Video of the Divine Service here.
“Old and New”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Marriage is the oldest story in the world, and it’s the newest story. It’s the oldest story in the world, after creation itself. The very first relationship between two people in God’s good creation is what we call marriage, and what Adam called, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam had been all day at the naming of the animals, seeing a whole series of animals with male and female paraded in front of him. But none of them was his pair, none of them was his fulfillment, none of them was his complement. Even in God’s good creation, it was not good that the man should be alone, singular, a sort of human island in the mass of creatures. So while Adam slept—while Adam did nothing—God did everything, and made another to fit side-by-side with Adam. This is the oldest human story, and it has continued throughout every culture, every country, every nation, every people. Jesus took this story of the creation of Adam and Eve and said, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; He said, whatever else human sinners do with marriage, this is how God created it.
And sinners have done quite a lot with marriage. Some do the sinning, some are the sinned-against, but none of us is innocent. None of us is untouched. All of our hearts are hard or hardening, which is why Jesus said that Moses allowed Israelites to give each other certificates of divorce. Eve may have come from Adam’s side, but very often what separates husbands and wives seems more powerful than anything that joins them together. I say all of this not to bring you down on this day, but to make sure you know what you’re getting into (and from our conversations, I think you do). But even with all the pressure on marriages from within and without, even with all of the attempts to tear apart what God has joined together, the Lord didn’t just let that old story go on, returning to the same broken tune like a damaged record. The eternal Son of God entered flesh, and the very first public sign that He did after His baptism was a blessing spoken over a wedding. The wedding was good, but it wasn’t good enough. They ran out of wine, and Mary seems to hint that Jesus should do something about it. It is not yet the time for Jesus to do His most important work on the cross, but nevertheless, He makes more wine than all the people at the wedding could ever drink. So while the people were running on empty and drunk on the Lord’s gifts, the Lord began to write a new story, His work of new creation: an unending feast for the people of God, whatever sinners might do with it. Even so, John says, His disciples believed in Him when they saw the sign.
And so it is that God continues to make old things new. He continues to bless men and women with wives and husbands. He keeps doing it in spite of us; while we are looking for ways to satisfy our own selfish desires, He blesses us with someone to turn our eyes away from ourselves. He blesses you, Nolan, with Beka; and you, Beka, with Nolan. And it is not just to make you happy, although marriage certainly does that. It’s not just to complete you, so that either of you can say of the other, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Those things are true, and they happen. But just as the wine wasn’t the main point of Jesus’ work in Cana, so there is something deeper at work in your lives than what most people think about when they consider marriage. There is a great mystery here, St. Paul says, so that marriage becomes a sign of God’s action in the world. This is what Paul means when he talks about husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the Church and wives submitting to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Do sinners mess this up? Do husbands sometimes abuse the responsibility that God gives? Yes. Do wives sometimes refuse to accept the gift that God gives in their husbands as head? Yes. Will you fail Beka? Will you fail Nolan? Without a doubt. But that’s why this mystery is not so much about marriage as it is about Christ and the Church. Because as even while we refused to submit to God, Christ loved us with an everlasting love. Husbands cannot save their wives, but Christ has saved His Bride. Husbands can’t make their wives holy, but Christ gave Himself to make His Bride holy. Wives ought to respect their husbands, and husbands ought to love their wives, but in the midst of the mess that sinners make of marriage, you are both together part of the Bride of Christ, and He has joined Himself to you in an unbreakable bond that no one can ever put asunder. And while death may part you from each other for a while, not even death can separate you both from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord.
The old story of marriage in a perfect creation was always meant to point toward the new and eternal story of Christ’s marriage to the Church. In that marriage, too, the Bride and the Groom give each other everything that once belonged to each of them alone: the Church gives Christ all her sin, and Christ gives the Church all His holiness and a life that does not end in death. In your life together, Nolan and Beka, you will have the opportunity to exercise the promise of Christ as a sign to this world. You will sin against each other, but because you have all the forgiveness of Christ, you have more than enough to share with each other. You will question whether your vows can hold, but because Christ never breaks His promise, you can hold fast to each other in the hope of His mercy in your life. You will be tested and tempted and sometimes it will seem like it’s just too much. In those times, take refuge in Jesus, who loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, having cleansed her in Holy Baptism so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. In that promise, in that grace, in that Man, the story of your marriage will be new every day, and finally, you will both be made new forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/23/14
Download or listen to The Third Sunday in Lent, “Searching for a Bride” (John 4:5-30, 39-42)