15 October 2017

Like a Bride Made Ready for Her Husband

Everything is done for the sake of the beloved Son.  Everything is done for Him.  It is in the Name of Jesus, and for His sake, that the Father loves the Bride, and for the sake of Jesus that He rejoices over her with lavish generosity and gracious hospitality.  The Father loves the Bride because she is the Bride of His beloved Son.  He loves her as He loves Him — with divine, eternal Love.

It is the Bridegroom who speaks this Parable and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven within it.  And He is at the heart and center of it all, not only as the Author of the story, but the Author and Giver of Life by His Word of the Gospel, by the gift of His Holy Spirit through His forgiveness of sins.

The whole story is about this Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.  The Feast is held in His honor.  And yet, He is the One who has been sacrificed in order to become the Feast.  He is the One who has been slaughtered, so that you might eat and drink, cleansed and forgiven.  He feeds His guests from His own hand, as the Waiter, for He is among you as the One who serves.  And what He sets before you is nothing else and nothing less than Himself, His own holy Body and His precious Blood.

Indeed, the invitation and the call that you have received to this Wedding Feast are actually a marriage proposal.  You are called, that is, not simply to be a guest of the Bride and Groom, but to be a member of the bridal party and, what is more, to be a member of the Bride herself, the holy Church.  For the call and invitation are a betrothal, that you be wed to Christ, the beloved Son.

Take to heart, therefore, the seriousness, the importance and significance of this call and invitation.  The King would have you be united to His Son, joined to Him, as one flesh and blood with Him, both now and forever, so that even death is never able to part you from Him.  The Father would have you married to His Son, and He would love you in Him as a dear and delightful daughter.

So it is that, from heaven Christ came and sought you out — to call you to Himself, to make of you His Bride by the washing of the water with His Word.  In your Holy Baptism, He has cleansed you, and He has clothed you in His own righteousness.  He has made you ready for Himself, as a Bride for her Husband.  He has dressed you for the Wedding and for the Wedding Feast.  You are gloriously adorned, and there is no spot in you; there is no wrinkle; there is no blemish; there is no flaw.  There is nothing to be seen but the beauty with which Christ has made you beautiful.

And now, made ready, you are called to partake of the Feast.  To rejoice and celebrate with Christ, your Groom, your Husband and your Head.  To eat and to drink the Meal that He sets before you, the Meat and Drink indeed, which He has prepared by His sacrificial death upon the Cross.

“It is finished,” He has spoken from that Cross.  There’s nothing more to be done that He has not done.  His Feast is ready.  Everything is ready.  So, come and eat.  Already here and now, His great Feast is set before you in the Holy Communion.  You are called to celebrate and rejoice by eating and drinking this Food and this Drink, and thus to abide in Christ, and He in you, in the Kingdom of His God and Father — already manifested here under the Cross within His Church on earth.

The Feast in question is not simply a metaphor.  It is not simply a picture of something yet to come.  It is already here and now in the Lord’s Supper.  The Sacrament really is that central and important to the Christian faith and life.  This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  More than that, this is the Kingdom of Heaven, which is here with you on earth in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

The Lord’s Supper is not simply a means to some other end.  It’s not play-acting in remembrance of what happened a long time ago.  Nor is it some dreamlike anticipation of some sweet by-and-by yet to come.  But here you actually taste the Feast that goes on forever in the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, do not despise His Feast.  Do not reject His gracious invitation.

On the one hand, you despise His Feast when you are unwilling to come, when you engage in other activities while turning your back on that which Christ the Lord has set before you; when you treat the things of this world as a higher priority than the things of Christ Jesus, the things of heaven.

On the other hand, you also despise His Feast when you presume to come dressed in your own attire; when you refuse the hospitality of your Host by refusing to wear the garment He provides.

So do not come trusting in yourself, nor in any human might or merit.  But fix your eyes upon the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, by fixing your ears upon His Word of the Gospel.  Rely upon Him, and come to the Feast.  Wear the clothing with which He has clothed you in your Baptism, that is, the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of Christ Himself, which now cover you in His peace.

To wear those garments of salvation is to live by faith in Christ and His forgiveness, clinging to His Word and trusting His Gospel.  It is to come, knowing that you are not worthy of yourself to eat and drink this Meal, but that Christ has made you worthy, that He has called you to Himself, and that He has wed you to Himself.  Come to the Feast believing that.  Here there are only the free gifts of God, and for your part there is only thanksgiving.  There is nothing else you can give to Him who gives you everything by grace, except to return thanks through Jesus Christ your Lord.

It is for this reason that one of the primary names which the Church has given to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is “Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving.  What else do you have to bring?  But clinging to the Cross, you simply give thanks for the free gifts of God in Christ Jesus.

That is what characterizes the Kingdom of Heaven: Thanksgiving and rejoicing, praising the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has done everything for you, who gives everything to you, and who withholds no good thing from you.  You, then, give thanks to Him.  That is what faith does, as surely as it hears and believes what God says and gladly receives what He freely bestows in the Gospel.  Rejoice, give thanks, and sing to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.

Rejoice in what is good and right and true.  Be gentle of heart.  Be honorable in all of your actions.  Be pure and chaste in all of your thoughts, in your words, and in your deeds.  And do whatever you are given to do with excellence, as the Lord so enables and provides; not as though you were competing, but to the glory of your God and Father and to the praise of your heavenly Bridegroom.

Trust His grace and favor.  And living by His grace through faith in His Gospel, be at peace as you go about your days in this world.  So far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.  If you are hurt, bear it in Christ, in patience, forgiveness, and love.  Be content and confident in what the Lord has done and said and given to you; do not be anxious or worried about anything.

Remember that Christ has clothed you with His righteousness.  He has dressed you in the robes of salvation.  He’s got you decked out in better than your Sunday best.  That’s true day and night, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever you happen to be wearing.  You are clothed by and with and in Christ.  How then shall you live in relation to your neighbors in the world?

Glorify the Holy Name of Christ by confessing His Name, not only in what you say, but also in how you act, in how you live your life within the world.

Do not clothe yourself again in death.  That is the garment that was spread over all the nations by the fall into sin, the pall of death that covers the entire world apart from Christ.  Do not clothe yourself in that legacy of fallen Adam, but be clothed by Christ Jesus with His Life and Salvation.  Be clothed by Him in wedding garments fit for the Feast of a King.

Okay, but what does that mean?

This Parable is troubling in its conclusion.  Just when you think that you’re finally sitting down to eat, the King comes in, and He scans His guests, and there He sees a man not wearing wedding garments.  He says to him, “How did you get in here, friend, not wearing wedding garments?”  And the man is speechless.  He has nothing to say for himself.  So, what does this mean for you?

How shall you know that, coming to the Feast, you will not be spotted for the sinner that you are, and thrown into the outer darkness of death and damnation, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?  With what worthiness do you dare to come and recline at the Table of the Lord?

The conclusion of this Parable is frightening, if it is heard apart from faith in the Gospel.  But that is precisely the point and the problem at hand in the case of this man without a wedding garment.  He has approached the Feast apart from faith in the Gospel.  He has presumed to dress himself, instead of receiving and relying on the hospitality of the King in the righteousness of Christ.

Do not attempt to feed and clothe yourself.  Do not stay away from the Feast in fear that you are not worthy.  And do not try to work and strive and primp in order to dress and adorn yourself, as though you could ever be made worthy by such efforts to sit at this Table and to eat this Feast.

Simply come in this confidence, that you are called to feast upon the One who has given Himself for you in love, and you are dressed in His righteousness from the waters of your Holy Baptism.  That is where you have received the wedding garment.  It has already been given to you.  It is already yours.  You have already been dressed by the hands of the One who loves you.

And here your heavenly Bridegroom cares for you as His Bride, His beloved Church.  He clothes you, and He feeds you in His love for you, in His faithfulness and mercy, in His steadfast loving-kindness and tender affection for you, whom He has sought and called to be His own.  Humble yourself to receive His good work and His gracious gifts, since He is your Savior and your Head.

His care for you, that is your wedding garment.  Not what you do for yourself, and no amount of preparation on your part, but His gracious, loving care for you — that is your wedding garment.  Wear it well, that is, by faith and love.

Don’t go rolling around in the mud, in the muck and the mire, when your Lord has dressed you in such wedding finery.  But where you have stained the wedding garment with which the Lord has dressed you, don’t take it off; and don’t try to cover yourself with fig leaves or high fashion.  Only return to the waters of your Baptism; not to be baptized again, but to be cleansed by the Blood of Christ, again and again, as often as you fall, through His Absolution, His forgiveness of sins.

And being clothed and fed by Christ — though He and you are despised by the world — clothe and feed your neighbors with the love of God in Christ, even as you daily return to His love in the Gospel.  Pass the serving tray, as it were, with which the Lord Jesus Christ continues to serve you.

In living by faith and with such love for others, you glorify your Bridegroom who has dressed you so beautifully and well, and who cares for you with a passion that never wanes or ceases.

Be content, be confident, and be at peace in Him.  Receive the gifts Christ freely gives, and know that you belong here at His Feast, not simply as a guest, but as His own dearly beloved Bride.  From heaven He came and sought you, and He has called you to Himself; He loves you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Come, then, to the Feast, and rejoice in His great salvation.

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

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