–By Rev. James Krikava
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God, which will form the basis for our meditation on the Church’s Blessing of your civil marriage is written in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the 5th chapter, which reads as follows in Jesus’ name:
“31 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
These are your words, heavenly Father, sanctify us through your truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, dear Rajiv and Adéla, friends and family, dear fellow redeemed of the Lord:
In the 5th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, he quotes God’s Word after He created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam said of her:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man”
God approved Adam’s words and added the reason for it: What does this mean? “24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gn 2:23-24). This is the Word of the LORD, the one true God, “the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed, Art. 1).
Jesus again confirms this Word in His argument with the Pharisees over their question to Him concerning divorce: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for just any cause?” (Mt. 19:3). Jesus’ answer? A resounding, “No!” “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:4-6). In fact, Jesus says, the only reason there is divorce at all is “Because of your hardness of heart … but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt. 19:8). This is the Word of the LORD, the one true God,; the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that is God, the “Word that became flesh and dwelt among us … with the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1,14).
And now the Holy Spirit once more confirms this Word through the Apostle Paul, “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” This is the Word of the LORD, the one true God, the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets” (NC III), giving us the Holy Scriptures, “ 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20-22).
This is the third and final repetition of the institution of the union between a man and a woman in Holy marriage. It is the institution of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But in this last utterance, the Holy Spirit takes us down a path on which the holy apostle is led by the Spirit to say: “32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:32-33).
This is new. In the first institution of marriage, God the Father gives the command for which He expects perfect obedience. In the second, Jesus, God the Son, not only repeats the command, but uses it to condemn Israel for playing fast and loose with it. In the Talmud, e.g., one Rabbi suggested allowing a divorce if the wife burned the food! Shame on them for the shallow regard they had for their own Scriptures. Yes, shame on all for what we have done to God’s holy order. Jesus calls us all to repentance for this. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 4:17).
But when the Holy Spirit repeats the institution for the third time, He does not use it to upbraid, condemn, or heap guilt upon you. Instead, He uses it to point to something new, something sacramental, if you will. We are not saying that marriage is a sacrament; for it is not a means of grace, by which we receive the forgiveness of sins, as in baptism, absolution, and the Holy Supper. But the apostle does link marriage to something mysterious, something holy: “32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Here the Holy Spirit reveals that Christian marriage is not only the command that “We should fear and love God that we lead a sexually pure and holy life in what we say and do, and that husband and wife love and honor each other” (SC I:6); not only the command “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and that “We should fear and love God that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s spouse … or turn them against each other … but urge them to stay and do their duty” (SC I:10); not only the exhortation to pray, “Lead us not into temptation … that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. But though we are attacked by these things … that we may finally overcome them and win the victory” (SC III:6).
All of this applies, but here the Holy Spirit shows us a picture of our Help in the bonds of marriage, for those times when we fail to live up to the commandments, when we do not love and honor each other as we ought, when we would throw up our hands and forget to pray for God’s protection of our marriage in the midst of temptations. What is that Help? It is Christ Jesus. And how is He pictured as our Help? He is depicted as the loving husband of His beloved bride, the Church. He is the perfect husband to His wife. As St. Paul says, He “loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). We, as the bride of Christ, are not without spot or wrinkle. Marriage is full of joys, to be sure, but in our fallen world, even the holy estate of marriage is subject to hardships brought on by the sin of Adam that still clings to our nature in this life. And yet, in spite of our weakness as bride, the Bridegroom of your souls laid down His life for you on the cross. He took your sins upon Himself, suffered the punishment you deserved, eternal death, “the wages of sin” (Rm 6:23), and swallowed them up forever, so that you might be free to live in Him forever.
And even more than that, He has overcome death and the grave for you, as well. His resurrection on the 3rd day is the victory cry over sin, death, and the devil. It is His declaration to you: “I forgive you. You are my beloved bride. All is accomplished for you and your salvation.” And our Bridegroom continues to proclaim this loving word within the Church, His bride. You are baptized. Your sins are washed away. You are forgiven by the word of absolution, in the confessional and from the pulpit. You receive into your body His very body and blood in His Supper for the forgiveness of all your sins. In Christ, as your Bridegroom, the Church becomes one with Him. By faith He dwells in you and you in Him. “And the two … become one flesh … 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Now you, Rajiv and Adéla, as husband and wife, use this God-given institution of marriage, this image, of which marriage is a living icon; use it in your marriage to point you to Christ, your Bridegroom, your Redeemer, your Savior. May He bless your life together. For He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son (+) and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
- This marriage sermon was preached by Rev. James Krikava, Regional Director of Eurasia, on April 2nd, 2016 at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic.
- Pray for the newly married couple from St. Michael’s, and for all married people, that Christ would uphold their marriages in love, forgiveness and faithfulness.