Monday, 30 June 2008

The bride of Christ

Many attend weddings during the summer. My sister-in-law was married a few months ago, and I was struck again by the profundity of the vows and occasion.

In our recent sermon series, we thought a little about what it means for the church – the community of God’s people – to be described as the bride of Christ. It is worth sharing so that we might start to grasp what we are offered in him. Of course the idea is a metaphor, but it does portray the most wonderful realities.

Put simply, it’s as if the Spirit of God (God’s presence) leads those who come to Jesus up an aisle and places their hand into his as their husband. As we then gaze upon him, we can only look sheepishly at our spiritual poverty – the dirty rags of our own wrongdoing and our inevitable exclusion from the world to come. Yet encouraged by the one at our side, we express faith in his willingness to be faithful to us. And so we trust him to put these things right: In the words of the wedding service we humbly say “all that I have I share with you.”

To our amazement, in all love and generosity Jesus then looks at his own moral perfection and glorious kingdom to come, and he says “all that I have I share with you.” More than that, he vows to “comfort, honour and protect us… as long as we both shall live” – which will now be forever. He then introduces us to his Father, dresses us in clothes of utter purity and carries us over the threshold into his eternal home.

Now that’s what you call “marrying well!” Even Jane Austin couldn’t imagine such a match. Yet this is how God himself chooses to describe his “covenant” with his people. And it takes Christian belief out from the realm of cold philosophy and theological facts into the realm of warm relationship and personal knowledge. It speaks of Christ’s willingness to be truly committed to us and of the “riches” received if only we will commit ourselves to him.

For a more weighty unpacking of this analogy, read Martin Luther below:

Luther: Concerning Christian Liberty

"The third incomparable grace of faith is this: that it unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband, by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage--nay, by far the most perfect of all marriages--is accomplished between them (for human marriages are but feeble types of this one great marriage), then it follows that all they have becomes theirs in common, as well good things as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, that the believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as His.

If we compare these possessions, we shall see how inestimable is the gain. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation; the soul is full of sin, death, and condemnation. Let faith step in, and then sin, death, and hell will belong to Christ, and grace, life, and salvation to the soul. For, if He is a Husband, He must needs take to Himself that which is His wife's, and at the same time, impart to His wife that which is His. For, in giving her His own body and Himself, how can He but give her all that is His? And, in taking to Himself the body of His wife, how can He but take to Himself all that is hers?

In this is displayed the delightful sight, not only of communion, but of a prosperous warfare, of victory, salvation, and redemption. For, since Christ is God and man, and is such a Person as neither has sinned, nor dies, nor is condemned, nay, cannot sin, die, or be condemned, and since His righteousness, life, and salvation are invincible, eternal, and almighty,--when I say, such a Person, by the wedding-ring of faith, takes a share in the sins, death, and hell of His wife, nay, makes them His own, and deals with them no otherwise than as if they were His, and as if He Himself had sinned; and when He suffers, dies, and descends to hell, that He may overcome all things, and since sin, death, and hell cannot swallow Him up, they must needs be swallowed up by Him in stupendous conflict. For His righteousness rises above the sins of all men; His life is more powerful than all death; His salvation is more unconquerable than all hell.

Thus the believing soul, by the pledge of its faith in Christ, becomes free from all sin, fearless of death, safe from hell, and endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of its Husband Christ. Thus He presents to Himself a glorious bride, without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word; that is, by faith in the word of life, righteousness, and salvation. Thus He betrothes her unto Himself "in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies" (Hosea ii. 19, 20).

Who then can value highly enough these royal nuptials? Who can comprehend the riches of the glory of this grace? Christ, that rich and pious Husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her from all her evils and supplying her with all His good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in Him, and since she has in her Husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, "If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is His, and all His is mine," as it is written, "My beloved is mine, and I am His" (Cant. ii. 16). This is what Paul says: "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," victory over sin and death, as he says, "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. xv. 56, 57).", accessed 20.10.04—abridged