God is preparing a Wedding.
Perhaps this seems an unusual theme for a gathering marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, but is how we felt led to begin our final Wittenberg 2017 meeting. Only the Father's desire, the Son's prayer and the Spirit's preparation are strong enough to make us one as the Father and Son are one. Human dialogue will always fall short.
Over the next few months I intend to write more about our final gathering - personal stories, images I carry with me, lessons I have learned. Today I would like to share the first part of the teaching I gave at the conference. It begins without introduction as my talk was really the second part of teaching begun by my brilliant friend and brother, Bishop Eisenbach.
Brothers and Sisters, we must understand that this wedding is no metaphor. It is real, and God’s heart is set upon it. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all focused on bringing this wedding to completion.
We must dare to believe that scripture is true. That we are created in the image of a God who is love, and who strongly desires to be loved. Every desire in our heart to know and be known comes from Him and ends in Him. He is the Alpha and Omega. This is why God calls us His children, why Jesus calls us His brothers and sisters, why He calls us servants, His friends and His bride. We have a deep longing for all these kinds of love – most of all for the love which unites us in eternal intimacy – the love which completes us – the love which woos our hearts – the love which bears fruit and multiplies.
And the truth which is hard for us to believe, hard for us to imagine, is that God desires this union even more than we do.The Father created us for this union with His Son. He knows this union will bring Jesus joy, and it will bring us joy beyond all we could imagine or hope for. But the fulfillment of the Father’s plan is costly because love always requires sacrifice. It is perilous, because God has an enemy. And so, as Franziskus said, both the Son and the Bride must be prepared.
We know that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, is God’s only begotten Son. He is Light from Light, True God from True God. We men are created, not begotten. We are made of dust. We are small, and weak, and weighed down with the pain of our sin.
We also know that for a legitimate marriage to occur, the Bride and the Groom must share the same nature. In the Garden of Eden, the Lord brought before Adam all the kinds of animals for him to name, but among all the animals, no suitable helpmate was found. Adam needed a mate who was flesh of his flesh.
The Son needs a Bride who shares His nature, and so the first act of the Son’s preparation is the Incarnation. Paul tells us this mystery, rooted in the creation story. “ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
This mystery is great indeed! The Father made us to fulfill the desire of His Son to be loved, to have a fitting helpmate. And He knew that the joy of the Son in His Bride would be so great, that He sent Him away from His presence – away from the glory and power that was rightfully His – to become one of us.
When the Jesus was born as a man, he became dependent on men. This was the Father’s plan. Jesus relied on Mary every day of His infancy and childhood. His mother fed Him; clothed Him; taught Him how to talk. She also taught Him how to navigate the pain of life in a fallen world. I am sure that Jesus fell down and skinned His knees. Mary washed and bandaged them. I am certain that other children hurt Jesus feelings. Mary comforted Him , defended Him, taught Him how to respond to the pain of teasing and rejection.
Jesus depended on Joseph. Joseph saved Jesus’ life. He left his business, his friends all the security he knew and fled to Egypt to save the child who was not his own biological son. Joseph provided for Jesus. He taught Jesus to work with His hands. Jesus learned obedience living under Joseph’s authority.
And so Jesus came to love his parents, just as we love ours, only more so, because He is Love.
Jesus had friends whom He loved. Friends who left everything to follow Him. Friends who listened and learned from him. Friends who gave money to support Him. Friends who, in the end, gave their lives for Him. Friends with whom he wanted to share His Kingdom. Jesus loved His friends, just as we love ours, only more so, because He is Love.
This was the Father’s plan in the Incarnation – for the Son to become dependent on the Bride – to learn to love her in the flesh, not looking down from heaven, but face to face. And this is the mystery of being the Body of Christ, that the Son continues to depend on us – to work mercy on the earth, to preach the gospel, to heal the sick and cast out demons. In doing these things, we become a suitable helpmate to our Savior, and this a beautiful thing. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that when He comes again in glory to judge, He will say to His Bride, “ ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ "
Brothers and sisters, this is another glorious mystery! When we minister to one another, we minister to Jesus, like His friends did on earth. In this way, He comes to know us, we come to know Him, and as we come to know Him, we will love Him more. And He will be jealous for us. As He said in the gospel of Luke, we will be to him “His mother, His brothers and His sisters.” Luke 8:21