15 June 2019

The Glory of God in the Marriage of Christ and His Church

The estate of holy matrimony is the crowning glory of God’s good Creation.  For Man is created in the Image and Likeness of God.  Not a single man, but a man and a woman, male and female, that the two should be united with each other, in love, as one flesh.  To that purpose, the Lord God created the woman from the man and for the man, to be a helpmate comparable to him; and He also brought her to the man, gave her to the man, and joined her to the man.  Marriage is thus God’s own creation, gracious gift, and holy institution, established and sanctified by and with His Word.

So also, to this day, marriage is no mere 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 this woman to be, henceforth, husband and wife.  Here the Lord God joins them together as one and sanctifies them by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is God’s good and gracious will, therefore, Aaron and Annalise, that you look upon each other, love and serve each other, and cleave to each other, according to His Word — that you recognize and respect the glory and adornment of His Word with which the two of you are clothed by Him.

You are to be comrades, first of all, that is, partners in life, friends together on a common road.  And within that companionship, you are placed not only alongside each other on the same journey, but also given to each other, face to face and heart to heart, bound together in the intimacy of spirit, soul, and body, to find comfort, compassion, and passion uniquely in each other.  And from that union, as the Lord so wills and provides, your love for each other may bear fruit after its own kind and be multiplied in the bearing of children, that you might care for them as the Lord cares for you.

Of course, this all sounds terrific and ideal, especially on a day like today.  And it is most certainly true!  But what we experience in the world seems quite different.  To some extent we are all aware of the hurts and fears, the burdens, challenges, and difficulties that marriage faces in this fallen and perishing world.  Everything on earth is falling apart, winding down, and running out.

Trace it back to the start.  Adam and Eve were the perfect couple, with every possible advantage, and yet they fell into sin and death.  They did not go riding off into the sunset, into some happily-ever-after.  They were driven out of Paradise on account of their sin.  The curse lay heavy upon them, and it still rests 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.

Nevertheless, we stand here today in the presence of God and His Church, in the face of the whole wide world, to rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of marriage, and to stare 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.

The fact is that human marriage was never intended to be an end unto itself.  It was always about Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, the perfect Image of the Father — who came down from His Father in heaven, conceived and born of the Woman, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, and blood of our blood, in order to redeem and rescue all the children of man for real life with God.  He left His Father and His Mother to claim His Bride and cleave to her.  He gave Himself for her, atoning for her sins by His sacrificial death on the Cross.  And by the Water and Blood from His riven side He cleanses her of all iniquity and clothes her in His own holiness and righteousness.

It is for this reason that Aaron leaves his father and mother and cleaves now to Annalise; that he should manifest the divine Love and true divine Glory of Christ by loving and serving his bride with his own body and life, even unto death.  And Annalise, in turn, is here given to honor and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by submitting herself to Aaron in Christian faith and love.

You should not suppose that such things are true only of those “ideal” marriages that everyone admires and envies.  For it is by the Cross that Christ Jesus wins and weds His Bride, the Church.  It is by His gracious self-sacrifice that He makes her beautiful through His forgiveness of all her sins.  And it is by her dying and rising with Him in Holy Baptism that she is made ready as a Bride for her Husband, covered and clothed in the cloak of His redemption and His righteousness.

In contrast to all the so-called “wisdom” of this world, it is precisely in the crosses and sacrifices of marriage and family that the Glory of God is most fully manifested in this present body and life.  For the Cross and Passion of our Lord is the Hour of His Glory, by which He gives life to us all.

The world never will be able to recognize or understand this sign; and so the world’s counsel and advice for you will always be wrong.  But it does not matter.  Christ shall work His work in you, and He shall manifest His Glory in your marriage.  So then, for your part, do whatever He tells you.

Aaron, love Annalise, even when she’s not so lovely and loveable as she is on this day.  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, even as you bear her burdens in patience and peace.  Set aside your own desires in order to comfort and care for 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.  Love Annalise in the way that Christ loves her and you and His whole Church.  Cover her as Boaz covers Ruth and cares for her, in anticipation of the Son of David who will come in the fullness of time from their union — the Seed of the Woman, conceived and born of St. Mary.

Annalise, entrust yourself to Aaron, 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 Aaron 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 Aaron 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.  In submitting to Aaron in love, you confess your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, it is for the sake of Christ and His Word that Aaron is called to love and serve his bride, to lay down his life and sacrifice himself for her in all sorts of big and little ways.  Not because she deserves it, but because that is what Jesus does  — for him, for her, and for all of us.  Aaron is to see Annalise as Christ Jesus sees her, that is, with His eyes of mercy.  He is to treat her as Jesus does, that is, with gentleness and tender, loving care.  He is to cherish her, because Jesus cherishes her.  So, too, his love for her will overlook and cover a multitude of sins, not because they are a mere trifle, but because the righteousness of Christ is greater and His grace abounds all the more.

And so it is that Annalise is likewise taught by the Word and Spirit of God to see and serve Christ in her husband.  Though this human groom beside her is not perfect, she knows and confesses that she is not perfect, either.  Yet, there is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.  As Annalise has been dressed with Christ and His righteousness (in and with His Church), she confesses that Aaron, too, is hidden with Christ in God; and so she lives by grace through faith.

Is this not what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Christ Jesus?  To walk by faith and not by sight.  To love and forgive your neighbors as you are loved and forgiven by the Lord your God.  To bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things, all for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who first loves you.  It is ever and always to Him and to His Love that holy marriage points you.

Christ is not simply a guest at this wedding today.  He is the very heart of the occasion, for He is the true and heavenly Bridegroom of His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is for His sake that each and every one of you are here — not only that you are in attendance, but that you exist at all and are alive to this day.  And it is also for His sake that Annalise and Aaron have been created, and for His sake that they are here bound together to be one flesh by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is Christ alone who is all and all.  For it is by and from His Cross, from the innermost being of His sacred Body, that the living waters of the Holy Spirit and the holy, precious, life-giving Blood of Christ Himself are poured out generously upon His Body and His Bride, His Holy Church.

And He who did not spare Himself, but gave Himself into death for your redemption — who daily and richly forgives you all your sins — will He not also freely give you all good things in love?

According to His sure and certain promise, He provides for all your needs of body and soul, for now and forever: Seed for the sower, Bread for the eater, and Wine for the wedding — even as He gives His own Body for you to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink already in His Supper, which is your Meat and Drink, indeed, a Foretaste of the Lord’s own neverending Marriage Feast.

So does He also give you marriage itself — both in general and in each particular case — along with all its crosses, all its joys, all its hard burdens, and all its grand adventures — to be a blessing, a pleasure, and a true delight here in time, and a sign of the true Glory of Christ and His Bride.

In all things, at all times, and in all places, He supplies whatever is lacking.  He provides all your needs.  His Cup of Salvation runneth over for you, in His House, unto Peace and Rest in Him.

Whenever the well runs dry and the wine runs out — for Aaron and Annalise, and for all of you — it is Christ whose overflowing Chalice restores the joy and celebration in marriage and family, as in all of life.  It is Christ who makes Annalise beautiful and worthy of Aaron’s self-sacrificing love; and it is Christ who enables Aaron to serve her, and who restores Aaron as often as he falls short.  It is Christ who enables Annalise to submit to Aaron, because she lives in the faith and love of her Lord and heavenly Bridegroom; and it is Christ who both strengthens and sustains her, for better and for worse, in good times and bad, who sanctifies and cleanses her whenever she fails.

In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, He has grafted this bride and groom into Himself, into His riven side, from which the Blood and Water of His Passion have been poured out for them and for all.  And in the Holy Communion, the great Wedding Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, He feeds them and all the members of His Church with His own Body and Blood, the pledge and promise of His Resurrection, that He should thus abide in and with His Bride with His own indestructible Life.  As He thus gives them Himself and His Life, He is fruitful in them, and He brings forth good fruits of life and love for others.  For the Tree of His Cross bears such fruits after His 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, Aaron and Annalise, 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 Body and Bride, He bestows these very good gifts and benefits upon your marriage in His Name.

And just as He is risen from the dust of the earth to live and reign forever as your true Redeemer, and as you are now flesh of His flesh and blood of His blood, so shall your body be raised up from death to life in His Glory.  As it shall be at the last, so also is it now in your life and marriage here — even though it is still hidden under the Cross, and for now it is visible only to the eyes of faith.

His Glory shall be manifested in your life together, Aaron and Annalise, as husband and wife: As you love each other in Christ, and as He loves both of you.  As you live by His forgiveness of your sins, and as you forgive each other.  And as you also serve your neighbors within your stations.

Take heart, and have no fear of anything.  Your heavenly Bridegroom is faithful, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He has joined the two of you to Himself, as members of His Body and His Bride, and so shall He cleave to you forever.  He shall not allow your sin, Satan, or even death, to separate you from Him.  He has pledged Himself to you, and He has vowed to have and to hold you as His own.  He has sworn this oath by His own honor, and His Word cannot be broken.

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

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