THE MARRIAGE OF THE LAMB
A Sermon by Rev Grant H. Odhner
in preparation for June 19th
Preached in Rochester, Michigan, June 13, 1993
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready (Rev 19:7).
The Word is a story about the relationship between God and ourselves. The Lord wills to be joined with human beings to enter into a reciprocal relationship in which there is mutual love and freedom, mutual understanding, mutual fruitfulness and joy. This union between God and humanity is a marriage.
Throughout the Word the Lord likens Himself to a Bridegroom and Husband and the church to a bride and wife. Obviously, the Divine itself is above gender. Before Him all people, male and female, are of equal worth. The symbolism here rests on biological function (see CL 125-127). In our marriage with the Lord, we receive from Him. This is why the Lord is pictured as a Husband and the church as a wife.
More specifically, in regard to the marriage between us and the Lord, we are taught that it is between His love and His truth with us. He flows into us with love; we receive that love as seed in a womb. From that love we have the power to respond to Him. But our response becomes a conscious and free one by means of truth. We gain true ideas from the Word and experience. These truths seem to be our own, because we gain them through our own initiative and with our own consent. So it is by these truths that we become aware of Him and His love, and respond to Him.
In effect the truths we gain from the world around us weave a body for the seeds of love which flow in from the Lord. They give form and expression to love, so that love can be brought forth as a reality in our life. Then we experience it, and so experience the Lord Himself. In this way the Lord’s love (coming from within) and His truth (coming from without) are married in us. And this in turn marries us with Him.
Let me give an example of this marriage. A situation arises in which we can either blame a fellow human being or we can forgive. Now the Lord is continually implanting in us an unselfish love for our neighbor. But in itself this love is invisible, unconscious. Yet through our experience with parents, siblings, friends, and acquaintances, through the knowledge and concepts that we have gained from the Word (about what is right and wrong, about the nature of love, about what it is and what it is not), we have become conscious of where blame comes from, what it feels like, where it leads; we have become aware of where forgiveness comes from, what it feels like, where it leads. So on this occasion when we see fault in our neighbor through the truth with us, an unselfish love can be awakened. We can let go of the inclination to blame. We can forgive. When we do this, a marriage takes place between the Lord’s love (which was implanted in us from within) and the truth (which we have taken in from without). And when this marriage takes place, we are drawn into a marriage with the Lord.
The Word is nothing but a love story a story about this marriage between human beings and the Lord. As such it is a story of perpetual hope and promise. But it is also a story of unfaithfulness.
The first church, the first bride of the Lord, was represented by Adam. Adam’s pristine marriage with God in Eden was eventually strained. A time came when he was no longer content to live in so full a sense of communion with the Lord as at the start; he desired a more independent feeling of autonomy in seeking and finding happiness. That is when the Lord gave him Eve. She represents a greater degree of proprium (sense of self-life). Then in time came a greater fall, when they chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This stands for coming to fully believe the appearance that we are the source of our own life, both good and evil. We can’t go into all the details, but what is said of Adam stands for the first humanity which knew the Lord, and its falling away from its marriage with Him (see AC, vol. 1).
After a flood of evils and falsities brought that church to an end, the church called Noah entered into a new covenant with God. For a time that church enjoyed a lovely marriage with Him. But Noah became drunk and his posterity gradually lost both the clear knowledge of its partner-in-marriage and its desire to be one with Him.
God re-inspired the covenant with Abraham and His descendants. But by this time the human race had fallen so far that this covenant could be no more than a natural covenant. It was based on a dimly seen God and the promise of a worldly, not a spiritual, relationship with Him, a relationship based on outer behavior and material rewards.
This was not a true marriage between the Lord and His church. The Jewish prophet Jeremiah was commanded not to take a wife in order to represent this fact (see Jer. 16:2). Ezekiel’s wife died, representing something similar (see Ezekiel 24:18). Hosea was told to take a harlot to wife, which pictured the church’s unfaithfulness and the Lord’s persistent love (see Hosea 1).
Yet in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Prophets, the Lord spoke words both of love and rebuke to keep alive the hope and promise of a true marriage. In Jeremiah He sang to humanity with longing:
I remember you, the kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, The firstfruits of His increase (Jer. 2:2,3).
In Hosea He chided:
Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; For she is not My wife, nor am I her husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, And her adulteries from between her breasts (Hosea 2:2).
But He also offered hope, that they could turn and become His wife again. He said:
Do not fear . . . nor be disgraced, . . . For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; . . . For the Lord has called you, Like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, Like a youthful wife when you were refused . . . . For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you (Isaiah 54:4-7).
And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and judgment, And in lovingkindness and mercies; And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord (Hosea 2:19-20).
So the promise of a true marriage with God was kept alive, until He Himself could come to renew that covenant.
And as promised, in the fulness of time He came. John testified to His identity when people asked whether it was right that Jesus surpass him: He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29). On another occasion the Lord called Himself the bridegroom (see Matt. 9:15). For that is why He had come: to restore the marriage between Himself and the church.
The Lord restored the marriage by making it possible for people to know Him again. He revealed new truth to this end. People who loved and followed Him, loving and following that new truth, would know Him. The new covenant was simple. He said: Abide in Me and I in you . . . . He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (John 15:4,5).
The early Christian Church enjoyed a honeymoon, but as time went by, many Christians did not heed His words and follow Him. They did not abide in Him by doing His commandments; they did not make the Lord Jesus Christ their only partner in marriage, but tried to worship the Father as if this were a separate person. They regarded Jesus Christ as a second- party mediator, whose sacrifice could be used as a substitute for our sin, to cancel its debt before God. They forsook the idea of personal repentance as the primary way to enter into God’s love and stand in worthy partnership with Him. They succumbed to other persuasive ideas: that we could be reconciled to God simply by declaring our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice; that we could be
made right apart from real inner struggle and change of life merely by confessing our sins or through outward acts of piety, done in the mediator’s name. Further, some of the church hierarchy set itself up in place of the Word as the final authority over people and broker of salvation. In these ways the Word of God again became of none effect through people’s traditions.
The Lord had seen that He would be forsaken by the established Christian Church. He saw that He would need to come again to restore a proper basis for an enduring marriage with Him. The book of Revelation, given early in the Christian era, pictures the struggles that would happen in the Christian Church before the real marriage could take place. And it ends with the judgment of the great harlot and the joyous declaration in heaven that the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready (19:7). The New Jerusalem descends from God out of heaven and is proclaimed the Bride, the Lamb’s wife (21:9). This vision, of course, is symbolic of the coming of the Lord and of the renewing of His covenant with a new church, with the New Church.
In our church we believe this: that the Lord has come again and has restored the basis for a fuller covenant with Himself, through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. We rejoice in our new sight of Him, in our appreciation of the light in which we are able to walk. We rejoice in the blessings of the covenant with Him that we enjoy.
But in celebrating the birth of the New Church every year at this time, we may become mindful of our own inadequacies, as individuals and as a church. It is easy to feel self-conscious about the New Church as the Lamb’s Bride and Wife. How loving are we? How loyal are we to His covenant? Aren’t there many people who are as good as or better than we are?
Of course there are many good people of all religions, and there always have been. In proclaiming a New Church the Lord does not deny this or reject these good sheep. Indeed, love is the essence of His marriage. And in the final reckoning, when the Bridegroom comes to them (whether in this world or after death), those who have the oil of love in their lamps will not be left outside, but will enter into the wedding hall with Him (see Matt. 25).
Nevertheless, it takes more than love to make a real marriage. Marriage is a coming together of minds. It is a mutual knowing and understanding. It is a mutual cultivating of common values and insights. It is an adapting of each to the other on the basis of that mutual understanding, so that a common life results, so that the marriage bears fruit in useful service to society.
Having a real marriage also requires a clear understanding of evil. Minds and hearts cannot be joined unless the barriers and pitfalls are known and effectively overcome; neither can the relationship bear fruit. Love is the essence of the marriage, but without truth, love falters and loses its vision.
As a result, making and keeping a covenant requires the tools that we call truth. Our loves must be chastened, directed, brought into harmony, and focused toward a common goal. Truth provides this direction and enables marriage to become a working reality.
The same is true of a church. Love is the essence, but truth is vital too. Truth brings the Lord to our awareness, and teaches us who He is and how we can be conjoined with Him. Truth teaches us what evil is and how to deal with it. What’s more, truth by its very nature does this gradually, and from the outside, so that we can feel a sense of initiative and freedom in responding to it, to Him.
Through the ages the Lord has worked to reveal truth to us. He has given it in the measure that we have been able to receive it. This revealed truth has been the basis of His marriage with us. When the truth has faltered or become inadequate for the growing race, then the marriage has faltered.
The truth which we have been given through the Lord’s second coming not only restores what had been dimmed but it also gives us so much more! We have been given truth that meets our age. We have been taught plainly about the spiritual world. We have been taught about the forces of good and evil as they touch our daily thoughts and feelings. We have been taught about the Lord’s ways of accommodating His infinite life to us and leading us in freedom. We have been given not just generalities but details that enable us to see and consider, affirm and live. We have been given a faith that’s simple and reasonable, and yet one that offers challenges and mysteries that do justice to our God’s infinity and to our intuitive human belief that there must always be more to learn. Indeed, we have been given truth for a new age.
The New Jerusalem is called both the Bride and Wife of the Lamb. Though we do enjoy states of marriage with the Lord (as a church and as individuals) in which we feel wedded to His love and wisdom, we are always in a sense His bride; because in a sense we are never there. We are always looking toward a new marriage with Him. We are always aware of the fact that our bond with Him is in large measure a potential one. We have a long way to go!
For this reason we pray today that this potential may be realized more fully, that we may become more fit partners for Him by gratefully accepting His truth into our lives, by going forth to abide in Him, and His word in us. And we pray that we may not live in doubt and fear, but may come to feel the innocence and trust of being enfolded in His unbounded love. His promise of old remains:
You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, [Jerusalem,] Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:4,5).
This promise is now ripe. Therefore:
Let us be glad and rejoice and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come . . . . (Rev 19:7).
The Spirit and the Bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).
Lessons: Ezekiel 16; Rev. 19:1-9; AE 1179:2
1179. The Lord provides that a human being may be reformed and saved by those things that he adopts as his religion. In the entire globe where there is any religion, since there must be conjunction, there are two that constitute it, namely, God and man. And there are two things that constitute conjunction, namely, the good of love and the truth of faith. The good of love is from the Lord immediately; the truth of faith is also from God, but mediately. The good of love is that by means of which God leads a human being, and the truth of faith is that by means of which a human being is led . . . .
The truth of faith appears to a human being to be his own, because it is from those things that he acquires as though from himself. Therefore God conjoins Himself to the person by means of the good of love, and the person conjoins himself to God as though from himself by means of the truth of faith. Because the conjunction is such, the Lord compares Himself to a bridegroom and husband, and the church to a bride and wife. The Lord flows in continually with an abundance of the good of love, but He cannot be conjoined to a human being in the fullness of the truth of faith, but only in that which is with the person, and this varies. It can be given in greater fullness with those who are where the Word is, and in less fullness with those who are where there is no Word. And yet the fullness varies in proportion to both their knowledge and their life according to it, and consequently it may be greater with those who have not the Word than with those who have it.