You and I have been invited to a wedding feast – the most glorious feast imaginable.
It is the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Now someone who is not familiar with God’s loving plan for His people might be very much puzzled by this statement. “There’s a lamb that’s getting married?” “Or you are eating lamb at the feast?”
In other words, they would naturally be confused, interpreting the language of Holy Scripture concretely, failing to understand that I am referring to the most profound love story conceivable.
I do not say this in judgment of the bewildered, however, because I also fail to understand this mystery to a large degree. But, given that I have at least glimmering of what the invitation refers to, allow me to share what little I know.
As our God made Himself known to our earliest ancestors, He made clear His desire for a covenant with them, a bond often described as a “marriage” bond. For example, His prophet, Hosea, recorded these beautiful words:
I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. (Hosea 2: 21-22)
Similarly, His prophet, Isaiah, wrote:
For your husband is your Maker; the LORD of hosts is his name, Your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54: 5)
Why did the Creator of all things liken His relationship with His people to a marriage? I cannot know the answer to this, of course, but I suspect that, in part, because it was a covenant or promise that people already understood. He wasn’t introducing a foreign concept to them.
It also is apparent that He proposing a love relationship, rather than say, a covenant resembling a trade relationship or a treaty between nations. It was unique and personal, in that “the LORD, your God, has chosen you from all the peoples on the face of the earth to be a people specially his own” (Deuteronomy 7: 6).
But this is only the beginning of the story, the beginning of our understanding of the wedding feast to come.
As our ancestors, the people chosen by God to be His own, repeatedly broke their marriage bond with the Lord, something more needed to be done. Prophet after prophet, like a long line of failed marital counselors, did not seem able to reform this “adulterous” one the Lord had chosen.
So the Lord God sent His Son.
No longer were covenant matters simply between an unseen God who unveiled Himself only to a special spokesperson of the people.
Now, God had made Himself Incarnate, Himself a human person who walked and talked among His people, making known the Kingdom, the realities of the covenant. How could the people, now able to see for themselves how great was His love for them, not just as a people, but as individuals, refuse Him?
He freed them from the demons that possessed them. He cured them of their painful and terrifying diseases. When their children died, he raised them back to life before their eyes. He forgave their sins – without even asking what they were.
In the end, Jesus gave His life to bring us back from certain and eternal death.
He became the new Lamb, the One whose blood protects us from death, much like the blood of the lamb slaughtered at the first Passover protected the chosen people from the angel of death.
God Almighty sent the Bridegroom Himself to draw His bride into the marriage bond He had desired for so long. (See Mark 2:19, for Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Bridegroom.)
But who then is the bride?
And so are you.
His bride is the Church. But our Bridegroom cannot marry a building or an institution. He can only give His heart to people who welcome Him and give their hearts back.
But – but how can this be? How can our Bridegroom marry all of us? How many spouses can He have?
And that is why our dear Bridegroom prayed that we might be One. As He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
And so, loving Him with all of our hearts and souls and minds, we love one another into oneness, becoming bride for our holy and beloved Bridegroom.
Let the wedding feast begin…
Having thus told, in brief, the story of the Bridegroom who came and died for His bride, we may be left with questions.
It is just a story, right? That is, a tale using marriage as a metaphor to help us better understand the covenant between God and His people. It’s not to be taken literally.
Yes and no.
In the one sense, it is very much a metaphor. There will be no “marriage” as we human beings think of it – no ceremony with legal documents, no sexual acts, no propagation of children and so on – between this holy Bridegroom and His bride.
But that does not mean there will be no marriage.
We, with our vision limited by sin and human weakness, often fail to understand the most central meaning of marriage which is union.
All the things that we as humans do as part of our marriages are to celebrate and try to achieve to the extent possible this very experience of union.
However, human marriage is but a foreshadowing of the “true” marriage to come. For as wondrous as human love, companionship, sexuality and childbearing are, even the best marriage inevitably falls short of the full and eternal union for which we were created. Its greatest gift is what it foreshadows.
But if it is metaphor, what then did St. Macarius mean when he indicated that matrimony of the soul with God “is not merely a simile. It is a real sacrament which takes place between the devout soul and God, making them one spirit”? (quoting Fr. Matta, see discussion at Here to pray.)
I cannot, of course, presume to know what another means. But I will share my understanding of these words.
To say that this “matrimony” is not merely a simile (or metaphor) suggests that it is something more than that. And I don’t believe that the “something more” is a literal interpretation. Rather, I believe he is describing a mystical truth, a sacramental truth.
If we look to the etymology of the word “sacrament”, we find its roots lie in terms meaning consecration or mystery. Hence, there is a union, a sacred making “one spirit” of God and the soul, that is mystery to our senses but utterly real by faith.
Perhaps our best analogy is in Eucharist. Do I believe that bread and wine consecrated are the Body and Blood of Christ? Yes, I do.
I do not believe that I am given a piece of the flesh of the earthly Jesus, resulting in cannibalism when I consume it, as a concrete, literal interpretation would have it. But I do believe that I receive His Body and Blood.
Our most sacred, mystical truths cannot be understood in the concrete language of the world and seem full of contradiction to those who do not yet have understanding. Even we who believe may easily be confused by it.
These words of St. Paul are good to remember:
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.
Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. (1 Corinthians 2:12-15)
And, if I might briefly cross-blog for just a moment, it is good to remember that the Fathers of the Church, in explaining union with God to us, teach that its fullness is experienced only at the resurrection of the dead. (See Revelation 19:7, for a Biblical reference to the wedding feast at the end of time.)
When God allows a person in this life to experience becoming “one spirit” with Him, the “matrimony” or union is but a foretaste of what is to come –
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
And so we repent and struggle and love, that we might be one, ready to meet our Bridegroom at the end of time.
And we sing and pray and believe that, through the Spirit of God, we might understand and receive a foretaste of this glorious union too great for our senses now to bear.
The idea of marriage as a union makes perfect sense. And in the historical context, when it came to marriage I think the man did the initial choosing. Even now the expectation remains that a man asks a woman to marry him, rather than the other way found. And traditionally the man was expected to take care of and provide for his wife and whatever children they are blessed with. In general the man was seen as the head of the household–at least that’s the picture I got as I grew up.
So as a metaphor the marriage concept works very well, as long as you think in traditional terms. And if you include “gender identity,” then the metaphor should apply to all human relationships. However, because of my background (male, sexist attitudes inherited and learned) and my own inner conflicts on the subject of gender–historically, culturally, philosoohically , and even religiously–I have great difficulty responding to that metaphor, even though on a purely spiritual plane (if there is such a thing and if I were capable of living and functioning there) it carries such beautiful and powerful meaning,
P.S. I’m not arguing here, Mary; just clarifying my own struggles, I am glad that the marriage/union/sacrament/mystery theme works well for others.
Yes, Al, and our culture is a very mixed up one. We, as individuals, cannot easily sort it all out.
In the traditional concept of marriage, the metaphor works well because the union of God and humanity is not, of course, the union between equals. We did not initiate it and God is indeed the one who chooses, cares for and protects.
Perhaps as an unmarried person, I am less bothered by the metaphor because I am not comparing this sacred union to a human one with all of its trappings in culture, family history, etc.
But I understand how such dilemmas can get in the way. I cringe when I read that we are all “sons of God”. I am not anyone’s “son”. While many traditional believers throw up their hands at the desire for “politically correct” language, I find it puzzling that anyone would think I would be comfortable being referred to as a male.
Over time, I have toned down my concerns about such things. It is just language, meant to communicate a concept and no one is intending to say that I must change gender or that only males are saved. In the Kingdom, such trifles will be of no significance but, in my current state, I am still prone to such distractions at times.
In the meantime, we try not to let ourselves be distracted. I have found that too much worry – or too many opinions – just keep my heart from gazing upon my God and loving my neighbor. Probably another ploy of the enemy.
As always, I appreciate your comments which keep me thinking.