A Pure Virgin to Christ

Editor’s Note: The Rev. Sean Daenzer preached a version of this sermon for the commemoration of St. Lucia on Dec. 13, 2021. We have published an edited version of this sermon.

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ (2 Cor. 11:1–2).

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+

Today the church commemorates St. Lucia of Syracuse, Virgin and Martyr (†AD 304). Of her two epigraphs, “Martyr” may be the easier to understand, surprisingly and sadly. A chaste youth has become harder for us to envision than dying a horrific death. It is worth taking the opportunity, then, to better understand the vocation of virginity.

First, do not make the mistake of equating “chastity” with “celibacy.” Celibacy means to live without marriage, and therefore without that intimacy. A virgin is one example of a celibate person, but true and God-pleasing chastity encompasses three ways of life: First, it is chaste to avoid all lusts, pollutions, and sex outside of marriage — which are forbidden by God. Second, it is chaste to be married and live conjugally with your husband or wife, because God has expressly ordained, blessed and sanctified marriage. Third, it is chaste for those who have the gift of continence to live celibately, without marriage.[1] Therefore, not only virginity but also marriage is chaste. Marriage has God’s command and approval in the whole Bible, including the words of St. Peter, St. Paul and Christ Himself: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). The opposite of chastity isn’t marriage. The opposite of chastity is immorality.

Our world’s present confusion is very much like the world of the medieval priesthood: marriage is rare; chastity, even rarer. Their age misunderstood vows of chastity to mean avoiding marriage; ours misunderstands consent (however temporary) as sanction. I must say it plainly: Cohabitation and fornication are no substitute for marriage, nor do they prepare you for marriage. Instead, they run from marriage — defiling the marriage bed before it has even been made. The many sexual scandals we see breaking out in our world are the logical result of this way of life. They were scandals even before they were discovered.

True chastity honors marriage between one man and one woman for life. It flees every other use of our bodies because it recognizes such uses for what they are: abuses. We Christians agree that no woman should be subjected to unwanted advances from men, or vice versa. The standard of “so long as it’s consensual, it’s fine” has exacerbated this horrible situation. The virtue of chastity and the promotion of marriage curb it. Women are to be subject only to their husbands, and men are to love their wives — exclusively and selflessly. This not only pleases God, it is wise for a decent society and would do much to curb sin in all its forms, particularly abuse and harassment.

Now, what about virginity itself? What is valuable and honorable about it in itself? It is a vocation given to everyone, at least for a time. To be a virgin and to treasure that status is characterized by trust and wisdom. It is to trust that God has not called us to impurity, but in holiness. It is to confess that we are not, in fact, wild animals. A virgin believes the Lord’s Word that sexual immorality degrades and harms all people involved, both in spirit and in body. Whatever they are “missing out on,” certainly they will not get it by substituting an occasional experience or a provisional relationship for the lifelong commitment of holy marriage. It is possible (and far better) to learn this wisdom by faith rather than by tragic experience.[2]

But virginity is not only a temporary lack, and its value isn’t exhausted in giving it up. From Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 about marriage and against divorce, the disciples draw the implication that the celibate life is better: “It would be better not to marry” (v. 10). To this Jesus responds with more than a “yes”: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. … Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matt. 19:11–12).St. Paul speaks similarly: “Each has his own gift from God. … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:7–9).

These passages show that continence is a unique gift from God. It is not given to everyone. For many, marriage is not only a blessing, a gift and an institution of creation before the fall; it is also a remedy for sin after the fall. Even so, we cannot forget or deny that God does give some the gift of continence. There are Christians capable of living their whole lives without “burning” for the gifts of marriage, whether that be intimacy, companionship or children. They have this calling to be a virgin. And that is not a lack or an insufficiency in them — in fact, the church honors them even more highly for it. Such a person may do just as Jesus says: “receive it.” We, in turn, must believe the apostles’ word: “He who marries … does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Lucia is remembered as such a virgin. She did not give in to the pleasures of this world. She was faithful to Christ with her body before her engagement, which is an example for every young girl. Faced with the prospect of being compelled to be yoked to a pagan and to abandon her faith, however, Lucia found that she was also able to receive and use the gift of continence.

In 2 Corinthians, sometimes the epistle for St. Lucy, St. Paul speaks not of virginity and marriage of the body, but of the “spiritual” image: “I want to present you”— not only Lucia, but all of us, the church — “as a pure virgin to Christ.” At the prospect of marriage to an unbelieving husband, Lucia said, “No. I will have no husband, then. And I will wait instead, with the church, for the true Bridegroom.” She meant she would be “faithful unto death,” and wouldn’t give in to the world’s expectations or pressures. This is what Paul also means when he says, “I have betrothed you to one husband, as a pure virgin, to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2).

“Dear saints, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Let nothing come between you and Christ. Whether in virginity or in matrimony, live now in chastity. Neither marriage nor celibacy but the blood of the Son of God is the one and only propitiation and perfect satisfaction for our sins. Neither by celibacy nor by marriage do believers receive remission of sins, life and salvation, but by faith in the Name of Christ, who died for our sins and was raised for our justification.[3]He has shown Himself to be the true Bridegroom of the church, giving up everything for her — for us. What, indeed, do we lack if we have Him? God grant us faithfulness to Christ in body and soul.

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit+

[1] Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent Part III (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 17.

[2] For more on this topic, see Rebekah Curtis and Rosie Adle’s LadyLike: Living Biblically (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015).

[3] Chemnitz, Examination, 39–40.

Image: Saint Lucy, by Niccolò di Segna mid 14th-century Sienese painting, circa 1340. The saint holds the dagger with which she was ultimately executed and the lamp, her attribute.” – Wikipedia. Public Domain image

1 thought on “A Pure Virgin to Christ”

  1. RE: “Today the church commemorates St. Lucia….”

    Which church? All of Christendom? I think not.
    Every congregation in the LCMS? Not mine.

    I would understand that where a saint’s name appears on a church calendar, that merely indicates a customary day of observance for those who wish to maintain the custom.

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