48 - The Wedding Feast, August 29, 2010

II Corinthians 1:21 – 2:4

Matthew 22:1 – 14

I wish this morning to understand why this man who was found at the wedding feast without a wedding garment was cast out into the outer darkness by the King. For this, we need to understand what the wedding garment is, which this man wasn’t wearing; and to learn this, we need to know what the wedding is.

The wedding is the mystery of the union of God’s Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His bride, Israel, that God promised through His prophets before time began. The “best man” of that wedding is St John the Baptist, whose martyrdom we commemorate this morning. That union is conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary; it comes to light and is made manifest in the world at Christmas and at Theophany; it is consummated on the Savior’s Cross of Holy Pascha.

From this, we now can say where the bridal chamber is where this nuptial union takes place. The bridal chamber is our own human nature. For, in uniting Himself to Israel in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, the Savior unites Himself to the human nature in which we all, not just Israel, exist.

Now we understand, by the way, why the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by which He who is the Son of God becomes a son of Israel, is also how He becomes the Son of Man, and how it is that in the mystery of His Incarnation, in which He becomes a son of Israel, He also unites all of mankind to Himself, not just the Israelites. For, to become a son of Israel, He had to clothe Himself in humanity, our humanity, which He received from the Blessed Virgin; and so, in becoming a son of Israel, He united Himself not just to Israel but to all of humanity.

If the bridal chamber is the mystery of our own human nature in which the union of God with man takes place, the bed of that bridal chamber on which that union is consummated is the Cross of Holy Pascha. On His Cross, the Savior unites Himself to death and so to the death which every human being approaches as he walks the days of his earthly life.

Perhaps you begin to see that Christ is “in our midst” because He has united Himself to the human nature in which we exist here and now. But perhaps you also begin to see how it is that we become aware of His presence through repentance; i.e. through renouncing the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life in order to devote the energy of our mind and soul to the work of uncovering our human nature beneath the many layers of sins and transgressions that cover our humanity like so many layers of leprous skin – or shall we say, like so many layers of invisible, filthy rags that we wear as the invisible garment of our soul.

Christ is the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes down from Heaven by emptying Himself, not of His divinity, for that is what He is, but of the robe of uncreated light with which the Psalmist tells us He clothes Himself as with a garment. Out of His love for mankind, He empties Himself and becomes man; He clothes Himself with the garment of our humanity. Then, even as man, He empties Himself for our sake by His obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. On the Cross, He was stripped of the seamless garment He wore and He was crucified naked – like a Bridegroom preparing to unite with His bride on the bridal bed and to consummate His union with her.

The nakedness of Bride and Groom is an icon of their intimacy, like Adam and Eve in the Garden who were naked before one another and before God, and were not ashamed. On the Cross, Christ, the Second Adam, emptied Himself and became naked for us; He emptied Himself of His garment of light so that our darkened eyes could bear to look on Him.

 The Cross in its mystical reality is the bridal bed of our heart. Here in the heart is where the mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha takes place in its spiritual dimension, which extends from the historical time and place of Golgotha like the vine sprouting from the earth into the eternity of Heaven. From the bed of His Cross, in the bridal chamber of our humanity, Christ calls us to come to Him. But we cannot come to this bridal bed of Christ simply by removing our clothes. We must strip ourselves in our inward being of the invisible garments of self-love, which cover and hide the image of God that is our true self, in order to become naked all the way down to our heart. In our heart: that is where we finally can see the invisible garments of vanity, pride, conceit, greed, envy with which we have clothed our inward being our life-long, and the Church in her funeral service makes sure we understand that it those garments that are becoming visible in our death when she calls out without flinching: “Let us go forth and gaze in the tombs; then shall we learn the truth about riches and comeliness and beauty and strength. Man is naked bones, food for the worms and stench.”

And so, we cannot come to the bridal bed of Christ’s Cross except by laying aside our garments of self-love. We cannot unite ourselves to Christ on the bridal bed of His Cross except by becoming naked in our inward being all the way down to our heart; but to become naked all the way down to our heart means to unite ourselves to Christ on His Cross and die with Him to our ego and to our love for worldly riches, for worldly beauty, for worldly comeliness and strength.

This is the hard way and the narrow gate of the Gospel. It’s why so few are chosen, i.e. why so few answer the King’s invitation, even though it is sent out to everyone. It is the way of suffering the pain both of body and soul that follows on renouncing one’s love for worldly comeliness, riches, beauty and strength. But this way of suffering is the way to the spiritual pleasure of partaking of the divine nature in the Eucharistic mystery of the wedding feast of the King’s Son. It leads to the heart where we see and hear with the eyes and ears of our mind and handle with the hands of our soul the unfathomable depths of the mercy of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ our God, Christ the greatly Compassionate One, Christ the Only Lover of mankind. For, just as His life-giving blood and water flowed from His side and soaked the earth at the foot of the Cross, so on the bridal bed of the human heart He pours out the living waters of His Holy Spirit flow from His side as from a fountain of immortality in the sacramental mysteries of the Church to soak the barren ground of our body and soul around the tomb of our heart. With His Holy Spirit, He washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us of our sins. He creates in us a clean heart, and He puts in us a new and right spirit. And then, He raises us up with Him in His Holy Resurrection, and He clothes us with the Robe of Light, the Garment of Immortality, the grace of the Holy Spirit radiant in the uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity, that makes us worthy, unworthy as we are, to come to His wedding with His Bride, the New Israel in the bridal chamber of our own human nature.

This is the wedding garment with which the fellow in this morning’s parable was not clothed. It is the Robe of Light with which we were clothed at our baptism. In another place, the Savior says: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”[1] Through His prophet, Isaiah, the Savior said of the old Israel: “This people draws near to me with their lips, but in their heart, they are far from me.” If the fellow in this morning’s parable was not clothed with a wedding garment, it means that he was drawing near to God with his lips, but not in his heart. He had not taken up his cross to lose his life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. He had not united himself to Christ.

He was a self-righteous Pharisee. And so are we who have not taken up our cross for the sake of Christ to crucify our self-love. We cannot exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven without a wedding garment; but we cannot be clothed with the wedding garment of the Kingdom until we have died to the self-righteousness of pride and conceit and have been raised up into the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection on the other side of our death on the cross, just as we are not clothed with the Robe of Light until after we have been raised up out of the waters of our baptism, having united ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. We are not clothed with the wedding garment, that is to say, if we are drawing near to God with our lips but not in our heart. For, the wedding garment of the Kingdom is a spiritual garment that clothes not just the body but also the heart, the true self, the Image of God in which we were made. But to get to our heart, we must take up our cross and die to self-love for the sake of Christ.

Christian Faith is not religiosity. It is unfeigned love of the heart for Christ. To attain this love, and to be clothed with the wedding garment of the Holy Spirit, we take up the Church’s ascetic disciplines as our cross to do the work of faith: viz., to unite ourselves to Christ by renouncing ourselves for the love of Christ. This is how we pass over into His Holy Resurrection where we are clothed with the wedding garment of His Holy Spirit, that makes us worthy to enter into His Heavenly Kingdom, where the voice of those who keep festival is unceasing, and the delight is unending of those who behold the ineffable beauty of the face of Christ who is the true desire and the unspeakable happiness of those who love Him. Amen.

[1] Mt 5:20