A theme of the first several days of Holy Week is the coming of Christ, the Bridegroom who comes to claim His wife, the Church. The imagery is taken from Christ’s Parable in Matthew 25:1-13 in which the Bridegroom comes at midnight rather than at an expected hour, and we are all called to be ready to join Him – to be vigilant and watchful until He comes. The imagery of God’s marriage to Israel from the Old Testament caused the early Church to interpret Christ’s wedding parables to be about us and our relationship to Christ.
The synoptics make clear that God’s reign comes into history through human response; it is not a theophany that reorders the world by sovereign power. The parables about the wedding banquet communicate the indispensable necessity of responding to the invitation: if the invited guests fail to respond there will be no banquet. The king who wants the celebration will be frustrated if no one shows up (see Matt. 22:1-10). God’s mercy and justice are extended into the world through human response and witness to this radical invitation. Unless it is responded to, there is no gracious relation initiated: God does not reign over us unless we agree to let it happen. Mark relates how unbelief can frustrate the power of God. When Jesus returns to Nazareth, “he could do no deed of power there except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. He was amazed at their unbelief” (6:5-6). He wanted the world according to God; they preferred it the way it was, and they got their wish. (William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise, pp. 84-85)
Holy Week gives us time to think about our response to God’s invitation to follow Christ to the Kingdom. God has prepared a banquet for us, but we have to be willing to attend, which means we must cooperate with God. Salvation isn’t all on God, we have to accept God’s invitation and choose to celebrate the wedding feast. In the wedding feast parable (Matthew 22:1-14), we have to put a wedding garment on, this is our part of the process. St. John Chrysostom writes:
But you have been invited to a spiritual wedding, and a royal banquet; consider then, what sort of wedding garment you should buy. On the other hand, there is no need for you to buy it, because he who has anointed you cannot offer your poverty as an excuse. Guard, then, the garment you have received; if you ruin it you will not be able to borrow another. There is no place where this kind of garment is for sale. (What the Church Fathers Say About…p. 23)
The days of Holy Week invite us to consider our relationship to Christ and what we are willing to invest in this relationship. Are we willing to live for Christ? It is not an easy question for it means losing one’s life. The references to the wedding garment remind us that we have a role to play in the process. We have to care for the garment given to us at baptism and preserve it undefiled throughout our lifetime to the very day when Christ returns (which is exactly what we pray at the baptismal service). Following Christ requires synergy – we have to be co-workers with Christ for our salvation. The wedding garment is our responsibility to secure and preserve so that we will have the glorious garment to wear when we enter the heavenly wedding banquet in the Kingdom of God.