Summary: We can learn about the faithfulness of God and the sacrament of marriage by learning from Jesus's words at the Last Supper
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Love Song of the Bridegroom
May 9, 2010
Those who have been married for more than a few days, and those who counsel young married people, realize that one of the greatest fears of a young wife–and of a young husband, too, if they’ll admit it–is of abandonment. “Will he come home? Will she realize some difficult truth about me and leave?” Every realistic couple must have had a discussion about what would happen if husband or wife dies–what will the survivor do and whom would the survivor count on? These are real fears, and require real responses. The Word of God to us today reminds us that the Church is a Bride, and that this young Bride, before Christ’s ascension into heaven, was wondering, “what will I do when He leaves me?”
We will understand the reading from the Book of Revelation better if we pick it up in the verse that immediately precedes it. An angel came to the writer and said, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the spouse of the Lamb.” The holy city, the new Jerusalem, is the Bride of Christ, and therefore is the Church, founded on the twelve apostles–one, holy, Catholic, apostolic. In the heavenly Church there is no temple, no place to meet God, for God is immediately present to the Church. There is no lamp, for there is no darkness. The Lamb lights up the city; Christ’s light reveals the Truth to everyone. There is no evil, because those who embrace evil rather than goodness, beauty and truth exclude themselves from the city, from the Bride, by their own free choices.
The Gospel of John says the same thing in a different way. This long discourse of Jesus is set at the Last Supper, but it could have summarized the Church’s memory of any set of Jesus’s teachings. Read correctly, it is Jesus’s counsel for the Church, the Bride, regarding what to do when He is no longer visible to Her. Just as a dying spouse will speak to the Beloved, Jesus speaks to the Church. “Be at peace; do not let your heart be troubled; don’t let them be afraid. I give you my peace, a peace the world cannot give.” He promises that He will be with the Church always, that even if He cannot be seen, He will be here. He gives us a new commandment, so that the world will see our testimony that Jesus lives and is still in the Church. We must have love for one another.
And there is more. Jesus will never truly leave the Church, because the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the very love of God is poured out in our hearts, and is always dwelling in the Church. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, it is the Holy Spirit that effects the change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ. And it is the Holy Spirit who effected the change of human words into the Word of God we proclaim: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
This is the love song of the Bridegroom, his canticle promising never to abandon us. His death did not separate us from Him; His ascension is only a movement to a different level of presence within us and for us. Now He is present in the proclamation of the Gospel. Now He is present when we are kind to one another, and when we forgive our enemies. Now He is present when we feed the hungry and counsel the doubtful and pray for the living and the dead. And He is specially present when we hear His summons to gather weekly from north, south, east and west, give Him praise and receive that special act of love that puts us in communion with Him and draws us close to each other. Here we are the Bride and He is the Bridegroom. Here we celebrate the communion in which God becomes closer to me than I am to myself, than you are to yourself.
The marriage of the Church, the Bride, and the Lamb, Jesus Christ the Bridegroom, is the model for every marriage. That is why every modern attempt to redefine marriage is doomed to failure. Jesus heard the call of the Father to be the Bridegroom. The Second Person of the Trinity, divine in substance, debased Himself, acted against His own best interests to become gift to us. The marriage of the Lamb with the Church is no 50-50 proposition. Jesus poured out every scintilla of His being for us. For us men, He became the model husband, even giving up His life for His Bride. And so when we enter into marriage, and when we persist in marriage, we must never ask “what’s in it for me?” We cannot be takers, we must always be givers in the image of the Divine Gift. When modern men and women ask to redefine marriage, there’s always some sense of entitlement, of “me first.” That’s what leads to contraceptive behavior, abortion, infidelity and divorce, and the whole cycle of family fracture that is the curse of the modern age. In contrast, the Church teaches fidelity, indissolubility, and total openness to life. The divorce rate among those who accept the age-old teachings of the Church about marriage and sexuality is less than 5%.