Now this is how a wedding sermon ought to be preached (courtesy the Rev. David Petersen).
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable of the ten virgins exposes the dark side of the Gospel: not everyone is saved. Five virgins shut themselves out. They go their own way, attempt to buy their way in, and then can’t understand what has happened. The Lord says to them as harsh of words as are ever uttered in Holy Scripture: “I do not know you.”
Of course that is not why the text was chosen today. The text was chosen to give us an excuse to sing the hymn. Still, whatever the reason, no matter how beautiful and profound this particular chorale is, not everyone goes to heaven. Five out of ten, five who thought they were going in, who had the outward marks of virginity, are shut out. We are solemnly warned: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man comes.”
From a Lutheran perspective, this warning, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man comes” is always in order. We do not know the hour of the Lord’s return. We do not know if we will make it to the reception or even to the vows or to the end of this sentence. No one knows when the Lord will come. The Lord interrupts weddings as surely as He interrupts funerals.
So don’t get drunk tonight. Don’t gossip. Guard your heart. Stay free of sin. Watch and Stay alert. Because The Son of Man comes and Five Virgins who think they will get in, who have all the outward marks of the church, will not.
We might issue a similar warning with regards to Holy Marriage, but I don’t think I can stand to hear another wedding sermon quoting the statistics of divorce. For one thing I am not even sure they are accurate, but in any case, it is too late now. So why scare and brow beat you with statistics? I’d rather browbeat and scare you with eschatological warnings.
Besides, even if I gave you all the divorce statistics, you wouldn’t’t believe me. You’d nod along. You’d think you agreed and were very aware of the dangers, but you wouldn’t’t be here if you didn’t expect to beat the odds.
You may be naive and even foolhardy in this, but you’re not actually wrong. There is a promise for Holy Marriage that makes Christians bold and confident. Five Virgins were shut out, but the other Five, who also fell asleep, who also failed in their duties, who were no better than those shut out and were in no way perfect, went in. They went in by grace. This is not a vain hope – either for marriage or for eternity. The undeserved mercy won by Christ’s death gives power for Christians to live Christian lives. That includes living together as husband and wife – a most Christian way to live.
The Lord God instituted Holy Marriage even before our rebellion – before any virgins fell asleep in their watches, or any synodical bureaucrats learned to look the other way, or any parish pastors found a convenient reason to commune someone he shouldn’t, or before any dairy farmer figured out milking was more important than Sunday morning worship. This is how God intended for us to live on earth, in the garden: as husband and wife, father and mother. Until this was done, until Eve was called forth out of Adam, creation was incomplete and it was not good. Genesis 2 records the creation that was done on the 6th day. Before Eve’s creation, it was not good. It was incomplete so long as Adam was alone. Before he could live as God intended, Adam had to fall asleep and have something taken out of him and made into her. Then, when they were together, then it was good and the 6th day came to a close. The brokenness we now endure – singleness and barrenness and divorce, perversions and abuse and homosexuality – these are because of our rebellion, of choosing our own way. That threatens marriage as surely as it threatens souls.
But those threats and that real sadness do not undo what God has done: Marriage is good. It is what God intended for this earth and for us. But there is more. For even as marriage was instituted before the Fall, so also it has been blessed and reconstructed in the Redemption as foreshown in the creation of Eve.
When God’s wrath had been appeased, when the serpent’s head was crushed, on the 6th day of the week, the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Jesus on the cross. His Body and Soul were rent asunder. We would say that He was dead and we would not be wrong. Hell had done its worst. It was spent. It could do no more. It used everything it had on Him. It is not only out of ammunition but also energy and ability. There was no one left to accuse us, no justice, no Law. It was finished. Christ’s soul then went to His Father. His Body would go to the ground. The devil would not get either His Body or His soul. But before that, the Lord God opened up His side. Water and blood flowed from His ribs. Then the Lord God closed up the flesh and put Him to bed in the earth.
From the rib’s water and blood, which the LORD God had taken from the New Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, He made a woman. She is made of water and blood from the side of Christ and she was made for Him. The devil could not have Her. Then the Lord God woke Christ from His sleep. His body and His soul were rejoined. He gave the woman made of water and Blood unto the Man as His Holy Bride. And the Man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Christian, because she was taken out of Christ.”
The Man Jesus, our New Adam, left His Father, came to earth and was forsaken. In that leaving, that forsaking, He has cleaved unto His wife, unto us, His Holy Bride, and joins Himself to us, again and again, in the Holy Communion as one flesh with Him. He is to us everything that Adam should have been to Eve and more. He has endured and overcome temptation in our place. He has suffered our shame and punishment. He has brought us back from the slavery of prostitution at a cost far higher than 15 shekels and a quantity of barley, with nothing less than all He had, right down to His last breath. Despite what we have done He still calls us by His own name and loves us.
That is why in heaven the sons of the Resurrection are neither given nor taken in marriage. The saints of God are the Bride of Christ, taken from His side, joined to His flesh in a union that no man can put asunder. All earthly marriages are meant to be a foreshadowing of what God has done in Christ and what will be given to us fully in heaven. And thus they cannot endure. The shadow passes as the substance comes to be. The redemption of Jesus Christ does not put us back into the Garden of Eden for a second chance. Instead, it elevates us to the Right hand of the Father as the very Bride of, and one flesh with, Christ Himself.
Some earthly brides find this troubling. It is not as romantic as the Mormon sci-fi fantasy of heavenly intercourse birthing new planets. Earthly brides can be so in love with what God has given here on earth that they dread letting it go and the idea of no marriage in heaven can be disturbing. There are a number of problems here, the first is loving creation more than the Creator and a lack of trust that what God gives and has planned is always better than what we can imagine. But so also, I think the problem is that when it comes to heaven we’ve been given too much oatmeal and told it was meat. Thus we’ve come up with this very unbiblical view where heaven strips us of our personalities and memories.
The five virgins who got in remember how they got in, by grace, even though they fell asleep. Adam remembers how Eve was given to him as a gift and completed him. David remembers how he not only got to keep the wife he had stolen but was also given Solomon through her.
You won’t be married in heaven. But neither will you forget that you were married on earth, that God joined you together and used you for good and was good to you through this gift. This isn’t some small moment in your life that won’t matter in heaven. It matters in heaven to God now and it matters to all the saints for eternity. Marriage is a defining reality. Adam and Eve have no more forgotten they were married, than Bathsheba has forgotten either Uriah or David. They all rejoice in what God has done and how God worked in and on them through means while they were on earth, that God blessed them in marriage and claimed them as His own Bride.
What will you remember of your marriage? I don’t know. That has yet to unfold, but I know it will be worth recollection and it will be a cause of joy. For you have been redeemed by Christ, not just for the future, but already now. And the same mercy which sent Him to the cross has given you to one another. You belong to Him as you belong to one another. That is worth waking up for. It may not quite be the return of Our Lord in glory, but it is related, and it is worthy of a thrilling cry and rejoicing.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
And this is how a wedding toast ought to be given (courtesy the Rev. Bart Day).
We are thrilled for you and we are thrilled to celebrate your marriage this night. We pray for you, bless you, and soon we will raise a toast of Cana wine to you. May your lives together be rooted in the goodness of God’s creation and the freedom of his redemption. May your bed be passionate and fruitful, a sacramental sign of the passion of Jesus that embraces the world in his death and the passionate love of the church for her savior. May your table be a feast of fat things (including pork and beef) and fine wines and fatty milk, an appetizer of the marriage feast of the lamb in his kingdom which has no end. For as the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God rejoices over you.
And as it turns out, they were.
More wedding wonderfulness to follow.