Ephesians 5:22-33; John 2:1-11
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Today’s Gospel depicts Jesus taking part in and adding to the joy of a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. While this Gospel certainly deals with much more than marriage, I’m going to follow the lead of Martin Luther when he preached on this passage and speak today especially about the divine gift and institution of marriage.
We live in a culture in which human sexuality has been cheapened and degraded. We’ve become accustomed to humor being reduced to sexual double entendre or adolescent innuendo about body parts. We’re saturated in an environment where almost everything is sexualized–from TV shows to the internet to casual conversations with friends and co-workers. How are we as Christians to deal with this? We don’t want to seem uptight and puritanical to people. But at the same time, human sexuality and morality is not something to treat lightly or unseriously.
The Christian approach to this should not be prudishness, which tends to look at sexuality as something that is inherently tainted by its sensual nature, necessary perhaps for procreation, but something that is far too fleshly and physical to be considered good or godly. Those who are prudish don’t believe that human sexuality is, in fact, a good gift of the Creator, that He is the One who made the one flesh, physical, sexual relationship from the very beginning, before sin ever entered into the world. They fail to fully recognize that sexuality and sexual activity is a gift to be received and enjoyed within marriage by husband and wife, that God created it for their mutual delight and companionship, and for the creation of new human life when He grants it.
However, those on the other end of the spectrum who engage in raunchy talk and immoral behavior actually have the exact same problem as the prudish. For they also fail to treat human sexuality as a gift of God. They diminish it to a juvenile punchline and belittle it by engaging in sexual relationships without God’s blessing. To them waiting until you’re married is weird and chastity is something to mock. Human sexuality is not treated as special and divinely given but is distorted to be merely the fulfillment of a personal need or desire. So in the end, by rejecting the goodness of God’s gift of marriage, both the prudish and the raunchy commit the very same error.
But in today’s Gospel we see that Jesus blesses marriage and the sexual relationship within it as good and holy. Marriage is not just a human arrangement or a mere legal matter or piece of paper, it’s a divine joining together of a man and a woman, an act of God making two people one flesh. Whether you’re married or single, God teaches you in His Word to honor marriage highly, especially in how you talk about it with friends and family. Through marriage God seeks to protect us from the evils of selfishness, loneliness, lust, doubt, and self-sufficiency. And He works through it to preserve society, so that the saving Gospel of Christ may be preached. Let’s go through each of those points individually:
*First of all, selfishness threatens to destroy us. In marriage God works to protect us from this. He places a flesh and blood spouse directly before our eyes, with specific and real needs. God calls us out of a self-absorbed life that invents its own good works, into a devoted life that takes care of the spouse He has given. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her; a wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord. In this way, God both builds up His people and beats down selfishness.
Secondly, lust threatens to ruin us. The book of Proverbs consistently refers to sexual enticements as one of the chief ways in which people are led into ruin. In marriage God seeks to protect us from the destructiveness of lust. St. Paul (who himself was single) counsels all who suffer from lust to marry, for this is God’s good and gracious provision for rendering proper affection one to the other. This is also one of the reasons why Paul counsels spouses not to withhold themselves from each other for lengthy periods of time. One of God’s blessings in marriage is the dampening and controlling of lust.
Thirdly, loneliness threatens to destroy us. Through the working of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, we become isolated and cut off. In marriage God protects us from loneliness. He gives us a companion for comfort and camaraderie in life. In the Garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Adam received Eve as the God-given companion that brought them both completeness: Such is God’s intention for marriage also today.
Fourthly, doubt threatens to destroy us. Although we would like to believe that we always make good decisions in life, we know that sin clouds our heart and mind. So how can we be certain that we have chosen the right partner? Through marriage God guards against such doubt by giving you the certainty that He is the One who married you to your spouse; that person is the one the Lord Himself has given you to love and to be committed to, even if they’re far from perfect. And what the Lord has done stands far above any feelings you may or may not have or any later wondering whether you should have done differently. A man and woman may in freedom choose to marry each other, but what really and finally counts is that it is the Lord who unites them, working through the authorities that He has established. In this way God protects marriage from doubt with the certainty that He is the One who has made the union.
Fifthly, self-sufficiency threatens to destroy us. We tend to think that we can do just fine on our own without God. Without the calling of serving a spouse in marriage, sinners would perceive even less need for God. In marriage God protects us from such misguided self-sufficiency. He calls husband and wife to the holy vocation of serving each other in Christ. And when husband and wife fail each other, God puts His law to work. He confronts their self-centeredness and their faltering service. He afflicts their consciences and disturbs their self-sufficiency. In short, God drives them to depend on Him. He drives them back to Himself, to find forgiveness, strength, and hope in Christ. Confession and Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Body and Blood of Christ become their lifeblood, making them right with God and able again to serve each other.
Finally, God preserves society through marriage. Without this institution, the basic unit of society, the family, would crumble. We see this happening around us, where conflict and chaos and self-will replace familial love. To prevent such evil, God established and blessed marriage from the beginning and said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” With that creative word, God continues to bless the union of husband and wife so that children are conceived and born. This, by the way, is why gay marriage simply does not and cannot exist. Every child has a father and a mother, male and female. Every father and mother is given a divine responsibility toward their children and toward one another within the commitment of marriage. Homosexual relationships can only fake that and cannot produce children. So-called gay “marriage” is sterile, not by reason of health defect or age, but by nature. God’s purpose in marriage is for husband and wife to serve not only each other but also their children by protecting, providing for, and nurturing them in the training and instruction of the Lord. Founded upon God’s gift of the family, human society can be peaceably ordered. And this in turn gives a good context for the saving Word of Christ to be preached and taught both in the church and the home.
All of this is God’s good gift. And all of this is meant to drive us to the greater reality that marriage points to. For the fact of the matter is, to one degree or another, all marriages are broken marriages; for it is two sinners who are united. Whether a Christian is single or married, divorced, widowed, young or old, as members of the Church we all are in a marital relationship that rescues and saves us. For the Church has been united with her holy Groom, Jesus. She is the betrothed of Christ. In the Epistle today Paul spent a lot of time talking about husbands and wives and marriage. And then he concludes his comments by saying, “What I’m really talking about though is Christ and the Church.” Earthly marriage is a sign of the greater and perfect love that God has for His people and the heavenly union that exists between them.
From all eternity, before marriage was instituted, it was planned that Christ would lay down His life for His woman, sacrifice Himself for the church, to save her from her fall into sin. Even as Adam was put into a deep sleep, and Eve was created from his side, so Jesus was put into the sleep of death on the cross, that this new Eve might be created from the sacramental blood and water that flowed from His side. St. John calls the church “the elect Lady,” chosen and redeemed by Christ. For Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. For all of you whom sin has contaminated, or whose marriages and families are broken, Jesus shed His blood to cleanse you of every sin; He sanctified you and made you holy for Himself by the water and the Word of Baptism. You stand before God spotless and perfect in the family of His Church, His holy bride.
Just as husband and wife are given in marriage to become one flesh, so our Lord unites Himself to us and makes Himself one flesh with us–one flesh to the extent that you are now members of His body. So if He is the Son of God, then you are called sons of God. If He holds in His hand the riches and treasures of heaven, those treasures are also yours to hold and take to heart. If He is the Righteous One, then you are declared righteous before God. If the death He dies no longer holds Him in the grave, then neither can death hold you in the grave. The Bride shares in everything that belongs to the Groom. That’s how marriage works with Jesus. What is His is now yours, too.
This is the joy of the eternal wedding feast that we are given a glimpse of in the Gospel. The ritual washing water of the Law is turned into the joyous wedding wine of the Gospel. The best is saved for last, and that best is Jesus–and His forgiveness and mercy and life–which are all for you. Even now in Divine Service the heavenly groom, our Lord Christ, comes to His bride to comfort her. He speaks to you His words of love. He remembers the commitment He made to you at Baptism. He gives Himself to you in Holy Communion that you may share fully in His life. And so the Scriptures say, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”
So set aside your doubts and fears and sorrows. Jesus rejoices over you, to have you as His own. Come in faith to His table, that you may partake in the eternal wedding feast. As it is written, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
*These points are borrowed from the Rev. Chaplain Jonathan Shaw.