the Family of God, which are forever.

As Jesus says, therefore, do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, but invest yourself, your body and life, your marriage and family, in the Kingdom of your God and Father in heaven.  Live with constant vigilance and in eager expectation of the Marriage of the Lamb.  Hunger and thirst, not for the food that perishes, but for the Wedding Banquet of Christ and His Bride, the Church.

This is a matter of both the Law and the Gospel, of faith and love in the Lord Jesus Christ.  For it begins and continues with repentance in the fear of the Lord: That you acknowledge and confess your idolatry and unbelief.  That you turn away from your false gods and your sins, and turn toward the Lord and His Word.  That you cease from your evil deeds; and that you not resort to laziness, complacency, or negligence, but that you actively do good and serve your neighbors in love within your own proper office and stations in life.

Not that you must save yourself, justify yourself, atone for your sins, or make a life for yourself.  None of which is even possible; but neither is it necessary.

Rather, rely upon the Lord, and rest yourself in Him by faith in His Word and promises.  Avail yourself of His Gospel in His means of grace within the household and family of His Church on earth, even as you receive from His open hand all that you need for this body and life.

Your marriage, home, and family, and whatever else you may possess in this life, are a gift from the Lord, entirely by His grace, the charity of God.  What is more, and ever so much better, it is the Father’s good pleasure and delight — His good and gracious will — to give you His Kingdom, though you are so little, so weak, and so helpless (in and of yourself and in this perishing world).

So it is not by your works that you live, but by resting in the Word and works of God in Christ, in whom you have Peace with God and Sabbath Rest, now and forever.

But you are given works to do from within your place: Within the household and family of God, to which you belong by His grace; and, as I have said, within the particular portion of His Garden, wherever He has placed you.  There you are to cultivate and keep His good creation in His Name.  You are to provide for your fellow servants, whoever is placed under your care, to give them their meat and bread at the proper time.  Thus do you become the open hand of God for your neighbor.

As you are righteous by faith in Christ Jesus, by His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so do you live and work righteously in love for your neighbor.

As Elle is here clothed in radiant beauty, as an icon of the Lord’s Church, so do you clothe yourself outwardly in fine linens, bright and clean, which are the good works that God has prepared for you beforehand, that you should walk in them — in faith and love — in marriage to Christ Jesus.

This is how you are to live, at every hour of every day, so that you are dressed and ready for your Lord, your true and heavenly Bridegroom, whenever He shall come.  With your loins girded and your lamps lit — like those children of Israel on the night of the Passover — you also rely upon the Flesh and Blood of the Lamb, and be gathered around the Table in your Father’s House, so that your marriage, home, and family be not broken into, and that you not perish when the thief arrives.

Daniel & Elle, as members of the Body and Bride of Christ, this life of faith and love is to be lived within your marriage in your relationship with each other.  It is a life distinguished especially by self-sacrifice, by patience and kindness, repentance and forgiveness, gentleness and humility.  In all things, use whatever strengths the Lord has given you to cover each others frailties in peace.

That is to be the case for both of you.  But the weightier burden falls upon you, Daniel, to love and serve and care for Elle, and to give yourself for her in big and little ways each day, as Christ loves His Church and has given Himself for her; and as Christ, indeed, gives Himself for you and Elle.

Above all, to care for Elle as Christ cares for His Church entails mercy and forgiveness, whereby you adorn your bride with the righteousness and holiness, the innocence and blessedness of Jesus.

So, too, caring for your wife — and, by God’s grace, your children — means gathering your family around the Father’s Table, around the Word of God and the Flesh and Blood of the Lamb.  That is to say, by praying with them and for them in your home, teaching them the Bible, and taking them to the Lord’s House for the Ministry of His Gospel in preaching and the Holy Sacraments.

In this task of caring for your children, the two of you are partners — as, indeed, in all of life.  You are partners in cultivating and keeping the Garden of God; not establishing and guarding your own little dynasty, but caring for and prospering the Paradise of God in accordance with His Word.

Likewise, in your love for your neighbors in the world, and especially for the Church and Ministry of Christ, you are partners in service and in giving.  Sacrifice together.  Work together.  Show mercy and give alms together.  Encourage and help each other to love and care for those in need.

Thus does your marriage point beyond itself, not only as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, but as an agent of the same Lord Jesus Christ, as a living and active embodiment of His own grace, mercy, peace, and tangible charity toward you.

Thus do you live and work together in storing up treasures in heaven.  In devoting your hearts, not only to each other here in time, but above all to the Lord Jesus Christ, for now and forever.

Blessed are you when you live in this way, in faith and love, in expectation of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.  Blessed are you, who find in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, the meaning and purpose, the goal and significance of your life together as husband and wife.

Blessed are you, because He has come in love for you, and He has given Himself for you.  Even now He comes to give Himself to you, that you may be His own beloved Bride, and live with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  So is the Wedding Feast prepared and ready with His own Body given and Blood poured out for you.

And as He has called you by His own Name and taken you to be His Bride in Holy Baptism, so does He gird Himself to serve you: To wash you with His Word of Absolution, and to feed you from His own hand at His Altar with the Meat and Drink indeed of His Holy Supper.

See, His Blood now marks your door, and you are safe and sound within His Father’s House.  Have no fear, little flock!  Behold, He gives you peace and rest and blessed sleep within His own Body.

For He is awake and alert, constantly vigilant, and always working to give you life.  No thief shall ever be able to snatch you from His hand.  He has plighted thee His troth, He has promised you His faithfulness, and He has made His place your own, His Castle your Castle.  Thus are you one flesh and blood with Him, and not even death shall divide you from His Body and His Life forever.

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

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