Benjamin West, 1738-1820
The world as wedding
The Bible tells a love story.
Scriptures begin and end with a wedding.
God fashions man and woman,
Adam and Eve, and the two become one flesh
At the other end of the Bible, in the
Book of Revelation,
St. John sees heaven as
marriage supper of the Lamb”
(Revelation 19:9) --
the celebration of the communion of
Christ and his Church
In between those two weddings, the love story
For Adam and Eve, marital bliss was
The deadly serpent tempted them to disobey God;
immediately afterward they
blame each other for the punishment that followed
They left the human family
a legacy of dysfunction
that cascaded down the generations --
and the sign
of this dysfunction is marital and sexual disarray.
Eventually, the greatest sin of
Israel’s greatest king (David)
would begin with adultery.
Solomon’s polygamy would
lead him to idolatry,
Abraham’s practice of concubinage had led to horrific strife.
In Roman law concubinage
was the permanent cohabitation of a man and a woman
outside of their existing formal marriages. The partners in such
relationships and the offspring of their union did
not have the same legal rights
accorded married persons and their legitimate children.
See also common-law marriage. Adultery is committed by a wife
and should be charged together with the other man,
while concubinage is committed by a husband and should be
charged together with the other woman or concubine.
Still, marriage remained a great (though wounded) good.
And it remained God’s favorite metaphor for his love for humankind.
He cast his relationship with man in terms of covenant --
a sacred bond of kinship sealed by a solemn oath.
In the ancient world, covenant was the bond that formed families.
Marriage was the most common form of covenant.
A covenant is fundamentally different from a contract.
In contracts, terms are negotiable; in covenants, they’re not.
God sets the terms of the covenant.
Contracts are normally based on profit; covenants are based on love.
The former speaks to self-interest, while the latter
calls to self-sacrifice
Contracts exchange goods and services; covenants exchange persons.
Contracts can be broken. A covenant is unconditional and ongoing;
while it can be violated, it cannot be dissolved.
The differences show us that God’s covenantal relationship with humankind is
non-negotiable, but freely accepted; that it is based on love;
that it involves a sharing of our very lives — and his very life;
that it is unlimited in scope. And that it is forever.
In all of this, the divine covenant is very much like a marriage.
When God spoke through the prophets,
he taught Israel always to hope and strive for
the renewal of his covenant.
And, again, he portrayed the covenant as a marriage.
He spoke of himself or his Messiah coming
as a bridegroom to
take his people as his bride
(see Hosea 2:16–24; Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 54:4–8).
The prophets heralded
and everlasting covenant, which would be
arenewal of the original covenant between
God and Adam, God and humankind,
God and all creation.
It would, in fact, be so all-encompassing as to be
The imagery of the prophets,
employed in turn
the imagery of betrothal and marriage.
when Jesus came, he called himself
who were united to him in baptism
were called “espoused”
(see John 3:29; Mark 2:19; etc.)
It is Jesus,
in fact, who gave us the
marital interpretation of Genesis.
The word “marriage,” after all,
appeared in the story of Adam and Eve.
Yet we know the story is about marriage because Jesus said it was
(see Mark 10:2–16).
Jesus said that the Genesis story
reflects God’s will
“from the beginning of creation,”
“what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians,
quotes the Genesis text and explains that this
is a reference
the covenant between “Christ and the Church”
(see Ephesians 5:21–33).
He helps us see why Adam failed:
did not “give himself up”
his bride as he should have.
does “give himself up” for his bride, the Church.
Where the first Adam failed, with dire consequences,
the new Adam succeeded, with salvific power.
receives its most powerful expression in the
Book of Revelation,
whose Greek title literally means
Like the story of Adam and Eve, the
evokes nuptial images.
That which is
veiled is holy,
unveiled only in covenant love.
What the apocalypse “unveils” is history’s final consummation,
the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church
(see Revelation 19:9; 21:9; 22:17). And what else?
Anew creation --
anew heaven and anew earth
(Revelation 21:1). It is a reprise of the opening chapters of
June is a month of many weddings, and in
each of these
such glories are signified.
Praise God for the sacrament!