Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 9th, Year of Our + Lord 2011
Isaiah 25:6-9, Matthew 22:1-14
Naked. I was naked, and He was looking for me. I know that I, and the woman, that we had always been naked, without clothes, but now it was different, very different. I was ashamed of who I had become. The woman, I remember how she had been the perfect helpmeet, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, my perfectly matching other half. We had the perfect marriage, so good, the way we were made for each other, the home we had been given, the life of simply enjoying the fruits of the garden, the promising future of babies, lots of babies, the calling to fill the earth. What a wonderful marriage. What a wonderful woman.
But now she was not so perfect in my eyes, and I could see she felt the same about me. We were different now, after just one bite, just one sin, now evil in some inescapable way, even though we didn’t want to be. We were naked in our sinfulness, and so we hid, from Him. We tried to cover ourselves with fig leaves, good luck with that. No, we were exposed, ashamed, scared, as the Lord God came looking for us, for me, hiding among the trees.
He found us. But we were not destroyed. Then what came seemed, for a moment, almost worse. He knew all the answers to His own questions, but He asked me anyway, making me say the words, to confess what I had done, what I had failed to do. I tried to blame the woman, and even the Lord, who gave her to me. But I was guilty, and He made me say it. “I ate the fruit You told us not to eat.”
He did the same to the woman, “What is this you have done?” She too was guilty. Sure, the serpent tricked her, the devil made her do it. But she did it, and so did I. We disobeyed the one restriction the Lord God had given us, and now we were sinners, naked and evil, exposed to God’s righteous anger. We were guilty. What would He do?
He made a promise. We expected to be destroyed. But the Lord God made a promise, and to the snake. The Lord God, having wrung our weak confessions out of us, turned to the serpent, and made a promise. After cursing the reptile to a life of slithering in the dust, then came a promise, a promise of enmity, that between the woman and the snake, between her Seed and his seed, indeed between Satan with all his demons and the whole of humanity, the Lord God was going to cause enmity, hatred, warfare.
We had ruined the perfection of our life together, our marriage no longer completely joyful, but the Lord God promised three new marriages, new weddings of different kinds, not earthly unions between men and women, but heavenly unions, between God and mankind. First would come the marriage of God and a people chosen from among the nations, a very hopeful word, since to choose from among nations meant there would be nations, so the call to fill the earth with people still stood. God promised to wed Himself to a special people chosen for the purpose of delivering on His greater promise.
The second wedding promised was the wedding of God and humanity in the Seed of the woman, the One Man, the Savior to come, but coming by some strange, divine biology, since strictly speaking women don’t have seeds, they have eggs. God Himself promised to join us in our struggle, to enter into human flesh, through human birth, to unite God and man in one person.
This union of God and man was to be completed so that the Lord could then consummate the third marriage, and give the eternal wedding feast, celebrating the eternal marriage between Himself, and us, the Church, the marriage between God and all believers. The Lord God promised to send the Seed of the woman to win the hand of the new Bride, the new and eternal people of God, a courtship He would win by crushing the head of the serpent, a grisly battle that would lead to a joyous wedding feast, the biggest and best ever.
God made promises in the Garden. Then He covered us. Oh yes, first He explained our curses, the consequences in our lives of the sin we had brought into the world. No longer would life be a walk in the garden. We would struggle, because of sin, eventually dying, bodies back to the dust whence they came, death because of sin. The Lord God spoke of all these curses. But then He covered us. He made clothes of animal skins, shedding blood, so that we could be covered, so that our now sinful nakedness would not be a constant shame. We needed the protection, as we left the cool of the garden, cast out to live in the harsh scorching sun. But even more, we needed the reminder. The covering was a reminder of the promise the Lord had made to the serpent, that one day his evil power, his head, would be bruised, crushed, destroyed, by the Seed of the woman. The Lord Himself would be our true and ultimate covering for sin, and so the shed blood of the animals who donated their skins and their lives for us was also a reminder of the promise, the promise of the coming Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world, who would bring life from death for sinners.
The Lord God taught us these promises. And through the centuries, He remembered His promises, even when my children forgot. He chose Abraham, and Sarah, old and nearly dead, and from their marriage God created a people, Israel. The Lord watched over Israel, delivering His people from bondage, becoming as a husband to her. He reminded her with prophets, like Isaiah, who sang to the people about robes of righteousness, and of the day when the Lord would swallow up sin and death, a day for rejoicing in the Lord’s salvation.
That day has come. My Lord Jesus Christ, the Seed of the woman, tells the same story through Matthew that He taught me in the Garden, the story of Himself, of His weddings, of His wedding with Israel through the Old Covenant, and of His wedding with human flesh in the womb of Mary, where God and man became one. The woman dreamed and longed for that day way back in the beginning, even thinking that Cain was the One, the Lord born of woman. But of course, no, Cain was my son, a sinner. The Father of Jesus is God, and so Jesus is without sin. God the Father, by His Spirit, in the fullness of time, caused the Lord Jesus to be born of a woman, the Son of God becoming also the Son of Mary, born for the third wedding, born to be the bridegroom of the great wedding to come, the great wedding promised already way back before time, the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church.
The Lord provided garments for the woman and I as we left the garden, way back in the beginning. He also provides the garments you need for the wedding feast of His Son. For your sinful nakedness must be covered, or you cannot take your seat at the feast. No skins of animals will do though. For this ultimate, eternal wedding feast, you need better robes, bought with better blood.
The robe you need is the righteousness of Christ, woven for you as He hung on the Cross, where Jesus swallowed up sin and death in His own body. He is your righteousness, and mine, our robes are washed clean with His blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. All sin. My sin. The sin I passed on to you. The sins you have committed. Jesus’ blood covers all sin, His robes making you perfectly beautiful, a part of His Bride, which is the whole assembly of believers, the Church of every time and place, from the woman and me right down to the last baby baptized before the Lord returns. All members of His Church are made members by the washing of forgiveness in His blood.
Jesus has won His Bride. The wedding feast is being prepared, and He is returning, soon, to pick up His Bride, to gather to Himself all those clothed in His righteousness, clothed in Christ by Baptism, joined to Him by faith, linked to Him as branches in the Vine. I know the wait can be hard. I lived 930 years, waiting for Him to return. But don’t forget that time, all time, including your time, is in the Father’s hands. He will not forget His promises to you.
It is hard to wait, though. We see great potential in the world, the Lord God gives us many good things, which we rightly cherish. And yet we also see sin and its destructive effect in everything we see and do. For this in between time, let me tell you what carried me through, what got the woman and I through the long years of waiting. I told you how the woman was not so perfectly beautiful to me, after we ate the fruit. I told you how I could see her disappointment in me, there in her eyes, as we hid in the garden. We did struggle, after we fell, she wanting to take over my tasks, me wanting to make her my slave, both of us struggling to focus on fulfilling our respective responsibilities within our marriage. We struggled. But remember what I named her.
The fruit which I ate, the fruit which brought me death, came from her, but still I named her Eve, which means mother of all the living. Even though we were going to die, I named her Eve, and she rejoiced in her name, even though her pain was multiplied in childbirth. And why did I name her Eve? Why did she rejoice in her name? Because of the promise. Because of the promise the Lord God made to the serpent, bad news for Satan, but Good News for us, Good News which we were privileged to hear. Because of the promise that the Seed of the woman would come and put right what the devil had destroyed, because of the promise of forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, I knew that the woman really was the mother of all the living.
Eve is mother of all the living, not just of sinners living short, hard, sorrowful lives before returning to the dust, but rather mother of all who live forever because of her Seed, because of the Man born of a woman without any human father. Eve, and I by grace with her, would be the ancestors of countless myriads of saints, all wearing the same robes of righteousness.
And so, despite her sin, despite my sin, we had a good marriage, and a good life, daily returning to the promise of forgiveness, daily thanking the Lord for His plan. Your life in this world will never be without struggle, but you too can live in hope. Whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are single or married, whether you are blessed with many descendents, or none at all, you can also experience joy, even in the midst of this sinful world, the joy that comes from the promise. Live in the promise, daily seeking the fountain of forgiveness, daily looking forward the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. This promise is for you, and all the living. Amen.