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God: The Divine Bridegroom

by Brant Pitre March 13, 2019 0 Comments



The reason that St. Paul, when he looked at the bloody wood of the cross, saw the marriage of creator and creature, of God and mankind, in Christ and the Church, the reason he saw it that way is because he knew the whole story of salvation history, because he knew the Old Testament (in particular). He understood from a Jewish perspective that God is not just the creator, he’s not just the almighty judge; he is the divine bridegroom. He is a lover, who pursues his bride, Israel, the redeemed of humanity, in a desire to wed himself to humanity in an everlasting nuptial covenant, and that that’s the whole reason for the existence of the world, that’s the whole reason for salvation history, this is the deepest meaning of the story of salvation.

Now, I think for many of us as Catholics we definitely- if you’ve grown up Christian, if you’ve grown up Catholic, you’ve heard the idea that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. That’s pretty standard. But for me at least, growing up, that never really meant all that much to me. It just sounded like a pretty metaphor. Jesus loves the Church, the Church loves Jesus, therefore Jesus is like a bridegroom and the Church is like a bride. Check; got it; move on. But, the reality is (as we’re going to see tonight) Christ is not like a bridegroom. This is not a metaphor. Christ IS the bridegroom and all other bridegrooms are more or less like him. And the Church is not like a bride, she is the bride of God. And all other brides are more or less like her. And in order for us to see that though we have to know the whole story, because many of us as Catholics, we’re kind of like (when it comes to this story, the love story of God and humanity) people who walk into a movie theatre in the last 20 minutes. Have you ever done this? Maybe you turn on the Sunday movies on TV and you pick up the last 20 minutes of a film? Well you might get your bearings and figure out what’s going on; you can figure out the story. But, are you really going to feel the impact of the climax of the story if you only know the last part? No. Well, that’s how some of us read the gospels in this love story of God and humanity. We’ve got to go back to the beginning (not just start in the New Testament, go back to the Old Testament) and tell the story again. This love story; leading up to the cross so that we can feel the full impact of what it means when Paul says that Christ is the bridegroom and that the Church is the bride. So let’s do that togethe tonight. Let’s go back to the beginning and walk through the story of salvation history and try to see it not just as history but as a love story.

The first point that we want to make tonight in order to see it this way is very important. That, it’s this: the Jewish bible, in the book of Genesis, the story of human salvation, begins (of all things) with a wedding. That is important. The bible begins with a wedding: the wedding of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis 2. And if you know this story (which you do), you’ll notice right away that this is the first wedding (of course), but it’s not like any other wedding you might’ve seen. It’s not your ordinary wedding. So listen to what Genesis tells us about the first wedding:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man [‘adam, in Hebrew, Adam], and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman [in Hebrew, ishah],
    because she was taken out of Man [in Hebrew, ish].”

Therefore [and whenever you see the word therefore, you should ask what it is there for; this is very important.  Something important just happened and this is the consequence.  Therefore,] a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

In other words, this mysterious creation of woman from the side of man (and that’s actually the Hebrew, the Hebrew word there is not “rib”, it’s actually “the Lord took one of his sides”; Tsela). The creation of the woman from the side of the man is the foundation of marriage. That’s why men and women get married. In other words, marriage is a divine institution. It’s rooted in the order of creation; it’s rooted in God’s action with the first man and the first woman. It’s not just something we make up. That’s the Jewish perspective on the mystery of marriage, the first marriage of man and woman.

But that’s not the only marriage that’s important in the Old Testament for understanding what it means to call Christ the bridegroom. There’s a second marriage that’s described and this is the marriage of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Israel, the 12 tribes, his people. This marriage takes place when God enters into a covenant with the 12 tribes of Israel at Mt. Sinai at the time of Moses in the exodus from Egypt.

Now, even if you’ve not read the book of Exodus, I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie, right? This is the famous story of the deliverance of the 12 tribes, at the time of Moses, from bondage to pharaoh. And the series of plagues, the frogs, the gnats, all the different things leading up to the Passover, which delivers the 12 tribes, sets them free. Then they go to Mt. Sinai, they arrive at the mountain, there’s clouds, there’s smoke, there’s thunder, there’s a theophany, they sacrifice the bulls, they pour out the blood, they sprinkle the blood onto the altar and on the people, and God gives them the law and they enter into a covenant, a sacred family bond between God and the tribes of Israel, between God and his people.

Now that’s the history. That’s what happens in the visible historical realm, but there’s a deeper mystery behind the exodus that sometimes we tend to overlook. Because if you don’t just read the book of exodus but if you also read the prophets (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), they actually re-tell the story of the exodus. And from the prophetic perspective (the view of the prophets), they say that the deep story, the true story, the real story of the exodus was a love story, and that Yahweh was the divine bridegroom and Israel is his bride. And that the covenant that God entered into with Israel was not just like a contract, but a marriage. Listen to some of the words of the prophets. This is the bridegroom God of Israel about the wedding at Mt. Sinai. This is from the prophet Ezekiel, who saw this very clearly. He’s telling the story of the covenant at Mt. Sinai, but this is how he describes it as a wedding:

And you [Israel] grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood…[and] When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love…

In other words, you were old enough to be married

…and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine…

In other words, you became my wife.

…I decked you with ornaments, and put bracelets on your arms…And I put a ring on your nose…

So the biblical basis for nose rings right there! Any young people out there?  It is in the Bible…very clear.

…earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown upon your head.

This is the wedding garments of ancient Israel, this is what a woman would be adorned with: jewels, and a crown, and rings for her wedding day. And that’s what happened at Mt. Sinai. That was Israel’s wedding day, and God was the bridegroom.

Now, as soon as we say that, if you know the book of Exodus well, you’ll know that a few chapters down the road in Exodus 32, something happens. And that’s the golden calf, the worship of the golden calf. Moses goes up the mountain into the fiery cloud for forty days and forty nights, right? So he’s basically up there for all of Lent. That’s a long time. You know it’s a long time, you know what I’m talking about because it’s Lent right now. And so the people start to think, “Well maybe this guy’s gone, maybe he’s dead?” and they start to fall back into their old ways of the Gods they worshiped in Egypt. And so they have Aaron construct them a golden calf and they begin to worship the calf instead of Yahweh. Now Moses comes down the mountain of course and he gets upset, breaks the tablets of the 10 Commandments, showing that the covenant here has been broken. Now, on a level of history, what are the Israelites doing? They’re committing the sin of idolatry. But at the level of the mystery behind this, from the vantage point of the prophets, on the level of the mystery of the covenant, what they’ve really done is committed spiritual adultery. That’s very important, you need to understand that. If Yahweh is the bridegroom and Israel is his bride, then that means that sin is not just the breaking of a rule, it’s the betrayal of a relationship. It’s so easy for us to think of sin just as breaking rules, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about a relationship, and it’s a betrayal, it’s a kind of infidelity.

So God has a broken marriage. He knows what it’s like to be cheated on, so-to-speak;, to experience infidelity. And as you know, if you’ve read the Old Testament, how often does Israel cheat on the Lord? Over, and over, and over, and over again, over the generations. Now, what happens? Well the Lord then begins to send prophets to call his people to repentance. And the prophets come and start to tell Israel that she’s been an adulterous wife, but they speak of the fact that God’s not going to give up on his bride, but that one day he’s going to win her back. And he’s going to renew their relationship by instituting and establishing a new and everlasting marriage covenant.


Image Attribution:

Jan Cossiers [Public domain]

Michelangelo [Public domain]

Michelangelo [Public domain]

Rijksmuseum [Public domain]

Fundación Banco Santander [Public domain]

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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