Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from the crucified and living Lord Jesus! Amen. Now that it’s almost summer, wedding season is upon us! And along with weddings come wedding invitations!
Think back to your own wedding, when you sat with your fiancé, parents, and future in-laws trying to figure out the guest list for the wedding. Whom do you invite? Whom do you leave out? Do you invite your crazy Aunt Tilda, even though she’s liable to make some kind of scene? (Remember what happened at Thanksgiving?!) Or what about your cousin who always picks a fight with people? You don’t really want them to come, but if you send an invitation, at least they won’t feel forgotten. And how about that long, lost friend from high school whom you only recently reconnected with on Facebook? Do you invite all the neighbors or just the ones you’re close to? After all, you don’t want to cause hard feelings in the neighborhood. Then again, maybe inviting them will be awkward anyway because you don’t want to make people feel obligated to give you a gift… Do you remember those conversations? I certainly do—and I’m glad that I’m done with them… or at least until my kids get married someday!
Today’s lesson from Revelation 22 includes a wedding invitation. At first blush, it might not seem that way, but pay close attention: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17, ESV). Now why do I say this is a wedding invitation? Because “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” And when else does a bride invite you to come to a celebration except at her own wedding?
But who is the Bride? And whose wedding is it? Those are great questions! Earlier in Revelation 19, God gives us a vision of the marriage feast of the Lamb, who is Christ:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God” (Rev. 19:6-9).
Thus, the wedding invitation is for the marriage of Jesus and his Bride, the Church. In the New Testament, the Church is called the “body of Christ” and also Jesus’ bride or wife. The apostle Paul makes this direct comparison in Ephesians 5, when he writes:
“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:23-27; cf. 2 Cor. 11:2).
Jesus is the bridegroom of the Church. He laid down his life on the cross for her, dying for her sins, and washing her in Holy Baptism through the water and the Word so that she might be a beautiful bride without any stain of sin.
Dear Christian friends, you are the Church! We are the Bride of Christ! We are the ones for whom Jesus died. And we are the ones for whom he now lives. Because of your Baptism and faith in Christ, you belong to Jesus, the Lamb of God who sits on the throne and takes away the sin of the world (Rev. 22:1, 3; John 1:29).
And because we are the Church, just like a modern-day bride, we are the ones who invite others to come to the wedding feast. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” (Rev. 22:17a). In other words, along with the Holy Spirit, every single Christian in the Body of Christ has the privilege and responsibility to invite others to come and see, come and know, come and love Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church.
We are the Bride of Christ, so we want to invite as many people as we can to come to the wedding feast. Jesus is the Groom, and he doesn’t split hairs and play political games in choosing which family and friends to invite or not invite. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus spoke many parables, or stories, about weddings (e.g., Luke 5:34; 12:35-40; Matt. 25:1-13). In Matthew 22, Jesus tells of a King who invited people to come to the wedding of his Son (that is, Jesus!). But nobody on the guest list wanted to come. They were too busy and preoccupied.
So the King said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find” (Matt. 22:8-9). So the King’s servants went out on the highways and byways in search of anyone and everyone who was willing to come, “both good and bad” (Matt. 22:10). Why both good and bad? Because God is kind and loving and full of grace. And he makes no distinction of character the way that we do. He welcomes all! So the banquet hall was filled with all kinds of people, and they had a wonderful time!
At the End of Time, on the Last Day, when Christ returns in glory, he will gather his Church and marry his Bride. All who die with faith in Christ will be among those betrothed to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And you and I, if we believe in Jesus, will be both Bride and guest on that glorious day.
Truly: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage of the supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). Dear friends in Christ, you and I are already blessed. We already believe. Already the holy angels are weaving together our bright white wedding gown from the righteous deeds of the saints. But more threads need to be woven into that fabric. Yet more members need to be joined to the Body of Christ. Our heavenly Father, the King, wants his wedding hall to be full. Jesus wants every single person on this planet to have a chance to believe and be saved from the coming judgment. He doesn’t want anybody left out from the kingdom of God. So, until the day of Christ’s return, the Bride must beckon, “Come!”
Remember: those who do not believe will not be allowed to come to the wedding feast. The lost who die in their sin are forever lost with no second chance after death (cf. Heb. 9:27). All the unbelievers will be left outside of the banquet hall. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15). Do we really want our family and friends, neighbors and classmates, to be shut out from the joy of heaven in the outer darkness? I hope and pray that is not the case.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” (Rev. 22:17a). It is not enough for our congregation to be merely a friendly church or even a big family. We must become an inviting church. We must become the Bride who writes a wedding invitation for every single person she knows. We must not leave out anyone from hearing the Gospel call of Christ to “Come and see!” (John 1:39). Everyone is welcome!
Here at Epiphany, we’re not trying to fill up our “pews.” We’re trying to help Jesus fill up his banquet hall in heaven! We’re trying to change people’s eternal address from hell to heaven. Our goal is not to make people into Missouri Synod Lutherans who are merely good church attenders and tithers; our goal is to tell people about Jesus and turn them into disciples! Our goal is to present to Jesus a beautiful bride. We must go, so they can come!
Three times in our reading Jesus declares that he is coming soon. “And behold, I am coming soon…” (Rev. 22:7a). “Behold, I am coming soon… to repay each for what he has done” (v. 12). “Surely I am coming soon” (v. 20). But before he comes, we want to make sure that the people we love are ready. Even the strangers we meet but once or of which we only hear rumor—they too need to be ready. They need to know Jesus. They need to know his love and believe in his name. They need to come! So we go and tell. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” Whose name are you going to write on the wedding invitation today? At some point in your life, somebody invited you. Now whom will you invite to the wedding feast of the Lamb? In the name of Jesus, Amen. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.