A Passionate Love Story
Jesus Christ is passionately in love with you.
Do you believe that? And I don’t mean in a “Jesus loves me, this I know” kind of way. But in a total, wild, romantic, passionate “love beyond knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19) kind of way. His love for you is real. It is tangible.
Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of watching a number of close friends prepare to be united with their beloved in the sacrament of marriage. At each of the weddings I’ve attended, and as more approach this spring and summer, one thing has been consistent: in a world that is falling to pieces, the love that the engaged or newly-married couple have for each other eclipses everything.
As the date of the wedding draws nearer, it’s all the couple can talk about. Everything in the couple’s lives seems to pause for the preparations to be made and the little details put into place. Family and friends go out of their way to help make the couple’s wedding day as beautiful and love filled as it can be. The bride takes hours to get ready so she can be as beautiful as she’s ever been when she walks down the aisle. The groom’s face lights up as he is overcome with the beauty of his bride. Everyone in the audience cries (read: I definitely cry).
It is not a mistake that, throughout the gospels, wedding imagery is used to illustrate the love that God has for His people. Jesus even refers to Himself as a Bridegroom, which would have been familiar imagery for His Jewish listeners. Brant Pitre writes, “Just as YHWH wed himself to the twelve tribes of Israel at Mount Sinai through the blood of the old covenant, so now [at the Last Supper] Jesus unites himself to the twelve disciples through the blood of the new covenant, which is sealed in his blood.” Christ is the Bridegroom of Israel and the Bridegroom of the Church. He is a God of covenants, of promises, of seals set upon hearts (Song of Solomon 8:6).
This Holy Week, the image of Christ as a Bridegroom has been close to my heart. Just as a groom goes down the aisle first and waits for his bride at the altar, so Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and climbs the hill of Calvary on Good Friday. He is waiting for us at the altar of His Passion. He is waiting for us with the promise of the Resurrection, of hope.
As I was doing a bit of research for this article, I came across the icon pictured above, of Christ the Bridegroom. He is wearing the red of His Passion and the crown of thorns. Very faintly, blood trickles from His side. This is the love of the Bridegroom – “love strong as death, passion fierce as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6). He has signed the covenant of love with His blood, with His life that He laid down freely for each of us. He loves us more than we could ever dream of loving Him, and this love changes things. In fact, it changes everything. To let Christ look at you with love, to face the cross and understand that all of this is for you, requires an acceptance of your own fundamental dignity and the dignity of everyone around you.
It asks each of us to believe that He is waiting for us. Personally. He is physically in the tabernacle and wants to make your heart His home. He is in the garden, and He is calling your name, just as He called the name of Mary Magdalene. At each Mass, and especially at Easter, we commemorate this covenant. He is at the altar, waiting for you to come to Him.
This love eclipses everything – all the fear, grief, disappointment and suffering we’ve faced in the past year and continue to face now. In union with Christ, our Bridegroom, our personal crosses and the crosses of the world are united to His.
So let us truly prepare to be the bride of Christ this Holy Week, with all the dignity, beauty, and truth that this entails. Let us prepare our hearts with the sacrament of confession, just as a bride dresses herself all in white. Let us turn our backs to sin and turn our eyes towards the altar to truly behold our Groom.
Lord, help us not to look away when Your face lights up at the sight of us.