April 19, 2019
The Cross & the Church
The Place of the Bridegroom is Crucial
"Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all repeat this response of Jesus to those who asked why his disciples did not fast.
Did Jesus just randomly pick the image of the bridegroom at a wedding as one of many possible examples of a celebration? Might he just as well have said, "Can guests at birthday party mourn while the birthday boy is with them?"
No, the choice of the Bridegroom image was deliberate. (Was anything Jesus said in the Gospels not carefully chosen and significant?)
In the texts sung in the East on Good Friday, Christ, the "Bridegroom of the Church, was fastened with nails." Beginning on Palm Sunday evening, an icon of the Bridegroom is set out: it depicts Christ suffering reproach for the sake of his Bride, the Church.
This nuptial imagery is literally crucial. St. Paul calls marriage a mystery. He says that a man becomes joined to his wife, and that the two become one flesh. This two-person one-flesh union is a mystery, he says, and not a simple mystery. He says it is a mega-mystery--and it points to Christ and His Church.
The first one-flesh union was created in Genesis at the very start of the human race: Adam was put into a deep sleep and from his side Eve was fashioned. God closed Adam's side "with flesh." "The two shall become one flesh."
These two "halves" of mankind become one-flesh in the conjugal union, but perhaps also in the one flesh of each child that comes from that union. The son or daughter is a combination of the DNA of both parents, often resembling both mother and father physically. The two have become one flesh in their child. For marriage is also ordered for offspring, for children.
On the Cross, according the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53):
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days
Hebrews applies a fragment from Isaiah 8:18 to Christ: "Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me." Hebrews also speaks of Christ's suffering endured "in bringing many sons to glory."
So, Isaiah's Suffering Servant:
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
So, the language of offspring and children refer to the effects of the Cross. For it is at the point of death on the Cross that Jesus binds himself irrevocably to his new bride, the Church.
We know Jesus is called the new Adam, who falls asleep on the Cross; his side, like old Adam's, is also opened up:
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.
John the Apostle saw this with his own eyes. The sacred blood and water are seen by the Church as the Eucharist and Baptism. The Church, which is the bride of Christ, is brought into being by "the water and the blood." The Bride is created.
This connection between Adam's side and Christ's is reflected in the texts of Holy Week:
"O thou who hast fashioned Eve from Adam side, thy side was pierced and from it flowed streams of cleansing."
So on Good Friday, this Bridegroom was taken away. But on Easter he appears and says to the disciples,
"Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
That is to say, they now rejoiced to see the Bridegroom, known by the wounds in his hands and his side, now returned.
On Good Friday, a great mystery stands before us: Christ and his Church. We stand in awe. God takes us to himself and we become his children, members of a new household. The Cross is where we are born, anew. "The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad."
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.