I was musing on Ephesians 5:21-33, and in particular Paul’s analogy between Christ and the church:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
It strikes me that we may be too quick to reverse the direction of Paul’s statement here and return our attention to what he is saying about marriage, rather than listening more carefully to what he is saying about the church.
How often do we remember that the relationship between Christ and the church is one of “marriage”? Or, more to the point: that the life of the church (as the “sacrament of the kingdom of God”, in the Second Vatican Council’s happy phrase) is that of a marriage feast?
The image of the marriage feast is used throughout the New Testament to describe the life of the kingdom of God. We find it in parables such as Luke 14:16-24, and in texts such as Revelation 19:9: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” In this, Jesus and the apostles are mining a rich seam of similar Old Testament imagery.
One of the most striking examples is the parable of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25:1-13. The Divine Service of the church follows the dynamic of a marriage feast as described in this parable: we begin by preparing for the arrival of the bridegroom (in the confession and absolution, the opening hymns of Kyrie and Gloria, and the reading of the Old and New Testament lessons that testify to him); stand for the bridegroom’s arrival in the words of the Gospel reading; and then celebrate together the marriage feast that is the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, I gather that some churches have a tradition that anyone who arrives after the Gospel lesson cannot commune: presumably because they have arrived at the wedding banquet after the bridegroom to find the door shut (Matthew 25:10).
This also means that all relationships within the church, between Christians, are to have something of this quality of the “marriage feast”. As Paul (himself, of course, unwed) says, “I am applying this to Christ and the church“. This quality is most obviously, and perhaps most fully, displayed in the marriage of husband and wife; but it is by no means exhaustively and exclusively to be found there. One of our callings as Christians is to live out this life of the “marriage feast”, this “spousal” quality, in all our relationships in the church.