Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Bible is your Love Story

(originally published in The Courier...)

That sounds crazy, right? To most people, the Bible is an old book full of old stories, wars, and all sorts of ancient things that don’t touch their daily life. Yet, the Bible is the living word of God! It holds more truth for our intimate lives than we could possibly imagine.

The Bible is God’s love letter to you – to YOU! Sacred Scriptures is just packed with love and marriage. Did you ever think about the fact that it begins and ends with a marriage celebration? In Genesis, we see the creation of humanity in God’s image: “male and female he created them.” This is from the first creation story (Gen. 1:26-27). Man and woman together are the image of God. The second creation story emphasizes this further as God says “it is not good for man to be alone” and God makes woman. Now is that full image of God reflected again in man and woman (Gen. 2:18). And this is the first wedding – and that marital relationship is the reflection of God. This shows us that God’s love is nuptial; in other words, God’s love is as love in a marriage.

In the final book of the Bible, Revelations, all of Sacred Scripture ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb. Who is the Lamb of God? We know this from Mass – it is Jesus Himself! And who is the Lamb’s bride? His bride is the Church – you and me. The final purpose of God’s salvation history for humanity is to bring us into union with Himself! (CCC 260). It is a beautiful, marital union between bride and bridegroom – drawing us into His divine life and into His sonship with the Father.

What if I told you that the Old Testament, was also about God wanting to bind His people into a marital union, a nuptial covenant with Himself? Some could get lost in the events and wars; even the great moment of the Sinai Covenant where God spoke to Moses and made a covenant with them, this could be seen as a great, powerful God leading His people. Yet, it seems to resonate as a story of a ruler more than a lover.

However, the prophets open our eyes to what the story is all about. Isaiah says, “your Maker is your husband … For the Lord has called you like a wife …” (Isaiah 54:5-7). Again, in Ezekiel 16: 7-8, 11-12, we read: “you grew up and became tall and arrived at full womanhood … you were at the age for love … I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine…” YHWH, the Lord, took Israel to Himself as a bride.

Do you remember how the story goes though? That bride betrayed her covenant with YHWH. And God wanted to scorn her, but forgave her and promised a savior – one that would renew the marital covenant with His people and atone for their sins: a bridegroom messiah! (Jesus is your bridegroom! He is the one who will lay his life down for you and give Himself to you…)

This may seem strange, but even John the Baptist speaks of Jesus as the bridegroom. When some ask John if he is the messiah they’ve waited for he says, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full” (Jn. 3:28-30). What a vivid picture John gives us! He is not the bridegroom, but the “best man,” the one who is “the friend of the bridegroom” and the one who ought to rejoice with the bridegroom.  And he brings this image home as he affirms that indeed “this joy of mine is now full.”  The best man is rejoicing because the bridegroom has arrived and it is Jesus.

St. Paul takes us even further into this mystery as he says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her … This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:25-26, 32). The cross is the moment that Christ gave Himself up for His bride. He became one flesh with His bride.  (As the bridegroom, the husband of the church, He gives a most profound example. Being a good husband is not about forcing one’s will on another; it is about being the one to lay bare every selfish ambition, every ounce of pride and give yourself completely over to your bride in an absolute gift of self in love.) 

John reminds us of this: “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1-10).  He loved them.  God is love (1 Jn 4:8). That is who He is and how He acts.

The great mystery that St. Paul referenced is the very fact that the cross is the marriage bed of the Lamb of God.  Scott Hahn illuminates this in his discourse “The Fourth Cup.”  Jesus was not merely celebrating another Passover but inaugurating the new covenant (Lk 22:20) as a wedding meal.  The first two cups are towards the beginning of the meal, then they eat roasted lamb and unleavened bread. The third cup is the “cup of blessing,” which is the cup Jesus blessed and we receive at Mass in the Eucharist (1Cor 10:16).  After they have all had a chance to drink from the third cup, they sing several psalms and go out into the garden.  The fourth cup, which is actually called the “cup of consummation” is missing in the Last Supper’s feast!  Jesus extends the meal all the way to the cross when He says, “I thirst.” He receives the bitter wine and consummates the covenant with His bride. Where Adam sinned, Christ was sinless and took on our shame. 

In that moment, naked, bare, He gives Himself to His bride. “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” In the Latin He says, “consummatum est”  – it is consummated; it is complete. He gives Himself completely to us, His bride.  He gives His body, His blood and His very life – all to be united to His bride and bring us into His life.

And how do we receive this selfless gift of love? How do we accept the bridegroom’s gift of his whole self? When we receive His body and blood in the Eucharist at Mass, we are participating in that moment! Mass is where the past, present and future collide! The Mass is the wedding banquet of the Lamb! It is not the Lion of Judah on the cross, but the Lamb of God. He is waiting there to give Himself to each human person in the deepest love. Let us no longer take the Eucharist for granted, but instead approach the altar with trembling love as a bride approaches the bridegroom. For His cross is His marriage bed, and He waits with passionate love to give Himself to you and draw you into His divine life! “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 16:9).