I was blessed to have my whole family gathered together this past week for the holy matrimony of my son, Justinian, and his bride, Cecilia. Justinian is the fourth of our sons – the seventh of our children – to get married, so I suppose that LaRena and I are somewhat accustomed now to this season of life, although such an occasion is no less poignant and profound. We give thanks for the pious and faithful spouses that our children have been given, even as we also rejoice and give thanks for the children the Lord grants to them in turn.
The Rite of Holy Matrimony articulates clearly what we all believe, teach, and confess from the Holy Scriptures, that this “great Mystery” is actually all about Christ and His Bride, the Church. It’s not that marriage makes a great analogy for what it’s like with the Lord Jesus and His people (though that is also true); rather, the first and foremost Marriage is actually that of our heavenly Bridegroom and His dearly beloved Bride, and our human marriages, even at their best, are but a dim reflection of that divine reality. By no means does that lessen the blessing, importance, and value of our marriages in this body and life on earth! Indeed, it is the very thing that gives them their greatest significance, such as this world is unable to know apart from faith in Christ Jesus.
“From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy Bride; with His own Blood He bought her, and for her life He died” (LSB 644, st. 1). That familiar hymn, which we sang at the conclusion of Justinian & Cecilia’s wedding, draws upon and confesses what St. Paul has written in his letter to the Church at Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her,” for “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, and is Himself its Savior” (Ephesians 5:25, 23). That is a high and holy calling, to be a husband like unto Christ. God grant us the grace to live and work and sacrifice in such loving service to our wives, and His mercy and forgiveness for all the ways that we do not.
In the Pastoral Epistles, St. Paul does also draw a line from the vocation of husband and father to that of pastor and bishop in the Church (1 Timothy 3:1-4; Titus 1:5-6). “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s Church?” (1 Timothy 3:5). While not an exact correspondence, it is appropriate and beneficial for pastors to approach their care for the congregations of the Church with the same kind of heart, mind, attitude, and spirit as a husband for his wife – “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,” if not until death, then at least until the Lord calls and determines otherwise, according to His holy will.
As surely as it is true that none of us human husbands are actually Christ Jesus, but we daily fall short in caring for our wives and families, so is it the case the we who are called and ordained to be pastors are often painfully aware of our inadequacies, shortcomings, and weaknesses. In both respects, we are called daily to repentance, and not to despair of our callings and stations in life, but to arise each morning in the new mercies of our Lord, and to carry out the duties of our office in the faith and confidence of His Word. “Do whatever He tells you,” St. Mary wisely spoke to the servants of the Bridegroom at the Wedding in Cana, and that is exactly the right advice and guidance for each and all of us, whatever our own positions of service may be within our homes and families and within the household and family of God. For the Lord indeed is gracious and merciful to each of us, not only forgiving our trespasses day after day by His Gospel, but also upholding us and accomplishing His purposes in us and through us in spite of our failings. God grant us joy and gladness in our callings, as we are privileged to serve the Bride of Christ Jesus.