03 CALLED TO THE MARRIAGE FEAST, September 18, 2022

Galatians 2.16-20

2 Corinthians 1.21-2.4

Mark 8.34-9.1

Matthew 22.1-14

What man does not readily deny himself or gladly lose his soul for the sake of his beloved? The LORD’s call to His disciples, His students, who would follow Him—not just study Him but follow Him to where He is going—is His call to the human soul to love Him as the bride loves her husband.

But where is the LORD going? Standing before His disciples on the road to Jerusalem, He has already denied Himself in becoming flesh. For, He is the Son of God of one essence with the Father. Out of His love for His Bride, the human soul, He emptied Himself and clothed Himself in the garments of His Bride’s human nature. But His self-emptying is not yet consummated until He becomes one with us not just ‘in the flesh’ but all the way in our death. In making not only our flesh His own but also our death, He makes our sin His own, and so He makes His resurrection and His holiness and His Glory our own, if we want it! On His Cross, He loses His Life for the sake of His Bride, the human soul, that He might find His Life in her death, and she find her life in His resurrection from the dead.

We easily recognize the King in this morning’s parable as God the Father. His Son is Jesus Christ. The King has arranged a marriage feast for His Son; but there is no marriage feast without a marriage that precedes it. The marriage feast, then, is the Resurrection. The marriage feast, the resurrection, is ready, the King says to His servants, because the marriage has been consummated on the Cross.

The Cross is the marriage bed, for it is on the Cross that the Heavenly Bridegroom ‘sends forth’ His Spirit, His ‘Living Waters,’ into the womb of His bride’s soul, her heart, where she is dead in her sins and trespasses. In the deep, beyond all things, in the midst of the earth, in the unseen depths of the human heart, the Heavenly Bridegroom filled His Bride’s dead soul with His Living Waters and raised Her to His own uncreated life.

The marriage feast, the resurrection from the dead, has been made ready. The table is set. Nothing remains except for the invited guests, all the nations and so all of us, to come to the feast. And nothing prevents us from accepting the invitation, except our own heart.

What are we living for? What am I seeking in all the things I do in this life? Am I not looking for myself? Am I not seeking to obtain treasures and riches that will satisfy me completely? Is it not true that I readily deny myself for what I want, and that I readily lose myself to what I love?

The King’s call to the marriage feast of His Son’s resurrection, is it not a call precisely to what my soul longs for? Why do so many refuse the invitation to the resurrection of the Savior, choosing instead to stay in this world, even though they know that it, and all its riches, and they are passing away?

Is it because, to accept the invitation to the marriage feast, I must deny myself and lose my life for the sake of the Bridegroom? But am I not already denying myself and losing my life for what I love? My resistance to the King’s call exposes, does it not, that I do not love the LORD? Beneath the façade of my religiosity, my friendship is with the world, and I am at enmity with God. (Ja 4.4)?

That I am in bondage to the spirit of this age that works in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2.2) is exposed in my fear of death. (Heb 2.15) In this fear, I am enslaved to lust for the flesh (cf Rm 5.12) that passes away. Even though I know, in my head, that the flesh passes away, I still cleave to it, trying to save my life in this corruptible flesh so that I won’t lose it.

Does this make sense: seeking to save my dead life by serving the passions that bring death? Is this not foolishness? Am I not exposed as a fool? And, since faith is true knowledge, my foolishness exposes me as an ‘unbeliever,’ a ‘friend of the world and an enemy of God.’

But what happens when, upon hearing the call of the King, I am drawn to it, I do want it? Do I not find, sooner or later, that there is something in me that rises up against that call? It is that friendship with the world that is in me; that wall of hostility that, like the stone sealing the LORD’s Tomb, separates me from the LORD inside the tomb of my heart where He is working salvation for me in the midst of the earth, in my body, in the deep of my heart.

In this, we come upon the experience common to all of us. Who of us does not relate to what St Paul describes in Rm 7? With St Paul, I find two ‘wants’ in me that are opposed. (St Diadochos of Photiki teaches us that they are in fact my original will that in Adam was single but is now split because of the ancestral sin.) I want to do the good, but when I seek after the good, I find myself drawn to the evil because the law of sin, the law of carnal desire and vainglory, has been woven into the fabric of my soul and become ‘incarnate’ in me.

In this, we experience the tragedy of human existence. We are carnal, we are not of the Spirit. Like the Israelites in their Egyptian bondage, we have been sold under sin. We live our whole life in bondage to the devil through our fear of death, which keeps me from denying myself and losing my life for the Heavenly Bridegroom who would pour out into me His own eternal life if I would but cleave to Him, i.e., marry Him! Our fear of death can be destroyed in us only through repentance, offering our love to the Bridegroom of the Light and no more to the bridegroom of the darkness. And this call to repentance, to come to the marriage feast, is the King’s invitation.

The Marriage Feast is ready, He says to His servants! The Bridegroom consummated His marriage to His bride, the human soul, in His death on the Cross; and by His death, He has destroyed death. To those who lose their life for His sake out of love for the Bridegroom and for the joy of His Resurrection that is now woven into the fabric of our death, these He delivers from the fear of death, and by uniting them to His death, He delivers them from this ‘body of death.’

The wedding garment is Christ. It is the fragrant Glory of His Holy Spirit. You put Him on at your baptism. It is the fragrant Glory that the LORD Jesus had with the Father before the world was. It now radiates from His Body, and transfigures His Cross into the radiant weapon of victory.

The Church is the Body of Christ filled with His fragrant Glory. The Church, then, is the wedding garment. When you come into the Church, can you not smell the fragrance of the wedding garment? It fills the air! In Holy Baptism, you clothed yourself with the Church, the Body of Christ, the fragrant wedding garment of Christ, because in the Font you were married to Christ God in the likeness of His death. You put the wedding garment on freely because you wanted to. You saw the Beauty of the LORD even if darkly as in a mirror in the iconic beauty of the ‘visible’ Church. Here, in the life-giving Tomb of the Font, the healing of our spiritual schizophrenia begins. The way into the Garden of the LORD’s Resurrection, the banquet hall of the marriage feast, is opened to you.

Let us point out that the King’s invitation to the marriage feast comes to people wherever they are in the world. With that, let’s point out that, if one were to accept the invitation, one would be taking up the prayer of the Church, for one would be descending with the mind into the heart, there to wait for the doors of the banquet hall of the Church on high to open and for the Heavenly Bridegroom to come to us and overshadow us with the fragrant Radiance of His uncreated Glory in which is our Life, Christ God Himself.

So, what if the doors open and we are discovered wearing the scent of another lover’s perfume? And, if the LORD of Glory casts us out into darkness and the gnashing of teeth, is He not but giving us back to our lovers, the demons, sending us back to the place inside their idols where they are found, and we with them in our heart?

This way of prayer is the spiritual substance of taking up our Cross to follow Christ that we may find our life not in the tomb of our death, not in the Promised Land of Canaan, but in the Tomb of the LORD’s death, in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the Church on high, in the Garden on the other side of the grave. For our tomb opens onto darkness, loneliness, and death. The LORD’s Tomb opens onto the uncreated Light of the Resurrection in the fragrance of His Holy Spirit. It opens onto ‘fellowship’ with all the saints in the embrace of the LORD’s Holy Mother in the fellowship, the communion, of the Holy Trinity.

We therefore truly honor these two Feasts of the Elevation of the Cross and the Feast of the Theotokos’ Nativity when we take up our cross in the form of prayer, descending with our mind into our heart, striving to attain to the mind of John the Baptist: to decrease that the LORD may increase in us, so that, with St Paul, we can confess that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, and that we carry in our mortal bodies not the life of this world that is filled with the stench of death, but the fragrant Life of His Holy Resurrection that delivers us from this ‘body of death’ and creates in us a new and right heart, making our bodies a new wineskin filled to overflowing with the New Wine of the Holy Spirit. Amen.