20 January 2019

The Glorious Mystery of Christ and His Bride

Wherever the Holy Scriptures speak of marriage — from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the water-into-wine at the Wedding in Cana — there is an even deeper and more profound Mystery in view than the union of a man and a woman in the life-long bond of holy matrimony.  As sacred as that bond is, it points beyond itself to the eternal Communion of God and Man in Christ Jesus.

As St. Paul has written, this great Mystery belongs to the holy matrimony of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  That is the very point and purpose of it all.  That is what it’s all about.  From the very beginning, the divine institution of holy marriage has been a revelation of the glorious love and the permanent union of Christ and His Church in body and soul, heart, mind, and spirit.  Marriage in general, and every particular marriage, is a sign of the heavenly Bridegroom and His holy Bride.

So, too, the marriage of that anonymous bride and groom in Cana of Galilee.  St. John does not identify the couple, because he would have you understand that this is the story of Christ Jesus and His Church.  Indeed, the same Lord Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom in the next chapter.

Nothing in His life is merely by chance or incidental to His saving Gospel of forgiveness.  It all points to the Glory of His Cross and Resurrection, even as He rescues and redeems His Creation and makes all things new in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary.

As the Baptism of our Lord Jesus in the waters of the Jordan has sanctified the waters of your own Holy Baptism in His Name, so does His presence at the Wedding in Cana sanctify your marriage in this body and life.  Though He was not united with a woman in such a marriage, Himself, He does bestow His grace and every blessing on those who are so joined as one flesh until death, in view of the fact that He is the Husband of one Wife, His holy Church, forever and forevermore.

His presence and His miracle at the Wedding in Cana sanctify and grant His divine blessing on marriage itself, restoring and reaffirming the original intention of God that the lifelong union of a man and a woman should reflect and reveal the heavenly Marriage of this eternal Bridegroom.

Sadly, sin has laid such a burden upon the institution of holy matrimony that, without the presence and blessing of Christ, it is impossible for any marriage to succeed in a God-pleasing way.  Apart from Christ and His Word, the wine will run out, the celebration will come to an end, and the whole thing will devolve into rack and ruin.  Certainly, if Christ is absent from your married life, you will fail to reflect and reveal the gracious character and glory of His Marriage to the Church.

But Christ has drawn near, and He provides the wine that is lacking.  He restores the joy and saves, not only the wedding, but the marriage.  Not only at the Wedding in Cana, but all the more so in His redemption and salvation of those He has sought in self-sacrificing love to be His holy Bride.

Whether Jesus would have turned the water into wine if Mother Mary had not made her request, it actually becomes the first Sign of His Glory, an Epiphany (or manifestation) of His identity as the incarnate Son of God, and a preview of what He will accomplish by His Cross and Passion.

He points to that Glory of His Cross when He says to St. Mary, “My Hour has not yet come.”  That Hour will come when He is handed over and lifted up in death.  In the meantime, He clarifies, for His Mother and for you, that He has not come to meet the political and social needs of the world, but to die in the place of sinners as the Lamb of God, thereby to obtain for them eternal life with God the Father in the Holy Spirit.  Changing water into wine for this particular wedding is not why He has come; and yet, it is a Sign pointing forward to the Glory and Salvation of His Holy Cross.

St. John signals the connection between these events by mentioning St. Mary in his Gospel only twice, here at the beginning and then at the foot of the Cross.  In each case he describes her, not by name, but simply as “the Mother of Jesus.”  In each case our Lord addresses her as “Woman.”  And in the latter case it is written, “from that Hour the Disciple took her to his home.”  It is in that Hour at the foot of the Cross that St. Mary beholds the revelation of her Son’s Messianic Glory.

To be sure, the Sign that Jesus gives at the Wedding in Cana is a good one.  Not only because the good wine that He creates in this case is a fitting anticipation of the Messianic Wine that He pours out for you and for the many from His Cross, but also because He does so at a wedding celebration.  Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord describes His relationship to the Church in terms of marriage. For as the Bridegroom rejoices over His Bride, so the Lord your God rejoices over you in love.

The entire Song of Solomon has long been heard as a romantic love song, a Song of Songs, rejoicing in the love between the Christ, the Son of David, and His beautiful Bride.  By the same token, the Prophet Hosea describes the disobedience of God’s People with the sobering image of a prostitute returning repeatedly to her adultery and sinning against her always-faithful Husband, the Lord Himself.  That is the measure of your behavior, no less, when you cavort and fornicate and carry on with all manner of false gods and earthly pleasures instead of cleaving to Christ.

For all of that, why has the Son of God come to dwell with you in the flesh?  And why is it that He first reveals His Glory at a wedding feast?  We do not have to speculate or wonder.  Christ loved His Bride, the Church, and gave Himself up for Her.  He did not come to judge and condemn her.  He did not come to file for divorce.  He came to shed His Blood for her, to bleed and die for her, to take away her sins and dress her in the white wedding gown of His own perfect righteousness; that He might present to Himself His Bride, His holy Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or blemish, or any such thing.  That She might be holy and blameless by His grace.

And Christ our Lord has done it!  As St. John records in the Book of the Revelation, no doubt recalling that first Sign of Christ’s Glory at the Wedding in Cana: “Let us rejoice and be glad, for the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  His Bride has been made ready.  Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb!”  And blessed are you, therefore, this morning.

Changing water into wine at the Wedding in Cana is a beautiful Sign of Christ’s glorious Cross.  It is from His Cross that He pours out the Messianic Wine of forgiveness, life, and salvation; and it is by and from His Cross that He calls you to become a member of His Body and His Bride, to enter with Him into the great Wedding Feast of His Kingdom, which has no end.

Even so, because His Hour has come in His Cross and Passion, you are now granted an even better Sign of Christ’s Glory in His Sacrament of the Altar.  For the Messianic Wine is truly the Blood of Christ, which cleanses you from sin — the Blood that is poured out for you in, with, and under the wine of the Lord’s Supper, by which you receive the Fruits of His Cross and thereby already begin to partake in the never-ending Marriage Feast of Paradise.

In both cases, both at the Wedding in Cana and here in His Sacrament, Christ Jesus manifests His Glory in the context of ordinary life.  What could be more human than the marriage of a man and a woman, and the wedding celebration of the couple with their friends?  Yet, that is where the Lord first reveals His Glory, by making an abundance of good wine for the party.  And so does Christ continue to manifest His Glory in the most common elements of life, in water, bread, and wine.

Not only that, but, as He has taken human nature, human flesh, and human life to be His very own, and as He has lived as true Man from conception in the womb unto burial in the tomb, the Lord Jesus Christ has sanctified and restored your own daily life and existence.  Thus are you able to speak and show His faithfulness and salvation in your life, as a living Sign of His divine Glory.

How on earth does that happen?  How shall you, with mortal flesh and blood, be able to manifest the Glory of the Lord?  You know!  God’s Name is kept holy in your body and life when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and you, as a child of God, lead a holy life according to it.  Or, to say it even more simply, as St. Mary instructed those servants at the Wedding in Cana, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Don’t ask questions, just do it, whether it makes sense to you or not.

By way of one obvious example, if you are married, so is your marriage to be a daily celebration and confession of the gracious and glorious love that Christ has shown to you and all His people.  Whatever He says to you, do it.  What, then?  Husband, love your wife, as Christ loves His Church.  Wife, place your life into willing service to your husband, as the Church submits to Christ Jesus.

In no aspect of married life are such love and willing service better shown than by forgiving each other, as Christ the Lord forgives you.  So has He taught His Church on earth to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Surely such forgiveness must begin within your marriage.  For how shall you truly forgive anyone else, if you do not forgive even your own spouse?  To be sure, married life brings with it countless opportunities for daily forgiveness.  And the more undeserving your spouse might be, the more like Christ your forgiveness will be.

All of this applies, as well, in your life as a member of the Lord’s own Bride, His holy Church.  For all of you, as members of His Body and Bride, have become one flesh and blood with Him.  And so it is that you are called to live together in Christ Jesus — in holy faith toward Him, and in fervent love toward one another.  Not simply in your thoughts and feelings, but in word and deed.

Today, in particular, we consider the special responsibilities which are entrusted as a stewardship to the officers of our congregation.

If you are one of those officers, then your duties are in some ways analogous to my responsibilities as your pastor.  As I am given to serve and care for you and for this little flock of our Lord Jesus with His Word and Sacrament, so is your role also like that of those waiters in this Holy Gospel.  You are charged with the task of serving the guests of the Bridegroom and His Bride.  Not by your own best efforts, not with your own clever ideas and human ingenuity, but solely at the Word of Jesus.  You are given to do “whatever He says to you,” which necessarily begins with the hearing of His Word.  Thus do you serve your brothers and sisters with His gifts, sanctified by His Word.

If you are entrusted with an office of responsibility within this congregation, take heart, and serve with confidence in Christ, faithfully, to the best of your God-given abilities, trusting that the Lord Jesus is well able to change your “simple water only” into a good wine worthy of a celebration.

Whether you are an officer of the congregation or not, you are a child of God and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, within your calling and station, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

And what is that Word of the Lord Jesus, first of all?  What does He say to you?  It is not chiefly a list of rules and regulations, orders and commands.  He does preach the Law, which demands perfection — and thereby reveals your sin, death, and damnation.  But there is also a very different “bottom line,” the sweeter Word of His Gospel, which daily and richly forgives you all your sins.

By that Word of His Gospel He has named you with His Name, anointed you with His Holy Spirit, and made of you a child of His own God and Father in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  And by His Word of the Gospel He has betrothed you to Himself, that you should be and live forever as a member of His Bride.  So does He pour out His Blood for you as a good and life-giving Wine.

To do “whatever He says to you,” therefore, means first of all that you believe and trust His Word of the Gospel, that you rely on it in holy peace, and that you receive all good things from Him by faith in His promises.  It is to live by His mercy and His grace, and so to live in love for others in the sure and certain confidence that you are loved, and that your life with God is secure in Christ.

His love for you is stronger than death.  So shall He embrace you to Himself and take you into His arms, both body and soul, even from the dust of the ground.  For you are His, and He is yours, to have and to hold, to honor and cherish, forever and ever.  Already here and now He brings you into His Banquet Hall, a Foretaste of the Resurrection and the Life, and His Banner over you is Love.

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

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