In many church traditions — especially among the Orthodox church — Tuesday of Holy Week is taken as a time to reflect on Christ as the Bridegroom of the church.
The Bible is full of powerful imagery to describe the church. We are the Body of Christ, for example. To me, one of the most beautiful images of the church found in scripture is the idea of the church as the “bride of Christ.” It is beautiful because of its intimacy and mystery.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus (5:31-32), the Apostle Paul writes it this way:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
A profound mystery indeed!
Then in Revelation 19, the Apostle John records this vision (19:7-9 TNIV):
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s people.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited
to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ”
And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Awesome and powerful stuff!
Here is a parable that captures for me what it means for Christ to be the bridegroom of the church — and for us to be His bride:
There was a King who was without a bride. And there were two brides, vying for the love of the Bridegroom and preparing themselves for him.
One, because she loved him so much, clothed herself in the finest white linens, made herself as beautiful and pristine as can be. And she sat at the foot of his throne, singing beautiful songs to him and professing her undying love.
The other was not at the foot of the throne. She was not dressed in white nor particularly interested in making herself physically beautiful for the prince. Her nails were cut short and often dirty. She had no high heals (too cumbersome).
She wasn’t at the throne because she noticed that the King didn’t sit there very often. You see, she loved the King very much and longed to be with him forever. She was so in love with the King that she decided to find out what he loved. She began to follow him everywhere he went (I think they might call this stalking).
And she noticed that he went to some not-beautiful-type-places. He went to places that were dirty and dark, where hope was hard to find. He spent his free moments talking to and praying with and reaching out to broken people, poor people, sick people, lost people. He spent times on the streets and in the prisons and in the local AIDS hospice.
And because she loved him so much, and because she wanted to love the things he loved, she went to these places too. She wore jeans and a tee shirt and sneakers and didn’t have time to paint her nails or write love songs or even to dream about their perfect wedding… because she was in the gutter, getting dirty. She was in the gutter because that was where here prince was. And what better way to prepare yourself for the King than to do the things that the King does, she thought to herself.
Some days she worried. She knew other “brides” were vying for his attention. She knew that they were more beautiful on the outside because of their white dresses, she knew that they sang beautiful love songs and wrote beautiful poetry. She wondered if she would be noticed by the prince in the gutter. Would he even notice her, would he care?
Then the day came, when the King came in his glory, to call his bride. All the nations were gathered before him, and he began to separate the potential brides one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats–kind of like the TV show “The Bachelor” (but not really…)
He put the Bride from the Gutter on his right and the singing Bride with the beautiful dress on his left.
Then the King said to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
“Then the Bride from the Gutter responded, “My King, my Lord, when did I see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did I see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did I see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King replied, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Then the King turned to the singing Bride with the beautiful dress on the right and said: “Depart from me… For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
The singing Bride in the beautiful dress was confused and hurt. She responded, “My King, when did I see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
And the King replied: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
Then the singing Bride with the beautiful dress was sent away; but the Bride from the gutter was ushered in to the great wedding banquet. And as she walked, she noticed that her dirty jeans and t-shirt were being transformed before her very eyes into the most beautiful white silk dress she had ever seen.
She looked confused and stunned. So the King leaned over and whispered in her ear: “Let me clothe you in beauty to reflect your inner beauty as a deep thanks for going to the gutter with me!”
And the Bride and the Bridegroom celebrated and rejoiced and spent eternity together!.
I pray, O Father, that we would become the Bride in the Gutter.
Let us prepare ourselves for you by loving the things you love and doing the things you do.
May we be indeed a missional church, a church that is the Body of Christ, the incarnation!
May we be living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to you!
And may our clothes of righteousness be the deeds that we saw you do and therefore did!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!