First, it was the case that people just started shacking up – living together without bothering to ask for God’s blessing upon their union in holy marriage. And of course, when things don’t work out, they dump each other and move onto others like barnyard animals. And folks who should know better pretended it was all fine. It’s not fine. Let me tell you: if I find out you are living together apart from marriage, I will not commune you at this altar until you repent – because it is a sin, it damages you, and it brings God’s judgment.
Then, there’s the fact that even people who are married don’t think of marriage anymore the way that God intended – the life-long union of one man and one woman. Instead, they feel free to walk away from their commitments and promises whenever they don’t “feel in love” anymore – as though “feeling in love” is something any relationship could ever be built on.
And just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, along comes this whole alternative life-style movement and we have all sorts of folks insisting that “marriage” and “family” mean whatever it is they want them to mean.
All this is pretty serious stuff because Satan knows that when he attacks marriage, he’s attacking the very institution which God established as the foundation of society itself. He knows that if he can destroy the foundation, it won’t take long for the building itself to crumble all around.
So when our Lord begins His ministry gracing a marriage with His presence and His blessing, He is showing us something vital about the whole of His work of redemption. It’s not that grace is opposed to nature; it’s that grace takes up nature and fills it up, and manifests what it was meant to be all along, when the things of this world are taken into God’s purposes.
Think about it: it is no accident that we are saved by water – water that is joined to the Word of God and so brought to completion, made saving and holy. Luther even calls the baptismal water “divine water.”
Similarly, it is no accident that Christ takes in hand our ordinary food, bread and wine, and by His word transfigures them, brings them to us as the gift of His own body and blood, as the gift of communion with Him, showing us that creation itself was given us to be the gift of communion with Him; that nature cries out for this fulfillment.
Now, it’s just the same with marriage. It’s a natural thing. God planted it in humanity right from the get-go of our human race. It was His idea and He gave Adam and Eve to each other and so instituted that holy estate where a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife so that they become “one flesh.”
Sin crippled nature. It crippled all the natural gifts of God and there is no end to the distortions that sinful man can do with them. God made wine to make man’s heart glad, but what do we do with it? Use it to foster sloth and drunkenness. God made voices to sing His praise and pray to Him and build each up in the holy faith, but what do we do with our voices? We lie and cut each other down, and stab each other in the back. God made all things good, but there is none of His goodness that we haven’t ruined if we got our hand on it, and marriage is included in that.
This union that God meant to be a blessing to husband and wife and to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children – let sin enter in, and look at what it can become! Think of the horrors of domestic violence and the abuse of spouse and children! Think of how marriage can become a horrible arena for the exercise of domestic tyranny and selfishness. This good and holy gift of God – it can be abused.
But there’s a great statement in the Church: abuse does not abolish, but establishes use. In other words, just because marriage can go wrong, that is no excuse for people abandoning it, and turning from God’s institution to some ideas of their own making.
Especially not when marriage is taken up into Christ. As you heard in today’s epistle, marriage really comes into its own when Christ Jesus is not just invited to the wedding ceremony, but welcomed into the feast that marriage is. Welcomed into the home. Let Christ come into a marriage and form a bond between husband and wife and look at how everything changes.
No more playing “who’s the boss?” and no room for the exercise of domestic tyranny. You can leave your “Go get me my beer!” at the door. Christ crowns both husband and wife as servants to one another. He places on the heads of each a crown – like unto his own – a crown of thorns. He invites marriage to become the place where husbands learn to deny their own wills and serve their wives, to honor them and seek their best interest. He invites marriage to become the place where wives abandon all griping and manipulation and in joy submit to their husbands as their husbands seek to serve them.
And because we fail again and again in living this out, He invites the married to live from the forgiveness of sins. For the husband and the wife to forgive one another daily – out from the rich resources of His forgiveness.
In this way, marriage and the family become precisely what God created them to be: nature transfigured, water into wine, mirrors of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. For He has shown husbands what it is to love by going to the cross that he might present His bride to himself without spot or blemish or any such thing, holy and perfect. He covers her sin with His holiness. And He loves her and that love transforms her, makes her be what He has already declared her to be. And the Church herself, shows wives what it is to be wife – for the Church seeks to listen to Christ, to receive from Him, to honor Him, to be loyal to Him, to serve Him, and to submit to Him in all things. It’s a battle, yes it is, against the will of the flesh that wants to assert: “Do it my way.”
Over against Christ, we’re all bride. We’re all Church. And today He comes to us again – the one who changed water into wine – He comes changing bread and wine into His body and blood, and giving Himself into us that He might change us. His love is given to us, and when we let that love find a home in us, His love is a fire that sets us on fire with love for others.
Marriage is under attack, but the best defense of marriage is to let it become all it was meant to be in Jesus Christ: an arena of love and self-sacrifice in union with the Giver of all good. That's how grace transfigures nature. This we learn at Cana of Galilee.