New Jerusalem

Text: Revelation 21:9-27
Date: Easter VI +5/1/16

I hate weddings.

Now that I have your attention I need to either repent or explain. It is a common opinion or attitude of many if not most but certainly not all pastors that their serving couples desiring to get married can be a stressful thing. Oh, it’s always a happy event attended by family and friends and fellow Christians. Marriage in the Bible is almost always a joyous occasion, marriage being the very invention and creation of God. When a couple comes to me saying, “We want to get married,” I like to have a little fun with them at first and immediately ask, “Why?” They never expect that response. Of course it is a good question to consider. In fact, there is always a time of preparation including pre-marriage counseling as well as all the details that go into planning the actual ceremony.

A lot goes into the preparation on behalf of quite a few people. The groom and his attendants is a pretty easy thing, often just a tuxedo and especially shiny shoes that may or may not be very comfortable. The bride and her maids on the other hand is a much more involved and complicated thing. In fact, I don’t pretend to know everything that goes into the decisions concerning clothing, hair styles, makeup and other things.

The marriage of a man and a woman under the blessing of God and in the presence of witnesses is almost the most joyous event in anyone’s life next to, maybe, the birth of children and family life.

Now in this Easter season, having followed the Revelation given to St. John, today we see the great conclusion of the Gospel which is but the beginning of the eternal life in the presence of God and of the Lamb, our risen and ruling Lord Jesus Christ. John sees the grand finale to be like a wedding, “the marriage feast” as we say “of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.” “Come,” said an angel to John, “I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Who is this bride? The Bride of Christ is “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2), that is, the Bride of Christ is the one, holy, catholic, apostolic and now exalted Church of every place and time in the entire history of God’s creation, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9).

As earthly marriages begin with a proposal, so has God chosen you from eternity, drawn you to Himself by the power of His Word and made the marriage proposal of repentance and faith and salvation by the washing of regeneration in your Holy Baptism. Your becoming a member of this body, the Bride of Christ, begins with God coming to you proposing life and salvation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Jesus says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Through all the prophets and apostles, in Jesus Christ God has proposed to the world the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

Then God prepares you as a bride adorned for her husband with His very first gift. You know the essence of marriage is not love but the pledge of faithfulness. The old English way was in the words, “I plight thee my troth,” “I pledge you my faithfulness.” We promise to be faithful, then we are able and free to fall in and out of love, to learn love all the way along. God gives you saving faith and the means to keep that pledge of faith strong and constant in order that you, to borrow the apostle Paul’s words, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:17-19). God matches that with His own pledge of faithfulness to you. He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:50), “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is 43:1) and so many similar promises.

I supposed we could use the details of John’s vision of the new Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ to describe the radiance of newly wed faces and even the rare jewels of wedding rings. But I’m interested in John’s mention of the walls. He says of the New Jerusalem, “It had a great, high wall.” The section of the chapter that was skipped in the lectionary reading describes a careful and detailed measuring of the walls and a list of the expensive materials and gates all around. This wall of the new Jerusalem, of the exalted Church and people of God stands mainly for God’s promised care and protection insuring that we will never again suffer the afflictions and tribulations of our former days in this old world. Doesn’t this call to mind the declaration of intent of the groom to his bride to “nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body, the Church, giving Himself up for her,” to “love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to her alone, so long as you both shall live.”

Marriage is, of course, an order only of this present world. Jesus said, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:34-36). In the resurrection however we are ushered into the marriage feast which has no end.

I haven’t presided over a wedding for years. I assume they still have a wedding license. The bride and groom’s names are recorded in the local government records and the attendants or witnesses sign their names on the license. Today you are assured of “the place prepared for you” (John 14:4-5), because your name has been written by God in the book of life. Your name is written in God’s mind and on his heart. He knows you by name. You belong to Him because of the victory of the Lamb, the deliverance by your Lord through His blood.

I love weddings…! So you’re ready. Are you nervous? Nothing to worry about. The kingdom of heaven is like a king giving a wedding feast for his son. He has prepared the dinner and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast! (Mt 22). He has prepared you, and continues to prepare you as a bride prepared for her husband. By your holy baptism and the gift of faith you “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer [you] who live, but Christ who lives in [you]. And the life [you] now live in the flesh [you] live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [you] and gave himself for [you]” (Gal 2:20).

The feast is ready. Come to the feast,
The good and the bad.
Come and be glad!
Greatest and least, Come to the feast! (LW 346)