Cherchez La Femme
Cherchez la femme means "look for the woman." It's the French equivalent of our "follow the money." It's mildly pejorative in that it means if a man has behaved stupidly or out of character a woman is probably behind it (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cherchez-la-femme.html). However, it doesn't mean to imply that the woman behaved badly or is at fault. In Genesis 3 the Lord looks for the man. In Ephesians 5 although the man is the head cherchez la femme.
Look for the Bride of Christ in this text. See what she does. Paul says as a matter of fact that the Bride submits to Christ. She stands under Him. As Aristotle said, "the courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in submitting" (Politics, 1, XIII, 22). "Follow the woman" see how the Bride of Christ willing submits to the ordering of God. She prays, "Thy will be done not mine." "Hallowed be Thy name not mine." "They kingdom come not mine."
Cherchez la femme; look for the woman, see how the Bride of Christ fears him. We have a phobia about the Greek word phobeo. But it's a direct transliteration that needs no translation. Yet, we want to translate as the ESV and virtually all moderns do, "And let the wife see that she respects her husband." Other denominations can be excused for this weakness, not confessional Lutherans. Before love and trust comes fear. Surely the Bride of Christ following the 1st Commandment first fears, then loves and trust in God above all things. Surely, She confesses in every other Commandment that "We should fear and love God." Surely the Bride rejoices with Psalm 130 that "there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared."
Follow the woman; look for the Bride of Christ; see how she submits to her Groom in our text, and ask yourself this: is this you? Over against God the Absolute Masculinity we all our feminine; we can only be brides. And I blush at the bride I am. How disobedient. How unsubmissive. How self-willed. How self-centered. How self-righteous.
You might want to turn away from the bride of Christ at this point, but don't. Cherchez la femme. Look for the bride as she is loved by her Groom. He is her Head. Paul doesn't say this to emphasize that Christ has authority or rule over His bride, though of course He does. He uses head' here to highlight that the relation between Church and Christ is one of oneness, togetherness (Zerbst,72). He's the head we're His Body and no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.
This is a big deal in a fallen world. I had never thought of this before a female character in a police drama was asked by her male partner why she always carried knives. She replies that in a world where half the population could kill her with their bare hands she thought it only prudent. How much more needful and comforting to know you have a heavenly Head who nourishes, cherishes and protects you as His very own body.
Yes, that's what the Groom does for us, His body, but He doesn't do so well with His own. Paul says not just that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her but that He betrayed Himself. He willingly handed Himself over to the hands of Sin, Death, and Devil. Rather than give up you, His disobedient bride, He handed Himself over to unimaginable pain, unendurable punishment, unbearable guilt.
And it wasn't merely for you' it was literally "in place of you." Let that have its full force. You can see Christ beaten, bleeding, and dying on the cross or you can see you. You can see Christ bearing the sins of the world or you can see you. You can see Christ bearing your shame, your guilt, your pain, or you can see you. But know this. God the Father sees Christ in place of you with the result that or with the purpose that He might sanctify you cleansing you by the washing of the water in the Word. And Word is not logos here but rhema which lays the stress on the fact that God spoke (Lenski, Hebrews, 183); that it is a living and active Word.
Cherchez la femme, follow the woman, see she stands in her Baptism without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. A ridiculous percentage of women compared to men have body-image issues, even runway models and cover-girls. Not the Bride of Christ. Not you; in Baptism you're holy and blemish-free, nourished and cherished by your Groom. He looks at you the way perfect Adam looked at perfect Eve. After seeing there was no suitable helper fit for Him, He looked and exclaimed, "At last!" Milton has Adam describing Eve as "Heaven's last, best gift" (Paradise Lost, V, 19). Scripture has God declaring His creation "very good" not just good' only after Eve is created.
Well, that's how the Groom cherishes His Bride, what about the nourishing part? The Head of the Church nourishes His body by means of His very own Body and Blood. He actually does what up till modern times people thought the pelican did. The pelican is a symbol of Christ because it was thought that she nourished her young from the blood that flowed from pecking her own breast. In reality, she feeds them from the fish she has mashed up in her bill and the blood from that stains her breast. Look at Louisiana's flag up close and you'll get the picture.
Look for the woman, the Bride of Christ as she submits to Him and is loved by Him. But of course, I am speaking of husbands and wives. I know I'm saying the opposite of what Paul does, and I'm doing so to highlight a point. You know how some Christians make it seem that if you really want to understand the Lord's Supper you have to first understand the Jewish Passover? No, it's exactly opposite. If you really want to understand what was going on in the Old Testament Passover, you first have to understand the New Testament of our Lord. "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed," Paul trumpets. Don't paint the doorposts with His Blood; drink it. Cast out the old yeast; you're new unleavened bread by the Body of Christ.
Stop looking at marriage from the outside. For that matter, stop looking at the magical, mystical male-female polarity from outside of Christ. Follow the Bride of Christ. Look from her vantage point in Baptism, in, paradoxically, the new man created in Christ Jesus in true righteousness and holiness. This was Luther's advice, "'[Y]ou ought not look at married life from the outside, for when you see it that way you will see that it is filled with temptation and sadness. Instead, you must look at this estate on the basis of the Word, be adorned with it, and in the way that it is instituted'" as a gift (Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology, 146). If you approach marriage outside of Christ at best it looks like nothing more than a social contract. At worst, it looks like nothing but physiology watered down to sex as in animals or debased into only lust (Lewis, Weight of Glory, 64).
You pastors know this problem. It waxes and wanes over the decades. First, it was the bride not wanting to promise to obey. Fine, I said it's not the word obey which is "hear under" as kids are to obey parents. It's the word "submit or stand under" as the Bride of Christ joyfully does under her Groom. Of late, it has been not wanting to be given away. You used to see this when the father had been less than a man and therefore less than a father. However, that's not where in the last 10 years or so brides have been coming from. They think that the giving way harks back to the bride as chattel, as property. No, it's about the bride as gift. Hear Luther on this: The Bible doesn't say of animals that God brings the female to the male but only of man. "He brings her to him, he gives her to him, and Adam agrees to accept her. Therefore, that is what marriage is" (LW, 44, 8), Gift given; gift received, and the husband and wife in Christ say "Amen" to that.
Marriage is a miracle on the order of Christ giving His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine, on the order of Baptism not being simple Water only but a sprinkling of Jesus' Blood, a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit. The union of man and woman in marriage is on the order of not only the Sacramental Union but the Personal Union of the Two Natures joined in the Person of Christ.
If that union was a miracle in Paradise how much more so out here in the wilderness. To perform the miracle, the Holy Spirit takes us back to the Garden through the pen of Paul. In verse 25 of our text, He speaks of husbands loving wives. In verse 28 the ante is upped. He calls wives their own bodies. In verse 29, we're where no man can go except by the revelation of God. The Spirit refers to the wife as the husband's own flesh. And with verse 31 we've finally made it back to the Garden: the two become one flesh.
Don't try this at home. At least don't try it in a home void of Christ. The miracle of a one flesh marriage didn't happen apart from God even in Eden and it certainly can't happen without Him outside of that garden. No, Jesus Himself tells us that marriage is God's doing. It's what God has joined together. We see this confessed in the art of the catacombs depicting marriage. In one such example, the bride and groom are holding hands. Over the head of each the Lord is holding a crown (We Look for a Kingdom, 306).
You want love, peace, joy in marriage? Don't look to yourself or your spouse, look to Christ and His Bride. You want strength, energy, courage not to put asunder what God has joined together? Don't look inside yourself, your spouse, or your marriage, look outside to the Word and Sacraments the Groom provides for His Bride. None of these can be found in either wife or husband. When Peter calls the wife the weaker vessel, he is using a comparative. If the wife is the weaker of the two, that means the husband is weak too. One of the strongest things in architecture is the arch and that is a strength built out of two opposing weaknesses (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 432).
Now that will get you an "aww" moment in a wedding sermon, but it fails to cherchez la femme. It fails to follow the Bride of Christ. It fails to go back to the mystery of Christ and the Church, the Groom and the Bride, the archetype of our marriages. C.S. Lewis was close when he said that he has a Christ-like marriage "whose marriage is most like a crucifixion" (Four Loves, 148). I'd say: like a resurrection. And who are first at that empty tomb? Cherchez la femme. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
ACELC Conf., Good Shepherd, Lincoln, NE (20170829); Eph. 5:22-33