Marriage in Heaven
We have already sensed the conclusion to this series on marriage and church in the foreshadowing of nuptial union with God in the Song of Songs, referring at once to the individual soul, Israel and the Church. Other passages in the Old Testament point to such a nuptial union, both personal and corporate, for all eternity. Consider, for example, the prophecy of Isaiah, through which the LORD declares to His chosen people:
You shall no more be termed ‘Forsaken’, and your land shall no more be termed ‘Desolate’; but you shall be called ‘My delight is in her’, and your land ‘Married’; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married…and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Is 62:4-5)
Moreover, as soon as we open the New Testament, we cannot avoid seeing that something profoundly eschatological is at work in this matter of marriage. On the one hand Our Lord blesses human marriage and elevates it to the level of a sacrament, performing his first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, where he astonished the steward by saving the good wine until the end—thereby manifesting his glory (Jn 2:1-11). But on the other hand, we have the case of the Sadducees trying to put Christ in the wrong concerning the Resurrection of the dead, by asking which of seven husbands will be the spouse of a particular woman in heaven. All three synoptic writers record Our Lord’s reply: “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30, Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35).
Thinking again of Cana, then, how is the water of natural marriage to be turned into everlasting wine?
Let us try coming at the question from another direction. On a number of occasions, Our Lord compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a marriage feast given by a king for his son (e.g., Mt 22). Not all who are initially invited (Israel) are willing to come to the banquet and so the king extends the invitation to everyone. Even so, some who seem willing enough to come fail to give the celebration the respect it deserves. They have not worn the proper garment, and so are cast out. It is easy for us to grasp what this means. Those who do God’s will can expect joy and happiness with God in heaven, expressed by the analogy to a wedding reception. But we must not forget that the king is throwing the reception for his son, an obvious reference to God the Father and Jesus Christ Himself. So whom is the Son marrying?
Where might we look for more information concerning this mysterious future time with God, and in particular this allegorical wedding feast? The single book in the Bible which provides the most information on these points is Revelation. Let us look at chapter 19; the speaker is St. John:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder peals, crying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Rev 19:6-9)
The Lamb, we know, is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, whom John the Baptist had long since identified as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29 and 36). He offered himself as a sacrifice to redeem his people from their sins, exactly as Abraham had prophesied to Isaac: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gn 22:8). This passage also reveals that the bride of the Lamb is clothed in the “righteous deeds of the saints”. But who could be clothed in such deeds if not the saints themselves? Indeed, as I put it long ago in a book entitled The Divine Courtship, salvation history, including the struggle of our own Christian life, is nothing but the making of our wedding gown.
As the Song of Songs had suggested by analogy, our destiny is not only an individual nuptial union with Jesus Christ for all eternity, but a nuptial union within the whole body of the saints, a nuptial union which is in fact made possible by our substantial membership in the Church. Just as earthly marriage makes the husband and wife two in one flesh, so too is the Church both the spouse and the body of Christ. And we, within this body of the Church, will be married to Him forever. Thus is Our Lord both bridegroom and body, while we are both body and spouse.
In the beginning of this series, data from exit polls suggested that our top political priority should be to get people married and into church. Thus began a long exposition of the relationship between marriage and church—or marriage and the Church—which some may have regarded as contrived to make a point. But the point really comes through a careful explication of a truth fundamental to our existence, that we are called to live, now and always, within the nuptial embrace of Christ and His Church.
Have I inferred too much from the texts? St. Paul says I have not. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” says St. Paul. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” (Eph 5:21-24). This is so much more than practical instruction in the art of human marriage. Rather, in marriage, the husband symbolizes Christ, and the wife symbolizes the Church, which is also the body of Christ. Husbands, then, are to love their wives not only as they love their own bodies but “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:25-26).
And why did Christ give himself up for the Church? It was so “that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). In other words, St. Paul intends here a message about our deepest nature and ultimate destiny. Certainly he wants each man to “love his wife as himself” and each wife to take care that “she respects her husband”. That is an important point; those in the married state will be engraced by it. But it remains secondary to his main purpose.
What purpose? In the end he merely repeats the basic concept with which this whole series began: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:31). Have we been going in circles? If not, what shall we finally conclude about marriage?
“This mystery is a profound one,” says St. Paul, “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32).
Previous in series: The World without Marriage
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