|The Tower Bridge of London|
Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
Still excited since posting yesterday's screed, I find in today's gospel from the second chapter of Saint Mark, Jesus' describing himself as the bridegroom.
"Of whom?" we must ask. The Church, of course.
Saint Paul gives a marvelously graphic, if not downright erotic, description of Jesus' tender love for his Church:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
The Book of Revelation also images the Church as the gorgeous Bride of Christ:
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God].
These New Testament images of Jesus as bridegroom and the Church as bride are built upon the tradition of the Hebrew Prophets who realized that the Lord is not an overbearing god who demands unquestioning loyalty and obedience of his entrapped people; he is a tender husband fiercely loyal and jealous of his distracted wife.
In fact, the tradition goes beyond describing the love of God for his people like a marriage; marriage is the image of God's love for his people. You know nothing whatever about marriage if you have not seen God and Jerusalem, Jesus and his Church.
- You might think, as the ancient Hebrews thought and 19th century Mormons thought, that a man could have several wives! Could Jesus have several churches after he prayed "that all might be one?" The idea is absurd.
- You might think that divorce is an option but can God divorce his Church or the Church divorce God? Of course not. God has made an eternal covenant with the Church in the person of Jesus. There is no dissolution of Jesus.
- Could God divorce one church to marry another? Neither can a man divorce his wife to marry another. It's unthinkable.
- Once divorce becomes a way of life, someone might suppose a man can marry a man; or a woman, marry a woman. Clearly, for them, marriage means whatever they want it to mean, without reference to the Marriage of the Lamb.
- When marriage is defined without reference to the sexual end of begetting children, a man might marry his brother or his sister.
- As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, “When I use a word,it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
The covenants of marriage, both human and divine, assume that opposites attract. Despite what appears to be a polar opposition they cannot resist their mutual fascination. Divinity has great affection for humanity and humanity is delighted by the divine. Male admires female and female desires the male.
These polarities find their satisfaction in the one who is born between them, the incarnate fruit of love, an infant which is both human and divine; or the infant which genetically images both parents.
True marriage, wherever it appears, reflects the love of God and the Church. Isn't it marvelous that we hear stories from all over the world of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Zoroastrian monogamous marriages of loving husbands and wives? Even atheists unite in a covenant of love while denying that their union is founded upon the Heavenly Marriage.
As Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans,
For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. (Romans 1:19-20)
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
Jesus warns us that we must be prepared for times like these when marriage is challenged and the bridegroom seems very distant. When a man marries he becomes a husband; that identity cannot be stripped from him like a shirt if his wife is far away. The name husband is his identity. Likewise, a woman becomes a wife, no matter where her husband might be. When they are apart they feel the absence like a bodily discomfort, and that discomfort, like a hunger, proves their belonging to each other. They are, as Jesus said, one body, with one mutual feeling of longing.
And so we stand upon the heights, eager and hungry, watching for the Bridegroom's return!