The Wedding Ceremony
I like weddings. I’m just coming into that age when good friends I’ve known since childhood and good friends I’ve just met are finding their special someone and getting hitched.
I had the opportunity this past weekend to be present as one of those good friends committed his life to the girl he’s been pursuing for as long as I’ve known him. It was a small church and a small service, but I tend to think that the simplest weddings are the best weddings. Just the closest friends and family watching as the ones they love commit themselves to one another. There’s nothing fancy but everything beautiful about that.
As the wedding got started just a minute after 1:00 pm and those present quieted to a hushed expectance, I found myself struck by the parallels, intentional and unintentional, to the biblical depiction of Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Of all the images and metaphors the biblical authors use to describe God’s relationship to His people, I think none is more beautiful or more meaningful than that of God as the passionate lover in pursuit of His people, much as a man pursues and wins the heart of his bride.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is a promise-maker, a protector, and a source of love for His people, and He desires that they respond in love, trust, and faithfulness to Him above all other suitors. Sound a little like the expectations and response of a guy and girl as they chart those awkward first steps toward getting married? That’s because it’s supposed to. But as the story plays out, God’s people have trouble following through, enticed by the visible suitors rather than a less-visible suitor making big promises. This brings us to Hosea, one of the most vivid depictions of God as a lover seeking out, spurned by, yet still committed to His people.
I struggled with understanding Hosea the first few times I read through it. God’s message to His people through Hosea always seemed too scattered and disunified. In one verse, He’s considering “strip[ping] her naked and mak[ing] her as in the day she was born,” and a few verses later He’s talking about “speak[ing] tenderly to her.” But as I’ve come to understand relationships from both my own experiences and the experiences of others, Hosea makes more sense. I’ve seen friends deeply hurt at the betrayal of a significant other, and yet still loving and desiring after the person. I’ve witnessed a guy completely spurned by a girl and yet still desiring her best. So when Hosea writes that God “will hedge up her way with thorn . . . so she cannot find her paths,” while this may on one level be punishment, even this punishment arises out of God’s desire to keep His people close, to keep them from going down paths that lead away from Him.
Matthew sees the connection between Hosea and the coming of Christ into the world, quoting Hosea 11 early in his gospel as a sign that Jesus is the promised Deliverer for God’s people. He quotes the second half of the verse 1, but the whole verse states: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Considering that Matthew ties Jesus to this chapter, in many ways we can consider the speaker of this passage to be God the Father watching as His Son’s future bride grows up, watching joyfully as she begins to walk and painfully as she seeks love in other suitors’ arms. This is the woman He is going to present to His Son one day, and He desires that she is faithful to Him even now.
Later, Paul captures this imagery in Ephesians, referring to the relationship between Christ and His Church as that of Husband and Bride. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Christ, the Son of God, has come to betroth Himself to the Bride His Father has prepared for Him and is still preparing for Him; for while Christ’s work is finished, His Bride is not yet complete. She is still being gathered up, and all creation eagerly waits for the time when the two shall become one.
At the wedding this past weekend, what struck me most was the anxious expectation that was in the room. Once the groom stepped into the room, his stare set on the back doors, everyone was quite literally on the edge of their seats, waiting to rise as the bride enters the room. And this perfectly describes the current state of things. Christ has entered the room, the Groom having won the heart of the Bride. All creation is on the edge of their seats, waiting for the moment when that familiar tune sounds and they can rise as Christ’s Bride, the Church, is walked down the aisle, to be united, finally, with Christ forever. And just as my friend whispered into his bride’s ear before they shared their first kiss as husband and wife, so Christ will lean in and whisper into our ear the promise He made in Hosea, only this time fully realized: “I have betrothed you to me forever.”