Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Feast of Family

John 2:1-11

Marriage is a big deal.  The sacramental union of a man and a woman together in our Lord's Holy Covenant is worthy of our prayers, worthy of serious contemplation before entering into such union, and worthy of the full weight of the Church's support not only when things go wrong but to also assure that things stay right!  When that union is threatened in any way, the Church must be prepared and willing to engage in spiritual battle because there is much more at stake that many of us realize.  So it is significant in the Season of Epiphany that this succession of events, from Jesus' baptism to Jesus' presence at a wedding, reveals to us much more than Jesus' ability to change water into wine as only a "sign to be believed".

We are also being shown much more than Jesus affirming the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman; the sanctity of that reality is already affirmed in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh".  In fact, it could be said that Jesus' presence at the wedding is incidental because when He was "invited", there is no indication that His role as Messiah was even considered.  Yet we are being shown by His presence the covenantal relationship between the Lord and His Church; between the Bridegroom who is Messiah and the Bride which is the Church.  But we are not being shown this merely by Jesus being present.  There is much more. 

Perhaps it is that the significance of running out of wine is not so much indicative of more guests showing up than were anticipated but rather that there is only so much we can do within our limited human capacity to anticipate and endure the reality of life's certain challenges, especially for a married couple.  We must remember that in Jesus' day, they could not run to the corner liquor store or the county line to get more wine!  It had to be prepared beforehand.  So perhaps it is that we begin to "run on empty" (that is, 'fall out of love' or 'it wasn't meant to be') without fully realizing the preparation work necessary before the wedding should even take place (I do not mean planning the wedding!), not to mention the incredible work that must be done to protect and preserve that union because it is a UNION OF TESTIMONY.  But we must also realize, within the sacramental context, that apart from our Lord, we can never really be prepared for all that lay ahead.

The Roman Catholic Church has for centuries maintained the integrity of matrimony as a bona fide Sacrament of the Church, and it is a shame the reformers did not take more seriously the full weight of what truly constitutes "sacramental" before they dismissed all but two (baptism and the Lord's Supper).  It is a shame and a profound loss because when the sacramental nature of marriage is diminished to a mere "ordinance" or when the "sacramental nature" is removed altogether, we are left with little more than a legal, perhaps social contract that can endure only for so long as each party is willing; which is to say, only for so long as the "good wine" lasts.

Calling marriage a "sacrament", however, is no magic formula for success without understanding what "sacramental" really means.  When we understand Sacrament as "the Lord's giving of Himself to us", we can see this more clearly in baptism when we are given new life and we can appreciate its depth in the nourishment of the Lord's Supper when we are renewed in repentance.  Where the Lord "gives of Himself" in marriage, however, is a little more elusive, a little harder to pin down because in the beginning of just about any marriage, it's all about mutual attraction, infatuation, idealism, and romanticism.  We often hear that "I want to spend the rest of my life with him/her", but we rarely (if ever) hear, "I want to glorify our Lord's Covenant with humanity through my union with my beloved".  And we don't hear this because it is likely the very LAST thing on a couple's mind. 

Which may beg the question: Did the Lord give us marriage, or did He enter into marriage in order to make it mean something, to give it depth; that is, the depth of a Covenant as a UNION OF TESTIMONY rather than as a mere partnership of convenience?  The Season of the Epiphany has a natural progression to this end in that while we are told of Jesus' special role as Messiah by the presence of the Gentile "wise men" who were led from afar and by His baptism when the "Spirit descended as a dove", we are now introduced to the fulfillment of that special role in the nature of the Covenant between the Holy God and the unholy human race for the sole purpose of sanctifying us to Himself.

So just as it is that baptism by water is an "outward sign of an inward grace", society is shown the "outward sign" of the Covenant by the sacrament of marriage made sacramental not by a priest but by the intentional commitment each partner has to the other "for better AND for worse, in wealth AND in poverty, in sickness AND in health"; that is, "sacrificially", "sacramentally".  The covenant commitment we make to our spouses in giving ourselves completely to them is one and the same sacrament attested to in our Lord giving Himself to us in the new birth (justifying grace) and in continuing to grow in love and mutual support and nurture of one another in the faith (sanctifying grace); "going on to perfection" but recognizing that perfection that can never be achieved by man alone.

Make no mistake.  A sound and fruitful marriage is no accident, and it does not "just happen" as a matter of fate (fond as that unbiblical notion may be).  And while it is true that it "takes two to tango", it is equally true that a marriage can rise to new heights by the genuine commitment, perseverance, and self-sacrifice of only one just as a marriage can be utterly destroyed by the irresponsible, selfish, and often devious and diabolical acts of only one.  The challenge of the sacramental marriage is of the very same nature as that of the sacramental commitment to the Divine Covenant, the fulfillment of which is portrayed by the "new wine", the "good wine" at Cana - made possible only by the hand of our Lord.

There is therefore much more to this commitment than just being happy with one another, much more than mutual compatibility.  The nature of "sacrament" is attested to in our understanding of discipleship and the important role marriage and family life play in this understanding.  Author Josh Hunt writes in his book, "Disciple-making teachers", that there is no greater public testimony to the unity of Messiah to YHWH and the Church to Messiah than by Jesus' statement and prayer in John 17:23 when He prays, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me ..."  The writer states, "Do you understand the significance of Jesus' words?  It is almost as though Jesus is turning to the world and saying, 'If My people don't love each other, you have My permission to believe I did not come".  Wow.

The writer is not talking about the absence of divorce because, clearly, that ship has long sailed.  Rather he is talking about the presence of passion and purpose within the marriage covenant, the very same passion you and I need to have toward the Lord - the very same passion our Lord has for us ... as attested to at Calvary!  The Lord could have simply "willed" that all are saved, but He didn't do any "magic trick" nor did He simply take for granted that one day everyone would know of His Love.  He found it necessary to SHOW His love with intention.  He found it necessary to PROVE His love with purpose.  With complete disregard for Himself.  This relationship in our Lord's heart does not merely "exist", nor should our marriages simply "exist"; because what merely "exists" is, more often than not, taken for granted and neglected to its detriment and eventual annihilation. 

You want to know why people don't take the Church seriously anymore? It is because we do not take marriage or our spouses seriously anymore.  We use these, more often than not, as means convenient to our own selfish ends.  So when we do not take our spouses and our marriages seriously but simply let them "exist" as long as we are personally satisfied (so long as the wine holds out), we testify to the world that we do not take our Lord and our relationship with Him seriously.  We give them "permission", as the writer stated earlier, "to believe Jesus never came".  We give them permission to believe such Love does not exist. 

Jesus elevated the status and role of marriage by the "new wine", the "sign" of His remarkable presence in what was once an ordinary social event.  He portrayed YHWH's passion for us in the "new, superior wine", making the ordinary extraordinary ... not merely for the wedded bliss of the happy couple but for the WORLD TO SEE where He is in our lives!  It is a Perpetual Feast worth celebrating not only on the wedding day but each and every day to testify to the Goodness of our Lord and His commitment to US

It is discipleship at its finest.  It is relationship at its fullest potential.  It is Life in the Eternal Covenant.  It is, at its very best, "Emmanuel"; God with us.  Amen.

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