What if the groom is younger

18 And John's disciples and the Pharisees fasted much; And some came and said to him, Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?
19 And Jesus said to them, How can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as the bridegroom is with them, they cannot fast.
20 The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast on that day.
21 Nobody mends a rag of new cloth on an old garment; otherwise the new rag will tear off the old one and the tear will get worse.
22 And no one puts new wine into old bottles; otherwise the wine will tear the skins and the wine is lost and the skins too; but one should fill new wine into new bottles.

Dear Congregation,

Fasting has a long tradition in ancient Israel and Judaism. But everything has its time, says the preacher. This also applies to us in faith. God has given us his grace. And yet for us not everything is at the same time, just as there were different times for the disciples of Jesus, times to fast and times to forego fasting. There are activities that are right at one time, but wrong at the other. There are times for the Church of Jesus Christ when traditions and ordinances regulate and secure the coexistence of the congregation members and sustain the life of faith. It is good for us if our everyday life is shaped by fixed times of prayer. Many people have lost grace and this is a great personal, church and social loss. It is good if the same prayers are said in fixed order Sunday after Sunday in the service. It is good when pastors are proposed to us preachers Sunday after Sunday in a cycle of several years, and according to our text, it is an evangelical possibility for people to fast regularly, even if this possibility is rarely used in the evangelical tradition.

Jesus also fasted forty days in the wilderness according to the Gospels. Despite his hunger, he did not allow Satan to persuade him to make bread out of stones against the order of creation. He resisted the temptation to demonstrate his faith at the temple, the place of the institutionalized and condensed presence of God. He did not throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple. He also resisted Satan's offer to rule over all the kingdoms of the world.

When he returned from the desert and called his disciples, all the old orders faded into the background. There was no more fasting. Yes, in contrast to other pious Jewish groups, Jesus did not pray with his disciples either, as the parallel text in Luke shows: Why does Jesus not fast with his disciples and why does he not pray with them? Jesus always prayed for himself. It was only when he was on his way to Jerusalem that the disciples could no longer stand it and asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus then taught them, according to Luke, the Lord's Prayer in an even simpler and shorter version than we will pray in today's worship service.

Jesus was there for his disciples. The old orders faded into the background. Prayer and fasting no longer played a special role. It was a special time. The groom was physically present. In the Bible, prayer and fasting are always a means of influencing God's will. Now their importance receded, because Jesus himself was with his disciples. Unlike the people of Nineveh in the Book of Jonah, they did not have to avert God's judgment by fasting. The bridegroom was with them. The disciples are - literally translated - the sons of the bridegroom, that is, they belong to him. So they do not have to be the wedding guests as in the Luther translation, but they can also be the ones who celebrate the engagement with him. Because the readers are still veiled who the bride is and the bridegroom will not stay, but will go away. Then his followers will fast too.

The Gospel of John and Revelation paint the picture of the wedding much more clearly. Jesus is the bridegroom, as John the Baptist says. He has the bride. Disciples, the congregation, the church is the bride. But the wedding, the wedding of the Lamb, will not take place until the end of the day. Now is the engagement party with the disciples. With death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus goes to prepare everything for his bride. At the second coming, the wedding will be celebrated according to this picture. Dear Congregation, we live between Ascension and Second Coming, between engagement and wedding. We live in the time when it is possible to fast again. We live in times when it makes sense to have traditions, fixed times of prayer, rituals, and orders of worship.

The book of Acts reports on the ministry of the apostles after the ascension. No New Testament book fasts as much as it does here. In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions in the hard argument with the “super-apostles” that he fasted a lot. In the Corinthian community there were again and again those who claim that now all salvation has already been given to the believers. Now they have already risen from the dead or, in other words, speaking with our picture: The wedding has already taken place. Paul combats this heresy by speaking of his suffering for Christ and his fasting.

In the Gospels, Jesus proclaims with great charismatic authority that the kingdom of heaven is now at hand. As a result, many old orders take a back seat. But he also announces that a time will come when many of these ordinances will be taken up again and that this is not a betrayal of his preaching, but that it is good and right. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, the church has come. That is God's will and a good thing.

Dear Congregation, we cannot live in the charismatic spirit of optimism of that engagement time. One man in the Gospels stands out in particular: Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned in all the Gospels because he took Jesus off the cross and buried him in his own rock tomb. In the Gospels it stands for the positive clash of charisma and institution, of spirit-driven freedom and the obligations of life. Jesus called a spirit-filled, charismatic movement into being, which worked at a free distance from the traditions and with a great deal of scope for interpretation of the current order in Israel. So someone who was asked by Jesus to follow him wanted to bury his father, who had just died, first according to command and custom. Jesus replied: "Let the dead bury their dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Lk 9:60).

Unlike Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was a representative of the institution. He was a rich and pious councilor. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the high council of Jews that met in Jerusalem in the temple precinct. He had his own burial chamber carved out of the rock for himself in advance. Obviously he could afford it financially and did not share the reservations of Jesus, who wanted to leave this to the "dead".

The Gospel of John reports that for fear he hid the fact that he was a follower of Jesus. Sympathies with such a charismatic, radical movement could damage a councilor's reputation. But after the death of Jesus he dared to ask the Roman governor Pilate for the body. Nicodemus, another member of the Jewish upper class, helped him with the burial (Jn 19: 38-42). Obviously, even then, members of the social elite were closely connected with one another and the ways to one another were shorter for them than for other people

On the evening of the day of execution, he buried the dead Jesus in his unused rock grave. Since Jesus had announced his death but made no preparations for the burial, his followers relied on these services of the councilor.

No movement can remain free and unbound in the long run. Either it creates order for the new that has been given to it, or it dissolves. With the orderly burial of Jesus by the incumbent Joseph of Arimathäa, the institutionalization of the Kingdom of God movement of Jesus begins, so to speak, in the Gospels themselves. The institutionally constituted churches can derive their right to exist from the Gospels, they owe to such a person as Joseph of Arimathea. All evangelists have created a short “memorial” for him because he had buried the dead Jesus.

Dear Congregation, we live - unlike Jesus and his disciples before he was crucified - in a time when it must be one of the strengths of the church to bury properly, well and meaningfully. There will come a time when there will be no more death, no more tears and no more complaining, but we are not there yet. We are not yet living in this "high time". We can fast, we should pray at set times. There are many orders that are good for us.

Nevertheless, there have always been times and movements in the church where the presence of God was more noticeable, where there were radical changes that challenged the old order, where the bridegroom seemed closer. One of these myriad movements was that of Francis of Assisi, who followed Jesus so literally that he radically questioned how his time and the Church handled money and honor. A wise pope gave this movement a free space and thereby integrated it into the church. This has been fruitful for the Catholic Church to this day. During the Reformation, the church failed to integrate the radical awakening that began with the Augustinian monk Luther. If the Catholic Church had given this movement freedom and integrated within a few years what it has taken over from the Reformation to this day, this break might not have occurred.

Dear congregation, how do we as a church deal with new beginnings. Is there any room for it at all. It is not our job to create new beginnings. Only God can do that. We are supposed to live our faith properly and that is very, very much. But we can create space. Especially now, when many churches and meetinghouses have to be closed, some could also be made available as free space for a few years before they are demolished or rebuilt. There are so many God-talented young people in our theological faculties that the churches cannot offer proper employment. The churches then often signal to them that they do not want them, or worse, through questionable selection procedures they are told after many years of study that they are not at all suitable and talented, just so that they do not have to accept them into the old orders that are themselves now turn out to be far too rigid. You could send them out as church planters at least for a few years, with few resources, without civil servant status but with great freedom and enthusiasm. Most of the growing churches around the world are successfully showing us how to do this. Are we to be made to learn from them? Are these just free churches that do not have the honor and the dignified order of our large institutional churches? In many countries, such as the USA, there are only free churches. And even in Switzerland, the Lutherans are also a free church. Dear Congregation, we must all be miserable if we are only allowed to manage the dwindling privileges. Sure, this has to be done properly. But we can pray for new wine and even fast for it. But this prayer makes no sense if we want the new wine right in our old bottles. That will not do. We have to provide free spaces in which we do not immediately comply with all regulations, in which an old hose is allowed to tear.

22 And no one puts new wine into old bottles; otherwise the wine will tear the skins and the wine is lost and the skins too; but one should fill new wine into new bottles.

We can accompany such things through our prayer, with generosity and blessings, but we ourselves can confidently live our faith in our orders. Because our old churches and orders also have their inestimable, unique value for many people. According to Luke, Jesus closes the Bible words of today's sermon with the following sentence:

Lk 5,39 And no one who drinks the old wine wants new ones; for he says: The old one is milder.

And this also applies to our life. We don't have to demonstrate youthful freshness at all costs and repeat the awakenings from our puberty time over and over again. It's just embarrassing. It is much more up to us to maintain and promote the good orders that maintain and shape our lives and to allow a mildness towards our neighbors to grow. But in all of this we can hope that the Holy Spirit will always give small new beginnings in us and in our family, professional and community environment. Let us not stifle this with overly rigid orders.


Prof. Dr. Peter Wick
[email protected]