The following are some reflections on John’s account of Christ’s death in light of the sacrament of marriage.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The sacrament of marriage is not complete until it has been consummated. The verbal consent must be proven by the laying down of one’s life for the other. In the marital act, the woman renders unto her husband her fertility, and he releases into her his very life. When she has subjected and opened herself to him, and he has released himself into her, then the marriage is consummated. The two have become one flesh, for the man’s very body now lives within the woman.
“‘It is consummated.’ And bowing his head, He gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
Just as the sacrament of marriage is not complete until the spouses have consummated, so God’s marriage covenant with His bride is not fulfilled until it is consummated. At the moment of His death, Christ consummates His marriage with the Church. He gives Himself completely unto her, pouring out “blood and water” (John 19:34), just as the bridegroom pours out his own bodily fluids into His bride.
But the consummation, the mutual laying down of one’s life for the other, which is the natural end of the marital act, is really only a beginning. For, by giving his life to his beloved, the husband’s life now lives in the woman and brings new life. If she receives him fully, in the dark empty womb, a new life will take form and grow until it is ready to burst forth into the world.
“Now there was in the place where he was crucified, a garden; and in the garden, a new sepulchre, wherein no man had yet been laid. There, therefore, . . . they laid Jesus, because the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (John 19:41-42).
Christ’s pouring out of Himself from the Cross is at once the fulfillment and the beginning of the marital act. After He has consummated, Christ’s body is laid within a new tomb in a garden. In the sacrament of marriage, the bride is like a garden and her womb is like a tomb. If she has not had any other man live within her, and she is near at hand, then the bridegroom can lay His body within her.
But in the darkness of the womb and the tomb, in a mystery beyond our understanding, the dead body transforms into a new, living body. The end of the marital act is both the union of the spouses and the procreation of children who bear the image of their parents.
So, too, Christ’s marital act with His bride brings forth new life. His Death implies the Resurrection. And although we must endure the separation as His body lays hidden within the tomb, we can look forward to the new life that will burst forth from the tomb. That new life, the Resurrected body of Christ, will be the perfect image of God and yet, He will also bear the wounds of His humanity, the wounds of his bride, the Church.
May we, members of the Church, the bride of Christ, be like an empty tomb in a garden, ready to receive His dead body. And may we be filled with His divine life to the point of bursting open and bearing new life that bears His image.