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The Real Bridegroom (St. John 2.1-11; Ephesians 5.30-32)

Second Sunday after Epiphany

“The Real Bridegroom”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

St. John 2.1-11; Ephesians 5.30-32

19 January 2020

 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5.30-32; ESV)

On Epiphany Day we sang “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” – the Queen of Lutheran Chorales, written by the Lutheran Pastor Philip Nicolai around 1598. Nicolai wrote a devotional book called “Mirror of Joy” in the midst of two or three years where he presided over the funerals of thousands of his parish who died from a plague that came through his city. Our hymn #395 Pastor Nicolai entitled, “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly bridegroom: founded on the forty-fifth Psalm of the prophet David.”

In the midst of death and horror, Nicolai finds a beautiful thought to dwell upon: instead of joining the ongoing funeral train, his abiding faith in Christ sought rather to join the wedding procession to the nuptial hall of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.

Come, heav’nly Bridegroom, Light divine,

And deep within our hearts now shine;

There light a flame undying!

In Your one body let us be

As living branches of a tree,

Your life our lives supplying.

Now, though daily

Earth’s deep sadness

May perplex us

And distress us,

Yet with heav’nly joy You bless us.

Nicolai turning his thoughts to weddings instead of funerals is something to contemplate in light of the Apostle’s teaching from Ephesians 5, and the story of the Wedding at Cana. “A man shall leave his father and mother, and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

The bridegroom and bride at Cana are nameless, incidental to and pretty much left out of the story in John’s account. Instead, the two leading roles in the story are filled by our Lord Jesus and His mother, Mary.

Weddings are happy, unifying occasions, bringing together family and friends. They are one of those few occasions anymore in our displaced and overly mobile society where families all come together. Thinking about that – the other times for Christian families to come together in such a way is for the Baptism or Confirmation of someone in the family, or for the funeral of a family member.

Here at Immanuel we have seen the Lord provide excellent husbands to the two Latta daughters Kristen and Emily, each one married in the last two Christmas seasons. Mike and Sara are plum out of daughters to give away. Perhaps the Lord will provide us another Christian wedding next Christmastide – but it will have to be someone else’s daughter or son.

But Mike has now escorted his two daughters down the aisle and he has learned from the Bible the reason we observe that tradition at our weddings: the bride, adorned in white, is the type of, or is a picture of, the holy Christian Church, which has been made pure and holy by the atoning blood of Christ. Mike and other fathers, when they escort their daughter to give her over to her groom, are playing the role of, or are a picture of, the Heavenly Father, who, by the work of His Holy Spirit brings together in eternity His only-begotten Son and His sanctified Church of all times and places, even as once in the Garden of Eden, the Heavenly Father brought forth the mother of us all, Eve, out of the side of the man, Adam, and brought her to Adam, giving her to him as his helpmeet and companion, a helper fit for him. So our wedding traditions are not just traditions for tradition’s sake. We are confessing the truth of Holy Scripture through our words and deeds:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5.31-32; ESV)

The Apostle teaches us that our marriages and weddings are not in and of themselves Christ and His Bride, the Church. They are images of, types, shadows of the greater reality. They find their meaning, their completion, their ultimate fulfillment in Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Jewish weddings at the time of Jesus were a bit different. According to how the ancient rabbis described weddings, there was much more going on than festivity and merriment. Pious Jews fasted before their wedding ceremony, and many confessed their sins. Some rabbis taught that entering into the married state conveyed the forgiveness of sins – they were of course wrong, but they were feeling in the dark for the mystery of who the Heavenly Bridegroom is, were they not? [1]

The relationship of Husband and Bride between the Lord and His people is a theme taken up in the Old Testament. The wedding is a symbol of the union between God and Israel which results from God’s steadfast love for Israel. Psalm 45 describes the royal marriage procession of the king, God, whose throne is forever and ever, and His queen, who is to forget her father’s house and seek only to serve and praise her God and Lord. The prophet Ezekiel (16.1-14) describes God taking unworthy Israel as wife and giving her all the adornments worthy of a queen, having washed her with water and rinsed away the blood that stains her. Isaiah writes that as God delights in Israel “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62.1-5) Hosea the prophet proclaims God’s promise this way:

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice and in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord. (Hos. 2.19-20)

Marriage between God and Israel is by divine mercy and forgiveness, and Israel submits by turning from idolatry to a faithful union with God. That marriage would bring peace and unity with God, an everlasting, eschatological joy that is the sign of the days of the Messiah, the Christ.  

The ancient rabbis from the time of Jesus taught that since God Himself had spoken the words of blessing over the cup at the union of our first parents, with the archangels acting as groomsmen and the host of angels being the choir to sing the wedding hymn, there was therefore nothing in Israel that could trump the wedding procession of a bride and her party ending her time of betrothal, walking with music, torches, and flowers, accompanied by the friends of the bridegroom, from her paternal home to her new husband’s home. Everyone in a town who encountered the bridal procession was expected to join it. Even if you were in a funeral procession, the funeral yielded to the wedding.[2] It confessed that life and new creation are God’s intention, not death.

The bridegroom and bride, crowned with garlands, professed vows publicly and signed the paperwork, the groom and his family giving over the bridal dowry in property shared. The feast might last more than one day – and finally, the happy couple would consummate the marriage: the two becoming one flesh – and God’s creative action in the world is continued in the giving of children.

This brings us back to the Cana wedding, and, knowing what is happening, the holy evangelist speaks of almost none of this. Except that in attendance is the Bridegroom, the one who has been betrothed to His bride, Israel. Jesus fasted in the wilderness and resisted and overcame Satan’s temptations. John the Baptist then proclaimed Jesus publicly, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus indeed received the sinners’ baptism to fulfill all righteousness.

The miracle at Cana is a true story that really shows us the Son of Man leaving His mother to hold fast to His Bride, in order to fulfill the will of His Father in heaven. We heard an overtone of that in last week’s Gospel – the boy Jesus in the Temple telling His mother, “Do you not know that it is necessary I be about my Father’s business…” Today, when Mary tells Jesus the wedding is out of wine, He answers similarly and curtly: “Woman,” – not, Mother, but woman – “what is this to me, my hour has not yet come.”

The cross at Calvary is casting its shadow here at this wedding. Jesus said from His cross to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” The scenes at Cana’s wedding and at Calvary are joined together by the presence of Mary and Jesus calling her “woman” at both times. When Mary says, “they have no wine,” her words do not merely refer to the lack of a required beverage, although it was true – they were out of wine. Mary’s words are a statement that this wedding feast is not yet that of the final marriage between God and Israel. They need more wine: you, Jesus, have yet more to give. In light of the coming change of water into wine, Mary’s implicit request for “wine” is an implicit request for the cleansing blood of Jesus, the blood and the water that flowed from the pierced side of our Lord at His death. [3]

But at Cana, the hour for the consummation of the Heavenly Bridegroom to His Bride, the Church, the new Israel, had not yet come. The cross is that hour, the most unbelievable wedding ceremony ever. There Jesus gave Himself as the price for His bride, there He made His eternal vow good: given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He will drink the cup of the new wine with you in His Father’s eternal kingdom. That blood, signified by the abundant gift of new wine at the wedding, was shed at the true marriage consummation on Calvary, where the Father gave His only-begotten Son lifted on high that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

A funeral procession, however, gives way to a wedding procession. The cross gives way to an empty tomb. No wonder Pastor Nicolai, surrounded by grief in his corner of Germany some four hundred years ago, preferred to think of His heavenly Bridegroom! You too should set your hearts and minds on Him, by the power of the Spirit, when earth’s deep sadness perplexes and distresses you. You are a new Israel, a new family of God formed and washed and made holy by the blood of Jesus, formed of water and the Holy Spirit, born from above. And those born from above, the holy and pure and righteous Bride of Christ – you, Pastor Nicolai, Blessed Mary, and all who believe in the Savior – you will be resurrected with your risen and ascended Bridegroom to drink His new wine that will never run out at the wedding feast He has prepared for you and all who love His appearing.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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[1] Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, volume 1, pp. 352-353; [2] Edersheim, ibid. pp. 352-355; [3] Insight from W. Weinrich, Concordia Commentary, John 2.1-11, vol.1; pp. 314-315

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