Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
If there is one theme that captures all messages that the Bible was written to convey, it’s marriage and family.
St. John Paul II minces no words in pointing out the centrality of marriage and family in God’s plan of salvation: “The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family” (Letter to Families, 23).
The theme of marriage and family runs through the Bible like a thread, weaving its way intricately and skillfully from the first chapter to the last. It bookends the whole Bible, starting from the broken marriage and family of Adam and Eve in Genesis, ending with the perfect union of Christ and the Church in the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelation. As if to punctuate its significance, Jesus' first miracle also happened in a wedding feast - the wedding at Cana.
Having lost its original luster in Adam and Eve due to the first parents’ original sin, the institution of marriage regains the preeminence of its immaculate state in the one-flesh unity of Christ and his Church – a unity manifested outwardly as a sign in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and inwardly as an ontological reality and organic whole in the Body of Christ.
Both Christian marriage and the Eucharist are pointing us to something much bigger. The day will come when all of humanity - ancient, contemporary, and future; regardless of race, culture, and language - is invited to celebrate together with God and all the angels and saints above in an eternal, joyful, and heavenly wedding feast; which, to put simply, is what we call “heaven” or “the kingdom of God”; where, to elaborate further, justice and peace will reign and tears will be no more (Is 25:8, Rev 21:4). As a result of this divine plan, which must and will come to pass, the whole Bible should really be understood as an invitation from God for everyone to attend His heavenly wedding feast. It’s the heavenly Father’s call for His waylaid children to come home after a prolonged sojourn here on earth. “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).
God’s invitation for us to attend this cosmic wedding feast has been expressed in many different forms scripturally. For example, in Proverbs, it’s expressed as “Wisdom” sending out her maidens to invite those who are “simple” and “lacking in understanding” to “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed” (9:4-5). In Isaiah, it’s expressed playfully as God touting those who are thirsty and poor - people in need and deprived of real wealth - to drink and eat well from Him for free:
“All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare” (Is 55:1-2).
In this Sunday’s first reading, also from Isaiah, the same invitation is expressed powerfully as a cocktail of wedding goodies:
- Venue of the wedding feast – “On this mountain” (25:6). In other words, Mount Moriah where the Jerusalem temple was situated; it’s also where Abraham sacrificed his only son from Sarah, Isaac; and where God, the Father, sacrificed His only Son, Jesus. These biblical events are pointing us to the heavenly Temple of Jerusalem where the wedding feast of the Lamb is to take place (cf. Heb 8:1-5).
- Who “will provide for all peoples” in this extraordinary cosmic feast (25:6)? – God, just as Abraham had prophesized when he was asked a similar question by Isaac (cf. Gen 22:14).
- What’s the menu? - “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines”, as is already prefigured in the eucharistic feast the Church celebrates (25:6).
- What will the host of the feast, the Groom, do in this wedding feast? – “he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples”, the way the groom unveils his bride during a wedding (25:7). This is also why when Jesus died, “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt 27:51). For what separates God and man must be completely destroyed by Jesus’ redemptive grace.
- What more will the Groom do? – “he will destroy death forever...wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth” (25:8). Remember St. Paul’s defiance in confronting death? “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). Now we know why he was defiant.
- What should we do on receiving the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb? – “let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!" (25:9) Amen! As St. Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4).
Small wonder, given the riches of the theme of the wedding feast in the Isaiah reading, Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast is chosen by the Church as this Sunday’s gospel reading (cf. Mt 22:1-14). Jesus warns us to come prepared. We are told that those who are “not dressed in a wedding garment” will be cast “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 22:13). Since the wedding garment “represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones”, the terrifying consequence for those experiencing wardrobe malfunction does make a lot of sense (Rev 19:8)!