The Bridegroom

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden. (Jn 18:1) Christ, the New Adam, goes to a garden to undo what was done in a garden. The first Adam was settled in a garden and given a wife. There he rebelled against the Father and failed his wife. Now, the New Adam goes to a garden, to obey His Father and to give Himself to His bride. The entire Passion narrative – from Christ’s agony in the garden to His final words from the Cross – is nuptial. In it, we hear how “Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” (Eph 5:25)

The nuptials of bridegroom and bride require vows – words by which they give their lives to one another, for the good of each other. So our Lord’s marriage begins with words of self-giving – with a vow, in effect. But in this case, the words are spoken to His Father on behalf of His bride: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (Mk 14:36) Thus He makes the eternal gift of Himself for His bride. This is the moment He submits definitively to the Father’s will. The first Adam failed his wife by disobeying. The New Adam wins His bride by obeying: Thy will be done.

Jesus anticipated this moment at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which will be given for you.” (Lk 22:19) The gift of oneself in marriage is not of words only but also of the body. The body is part of who we are and, therefore, essential to the gift of oneself. Marriage is lived not merely in nice thoughts and words but in the gift of bodies, one to another; in bringing forth new life through those bodies; in caring for the other’s body as the end draws near. Now, in the garden Jesus gives His body definitively. The vow has bodily effects: “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44)

Every marriage has trials. The first Adam was put to the test by the evil one, who tempted him away from trusting in the Father and therefore from loving his wife. The New Adam is likewise put to the test – through Judas, into whom the devil had entered: “Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs.” (Mt 26:47)  The devil, unsuccessful in prior temptations, finds his “opportune time.” By inflicting ridicule, pain, scorn, and death, he seeks to break Jesus from the Father’s will and from His bride. But he will find himself defeated again through simple trust and obedience: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 24:46)

Study for Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947 [Vatican Museum]

Every marriage requires sacrifice – the actual living out of the vows. Words pronounced at the altar on the wedding day are fulfilled daily in sacrificial acts of love, great and small. So our Lord’s Passion is simply the living out of His vow in the garden. The beatings, interrogation, and ridicule. . .the scourging and the crowning with thorns. . .the carrying of the Cross and crucifixion. What are all these but living out His vow? They were all contained in that gift of Himself. Thus, at the summit of His sacrifice, He cries out that the vow is completed, accomplished, lived out to the full: “It is finished,” in our current lectionary. But the Vulgate reveals the nuptial meaning: Consummatum estIt is consummated. (Jn 19:30)

Christ’s sacrifice, which we remember today, is the cure for all our sins and enlightens all our darkness. Given our current confusion about marriage, however, we do well to understand the sacrifice as particularly that of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, who restores the original meaning of marriage and, by His grace, enables couples to live it. (CCC 1614)

Simply put, our Lord’s death reveals how marriage ought to be lived. His vow and sacrifice are the standard for married life. The vows a bride and groom make on their wedding day are the commitment to give their lives – just as our Lord committed to give His. Their married lives should be the living out of that gift – just as our Lord’s sacrifice was the living out of His vow. What are all the daily little sacrifices and burdens but the living out of the vows? Marriages will prosper and bring joy only to the extent that they are modeled on our Lord’s Cross.

The giving of His body – in the Upper Room, in the garden, on the Cross – calls to mind what our culture would like to forget: the truth of the human body. Contraception and sterilization began the rejection of the body’s meaning. Now we have their full flowering in “gender ideology,” which says your body is not you and means nothing. May our worship of His crucified body help bring a cure for this ill.

In His Passion, our Lord also shows the simple way forward through marriage’s trials: obedience to the Father’s will. That simple virtue enables Him not to avoid struggles but to triumph through them. Perhaps we complicate things too much. Trusting obedience to the truth about marriage – permanent, faithful, life-giving – enables a couple not just to muddle through difficulties but to triumph through them. It’s a simple – not an easy – path that too many neglect.

This is not meant for married couples only, but all the faithful: “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.” (CCC 1617) All the faithful benefit from marriages well lived – marriages that obtain an increase of grace for the Church and point beyond this world to the wedding feast of the Lamb. In this, as in all things, Christ the Bridegroom reveals the Cross as spes unica – our only hope.

Fr. Paul Scalia is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA, where he serves as Episcopal Vicar for Clergy and Pastor of Saint James in Falls Church. He is the author of That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion and the editor of Sermons in Times of Crisis: Twelve Homilies to Stir Your Soul.