“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church because we are parts of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
Why does St. Paul use marriage as an analogy for Christ’s relationship to the Church? Have you ever heard the Church referred to as the Bride of Christ? Jesus referred to Himself as the Bridegroom. Every bridegroom must have a bride!
Revelation 21:2 describes the Church as a bride adorned for her husband. This is why we typically refer to the Church in the feminine form, i.e., Holy Mother Church, or using the pronouns she or her when referencing.
I have mentioned this so many times that I fear sounding like a broken record, but I believe it is totally relevant to this conversation! We, as humans, are just too simple-minded to understand much of the spiritual world that surrounds us.
Marriage is yet another analogy to help us understand greater things. Marriage helps us to understand the love between the Blessed Trinity and between Christ and His Church.
In learning to love our spouse, we get a tiny glimpse into the depths of God’s love.
Sometimes we think legalistically about marriage. Let’s jump back up to the Ephesians passage above. Just a few verses before the ones I quoted are the ones that tend to make people squirm in their seats every year when they are read from the pulpit.
“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord…” -Eph 5:22.
This verse in particular likes to cause a lot of drama with people who love to misinterpret it to accuse the Church of being sexist. If you continue to read from Eph 5:22 to what I have quoted at the beginning of this post, you will see the beautiful, sacrificial love that St. Paul is referring to.
But to really understand the great mystery of marriage, let’s jump back several hundred pages from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I invite you to open up your own bible to the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs.
This poetic masterpiece tells the tale of the Lord and His people. We, in the Christian Tradition, have a long history of interpreting it to speak of the union of Christ and His Church.
Pray to the Holy Spirit for wisdom before reading, then I invite you to take some time to read this short, but powerful book! (I hope you pull out your own trusty bible, but if you are like me and too lazy to get up, here’s a link to it! Song of Songs, CHAPTER 1 | USCCB)
If you still think that the teaching from Ephesians is too much of an outdated way of thinking, go ahead and read Song of Songs again, reading the footnotes along the way, and reread it until you understand the depths of God’s love and design for marriage.
The Groom- “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one bead of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride, how much more delightful is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your ointments than all spices!” Song of Songs 4:9-10
The relationship between Christ and His Church is one of reckless lovers, willing to do anything for the other, including suffering and dying in the most brutal way out of love for the other.
Like most analogies, they are imperfect. I look at the church and see the many ways that the bride is failing her Bridegroom. I look at my marriage and see the many ways that I am not living up to the Song of Songs ideal.
I wouldn’t call my marriage a reckless love, more of a conservative, comfortable love. In theory, I would do absolutely anything for my husband! Of course I would take a bullet for him! But would I die to myself on a daily basis in the small things? Do I complain about clothes being left out? Do I get annoyed when he does that one annoying habit? Do I roll my eyes when he compliments me? Anytime I grumble under my breath can be an opportunity to die to myself and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for my spouse instead.
I come back to the Song of Songs time and time again over the years to draw inspiration and strength for my own marriage. I will be the first to admit that mine doesn’t mirror the lovers of this Book, but it is always a good wake-up call for me to prioritize my marriage and reminds me to put him first above everyone else in my life.
St. Bernard teaches that the bride in the Song of Songs is us, as in you or I. And that the groom is Our Lord pursuing and loving us. Regardless of your vocation, picture yourself as the bride and let the powerful words of Bridegroom wash over you. “How beautiful you are, how pleasing, my love, my delight!” Song, 7:7
It doesn’t matter how unlovable you think you are. You are pleasing to God and loved in a reckless, remarkable and breathtaking way.
Your identity as a wife goes so much deeper than your relationship with your husband. Your identity as a wife tells the story of God’s unconditional love for you. I hope you embrace, and claim your identity as the beloved.
Until next time, your sister in Christ,