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January 17, 2016
Annual Parish Meeting — Rector’s Charge

 

“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:5

How fitting and appropriate today’s Scriptures about Holy Matrimony, especially as we hold our 133rd annual parish meeting. For to me—now your priest for roughly 23 years—I have always seen a priest’s relationship to his parish to be very similar to a marriage. And on good theological grounds, for priests icon or image Christ the Lord when they celebrate the Mass. Jesus is the Groom to his Church, which is the Bride. We corporately are the Bride of Christ according to St. Paul, our patron saint.

Funny thing about weddings—you know every priest has stories, and many of mine are about nervous grooms. The best man, groomsmen, and occasionally myself kid or tease the groom as we wait to go into the church. Once in place, a groom either becomes weak in the knees—almost frightful—or so anxious that with each bridesmaid coming down the aisle he stands higher and higher on his tippy toes—“Where’s the bride—my bride—my beautiful girl and wife?” he is asking himself.

No relationship is perfect; there are a few things that are wonderful, and a few not-so-wonderful. The couple has dated, done loving deeds for each other, but also, I’m afraid, has sinned a bit. Probably they have argued, hurt each other’s feelings, and even thrown an insult or two at each other.

Today we read in the Old Testament lesson from the prophet Isaiah that God himself is Israel’s Groom, looking for his people to come up the aisle, like a groom waits at his wedding. But Isaiah describes Israel as an adulterous spouse, for they had sinned against God by making deals with the gods of other nations, violating their special relationship (their vows) with the Lord, and thus ending up in exile.

By the time of today’s Scripture passage, the Israelites have been allowed to return to Jerusalem, and God is pleased to have them home. No matter what happened, God loves his Bride—his people—us! He even looks on us as virgins, meaning he has so forgotten our sins absolutely that we are new and pure again.

So like a groom and his bride, our relationship with God starts anew and fresh. This is the only type of love that can make marriages work, and it is the relationship God wants with us. And I think it is the type of relationship you and I have had for these past 22+ years as priest and people. I so thank God for it.

But there is a challenge in this for us. Look at today’s gospel from St. John, the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee. Typically seen as the Lord elevating marriage to the state of a Holy Sacrament, he blesses it by his first miracle, water turned into wine, which he does not because his blessed mother asks him to, but because he takes on the role of the groom. You see, today we think of it being the bride’s family’s responsibility to provide the wedding feast or reception. But in Jesus’ day, it was the groom who hosted the banquet for the wedding feast. So what happened? This groom at Cana messed up; he didn’t order enough wine for the feast!

Ah! Can you see even beyond the miracle itself of water turned into wine? Jesus is the true groom for his people, and he provides the wine for the feast—the groom’s job! Which brings us yet to another level of the miracle. What water did he turn into wine? It was the water put into the great jugs that were present for people to wash before the feast, a common practice of welcome and hospitality, like a hot towel at a nice Japanese restaurant.

So it is the water of cleansing and purification that becomes the wine of the feast. St. John means for us to make the connection: Jesus’ blood cleanses us, makes us new and fresh (pure) in our relationship to God. And at the Eucharist, it is wine that becomes his blood shed for us!

Isn’t it amazing how the gospel fits together? For me it is. Our challenge is to so live the Christian life in this parish church that we use Jesus’ love to guide our relationship with each other, relationships that are cleansed and made fresh in his body and blood received at Holy Mass.

This year of our Lord 2016, do you hear the same call as I do?

I, Fr. Matthew, Fr. Abraham, and Fr. Burton pledge to be faithful priests to you as a groom does to his bride. The body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church, of which this parish is the local neighborhood expression, needs to live our vows—both our baptismal and confirmation vows—that even when we sin, we return to the Lord for forgiveness and renewal. Even when we want to be selfish, we think of the other—the other as God’s child and beloved bride.

In this endeavor, 2016 will be a year of grace, a year of renewal, a year God calls to us to reconciled relationships. And from me, God bless you all for being our Bride in Christ these almost 23 years.

“For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:5