The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for “the wedding-feast of the Lamb.” ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church 1612
What great reassurance we have of Christ’s love for us when He calls Himself a bridegroom! Of course this can only be truly comforting, and reveal the depth of His commitment, when we understand the context within which He spoke. We cannot look at the lack of marital commitment in today’s world, whether Jewish or Christian, and fully grasp what Jesus meant when He answered the question about fasting by saying, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” Matthew 9:15.
What did Christ want us to understand when He used that term “bridegroom”? Isaiah offers a very succinct understanding of the wedded relationship Jesus would have been speaking of when He proclaimed Himself the bridegroom to us, His Church and bride. Along with the words He used to portray the union between Himself and us, His bride, Christ also used the Wedding at Cana to further inculcate the idea that our relationship with Him was as indissoluble as a marriage vow.
Even today, a Jewish wedding ceremony continues to draw upon the marital covenant Christ spoke of and as is found in Isaiah 54:5, “For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the Lord of hosts; Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth.”
To begin with, both the Jewish bride and her bridegroom are typically walked down the aisle by their respective parents. In that way there is a real sense of the context of Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” It is a visual expression of that ‘leaving of parents’ and joining together as one.
When the couple join, in front of God and man, it is under a chupah, which is an open, four-sided canopy structure that has many meanings but most closely symbolizes the first home that the bride and groom share. It is reminiscent of the tent of Abraham and Sarah, and is open-sided to indicate the welcoming of friends and family just as Abraham welcomed the angels who foretold of Sarah’s upcoming pregnancy.
A Jewish marriage is itself contractual in nature and the actual contract is called a ketubah. Just as God’s covenantal contract with Abraham required circumcision and Moses’ covenantal contract was sealed with blood upon an altar, so, too, the ketubah requires something from each party. Remember that God’s covenant with Noah also involved a sign from God, a rainbow, in recognition of the promise. So, when two people enter into a Jewish marriage, their union is contractual, or covenantal, with each bringing to the union a promise of love, fidelity, support in difficult times, as well as joy in all things.
The Jewish bride, also known as the kallah, wears a badeken, or veil. The veil covers the young bride’s face to symbolize that physical beauty is a thing of passing value and that what truly matters is the soul and modesty of the bride; both of these hallmarks of Jewish tradition hearken back to Rebekah’s meeting with Isaac. This is acceptable to and welcomed by the husband because he wants to show that his commitment to his bride is not dependent on her physical attributes but on her inner beauty. The things of God unite the bride and groom.
Another significant part of the Jewish ceremony is the breaking of a glass. Again, this is a custom that has deep roots and is believed to have a variety of meanings associated with it; but one of the more significant symbols is to declare that the marriage will last until the glass is put back together. Which is to say, of course, that the marriage will last forever.
When Christ promises to be our bridegroom, then, He is including all these understandings for He is linking the Old Covenant with the New Covenant as the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-33, “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Consider, also, the Wedding at Cana, in which Christ turned ceremonial washing water into wine. It is no coincidence that He chose this sacred event, a wedding, to bring us into His fold. Reading John 2:1-12, we cannot help but feel like treasured guests witnessing what our Lord and Savior has in store for us. He, who is the best wine saved for last, the blood covenant which becomes the one sacrifice that replaces the many, makes Himself known at a wedding.
When we consider Christ making Himself known as our bridegroom, we grasp the depth of those words by understanding the original intent of marriage: joining a man and a woman forever. A union witnessed before God. In every way, Christ has made man aware of His enduring love but none more poignantly than in describing His great love as the love that a man and a woman share in marriage. There is a reason that this cornerstone considers Himself a bridegroom. If any of us is called to the vocation of a Christian marriage, we are called to it with a spirit of service, love, endurance, and commitment as witnessed by Christ our bridegroom.