Jesus the Bridegroom Wants to Bring Us Home to Perfect Communion
This week’s Gospel comes from John 14. Early on, the passage focuses on an image of Heaven, an eternal house with many dwelling places where the inhabitants enjoy communion with God.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (Jn 14:3)
The repetition of “go prepare a place” is drawing our attention to a significant cultural tradition in Jesus’s culture. It is an allusion to betrothal, the stage in a relationship before marriage. Our closest cultural equivalent is engagement. In a betrothal, a contractual bond is made. In order for it to be broken, there has to be a formal divorce. The bond is set and it is clear that both the man and the woman are “off the market.” While the couple remains in a period of waiting and preparation for that day the bridegroom would customarily prepare a place for he and his bride to live their new life together. After the completion of the matrimonial ritual, the bridegroom would lead the bride into their new home to consummate the marriage. In comparison, engagements are less formal, more easily broken, and do not in any way make a marriage.
Today Jesus the Bridegroom is speaking to His Bride the Church. What is He saying to her? We’ll get to that in just a second.
St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body rightly highlights the beauty provided by the image of nuptial union as a sign of God’s perfect love for us. The image is a sacramental sign that points beyond itself to the even greater reality of Heaven, where we the Church will be united to God in a way that overpowers even our highest imaginings of wedded bliss. “The Church ‘longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven’ where she ‘will rejoice one day with [her] Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end’” (CCC 1821).
We find similar imagery used in the Gospels when the holy mission of care for the Blessed Mother is given to St. Joseph and, later on, to St. John the Beloved. When the angel visits St. Joseph in a dream to tell him, “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” (Mt 1:20) Again to John at the Cross, “from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (Jn 19:27)
With those facts in mind, let’s take another look at what Jesus is saying to the Apostles and, by extension, to us. (See inset Gospel passage above.) Consider the earthly image and how it is made perfect in Heaven.
An earthly bridegroom longs to share as much of his life with his beloved, as possible. For Jesus the Heavenly Bridegroom, “as much of his life as possible” means eternity. A man lays the groundwork for the marriage by a contract with his bride and her father, offering a substantial gift for her. The God-man lays the groundwork for a deeper relationship with us by His Incarnation, teaching, preaching, and healing. He offers us not a contract, but the New and Eternal Covenant. He gives the ultimate gift by His Sacrifice on the Cross. A new bridegroom, having received consent, goes to construct a dwelling where their love will be consummated. The Eternal Bridegroom, longing for His bride, remains in relationship with her, waiting for the coming together of all things at the end of time, that great, Heavenly consummation.
The period of waiting, however, is not a stagnant one. According to St. Pope John Paul II, “The bridegroom examines his bride attentively, as though in a creative loving restlessness, to find all that is good and beautiful in her and [all the good and beauty] that he desires for her. The good that the [bridegroom] creates with his love in the [bride] is like a test of that same love and its measure” (TOB 92:4). While He “prepares a place for us” He also prepares us. From the moment we enter this covenant through the gates of baptism, He is getting us ready to share in His divine life. “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism …is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). Jesus is promising that there is more to come. His Kingdom is not of this world, it is more than our finite minds can contain.
He calls us to dive deep into this period of waiting, preparation, and joyful anticipation like in Advent. He calls us to remember the feast to which we are called and to renew our consent regularly. This will mean rejecting misuse of those fleeting pleasures of the world, which lead us astray. It also means opening to receive the gift of legitimate pleasures, which serve as little signs of God’s love for us and His desire share His joy with us.
Jesus assures the Apostles that there are many dwelling places, He is expecting a great quantity of souls at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. One of those places is for you. He is telling us the story of his preparation because He wants us to see how desperately He wants us. He wants us to experience that unending joy! Will you listen to His invitations each day? How will you respond? Will you make time for Him who waits for you in the sanctuary of your soul? Will you see Him in those “undesirables” in your community? Will you reject the temptations of false lovers? Will you put Him before yourself?
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 5th Sunday of Easter – Year A
Rev. Benjamin Lehnertz is the Associate Pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida. After his seminary formation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach he was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ for the Diocese of Orlando in May of 2013. Fr. Benjamin has a passion for making disciples for the Lord Jesus in whatever way the Lord may call him, be it small group work, youth/young adult ministry, retreats, teaching, athletics, catechesis, the Liturgy, marriage renewal/preparation, etc. Father Benjamin has attended TOBI Head and Heart Immersion and TOB II Into the Deep. He has acted as chaplain for a week.