April 19, 2019
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” And thus, Jesus from the cross fulfilled what God spoke in Genesis chapter 2, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is exactly what Jesus does on the cross. He is leaving his earthly mother and holding fast to his wife. Through the shedding of his own blood, he is united to his bride, the Church forever.
St. Paul describes Christ’s death upon the cross as the archetype of all weddings. Here, Jesus demonstrates what a husband ought to do for his wife. His willing suffering and death are his wedding vow. St. Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” (Ephesians 5:25-28)
On the cross, Jesus lays down his life for his wife. This is his entrance into his marriage with her; he says his vows with blood and water flowing from his side. It is just as that great hymn proclaims, “From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.”
Jesus makes atonement for his bride. She is not clean, but filthy in her own sins. She is unfaithful, adulterous, and sinful. Christ did not come to draw the righteous to himself, but sinners, who need a Savior. He says, “Come now, let us reason together, … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) Jesus finds his sinful bride and with his own blood he makes her pure. He pays her debts. He clothes her with righteousness. He rescues her. As Boaz redeems Ruth and makes her his bride, so Christ pays the price to make us his own.
We do not deserve this. Scripture says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) We are like Barabbas, who deserves to die. The other Gospel accounts make it clear that Pilate tried to use Barabbas to release Jesus. Barabbas was his worst prisoner. Pilate thought that if they had the choice between releasing a murderer, insurrectionist robber and Jesus, they would choose Jesus. Surely their envy was not so great. But this was God’s plan. Jesus came for this very purpose. So, the murderer goes free, and the Prince of Life is slain. You, with all your sins go free. Jesus, the sinless one dies. This is the greatest love a husband has ever shown to his bride.
Jesus clings to his wife. His death for her sins joins her to him forever. They are no longer two, but one flesh. Jesus speaks to his Father on the night he was betrayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (17:22-23) We are joined to Christ. We are his body. He is our head. We are not a bunch of individuals, we are one body, the Church. He is the Vine; we are the branches. Our eternal existence is united with Christ, and so we are eternally united with each other as well.
If we are united with Christ, that means we share in his glory. Again, Jesus said on that night of his betrayal, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” I’m not surprising any of you when I say that Jesus is risen from the dead. Good Friday is not the end of the story. And because Jesus lives, and lives eternally, Jesus gives life to all those who are united to him in his death.
A husband gives all he has to his bride. Jesus tells his disciples that he will do this. Speaking of the Holy Spirit he says “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14-15). In our wedding liturgy one of the options for the exchanging of the rings goes like this, “With this ring I marry you, my worldly goods I give to you, and with my body I honor you.” Jesus has given all his goods to us, everything. We are rich. We are heirs to Christ’s kingdom. We are clothed in his righteousness. All that he has is ours. His pierced hands and side are his wedding ring in which we give him all we have, sin and guilt.
Your faith in Christ is your wedding ring by which you receive everything from Christ. The Church is made up of the faithful, who trust in the wounds of Christ. Jesus said that when he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself. And indeed, the Church gathers around the preaching of Christ crucified, putting her trust in him. Cathedrals may burn and church building might be sold to relators to be turned into apartment buildings and tacky trinket shops. But the true Church of Christ, his holy bride will continue to dwell on earth as long as his sheep gather to hear his words.
Again, on that final night with his disciples Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (14:2-3) Jesus is the Bridegroom, who goes to prepare his marriage home for his bride and who will return at an hour no one will expect. He is ascended into heaven, but he will return. And even now, he prepares a place for us, purchased with his blood, for us to abide with him forever.
Some might be uncomfortable with the language of Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. Yet, this language is biblical. Jesus has joined himself in a marriage to his Church, which is much purer than any union you will find on earth. Through word and sacrament Christ provides for his bride on earth, so that she might be united with him forever in heaven.
Seeing Christ’s passion as his wedding vows communicates to you that all this that you have heard tonight, the brutal passion our Lord suffered so unjustly, he did for you and for your benefit. All this is for you. Christ suffered this for your sake. And it worked. Because of what Christ did on this day you are his forever. Amen.