THE DIVINE BRIDE
January 17, 2016
Two neighbors were talking over the back fence.
“I went to a wedding this weekend,” said one, “but I don’t think the marriage will last.”
“Why not?” asked the other.
The first neighbor said, “Well, when the groom said ‘I do,’ the bride said, ‘Don’t use that tone of voice with me.’”
Married life is a challenge, isn’t it?
Rae and I have been married for nearly 40 years. Recently, we thought it would be neat to renew our vows and thought we might plan a 2nd wedding. We were discussing the details with some of our friends. Rae wasn’t going to wear a traditional bridal gown, and she started describing the dress she was thinking about wearing. One of her friends asked what color shoes she had to go with the dress. Rae replied, “Silver.”
At that point, dummy me chimed in, “Yep silver … to match her hair.”
Shooting a glaring look at my bald spot, Rae said, “So dear, I guess you’re going barefoot.”
It’s a wonder that many marriages survive the ceremony. The Rev. Jerry Anderson tells of conducting a wedding one time. The wedding scene was outdoors by a lake. Nearby, a lodge stood overlooking a shallow cove. On the porch was an organ from a nearby church. Inside the lodge the guests were enjoying refreshments and renewing old friendships.
At the appointed hour the 70-year-old organist, who had just finished her third martini, began playing with great enthusiasm. Out across the lake motors were heard as boats drifted into the cove, where the occupants lounged on deck to see what was going on. They were good old boys, drinking beer and sunning without their shirts. A blue haze rose from the motors as they circled the cove.
The service which the bride and groom chose was actually rather traditional, with one exception. The couple had devised their own innovative way of symbolizing their wedding covenant.
Close by were two boxes holding white pigeons. The bride and groom, each having placed the ring on the finger of the other, was to release one of the pigeons to symbolize their union. All seemed in order, except for one small detail. The pigeons had been raised in pens and had never before flown!
When the groom tossed his bird into the air, it flew frantically into the tree where it fastened itself to a limb and hung fluttering upside down just above the pastor’s head. When the bride released her pigeon, it did two rollovers and landed in the lap of one of the grandmothers. The bird, confused and frightened, fastened its talons deep into grandmother’s leg just above the knee. Her shrieks for help echoed across the lake. People rushed forward to rescue her.
After the sacred rite was completed, the bride, seemingly oblivious to everything that had happened, offered this comment: “This has been the most beautiful day I’ve ever known.” I guess love really is blind.
One of the most important images that the Bible gives us is that of the divine marriage. Isaiah writes in today’s lesson from the Hebrew Bible, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
Isaiah was writing these words to the people of Israel. He was saying that Israel is God’s bride. The same imagery is used by Hosea who says that God’s love is like the love of a man who will not give up on an unfaithful wife. In order to dramatize God’s love for God’s unfaithful people, Hosea married a woman of the streets. Hosea’s unfaithful wife caused him humiliation after humiliation, but he never quit seeking to woo her and to win her. In that relationship, Hosea discovered the faithfulness and love of God. In the New Testament, we discover that the church, the new Israel, is also referred to as the Bride of Christ. Time and again Jesus refers to himself as a bridegroom. Then we come to the last book in the New Testament, to the culmination of history and we read, “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.” The Lamb is Jesus and the bride is his beloved church. The theme continues, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband …” Then, in the last chapter of our Bible, we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’” It is a magnificent picture of the relationship between God and those for whom Christ died.
We are the bride of Christ. We are his beloved. What a beautiful truth this is.
It is particularly beautiful when life is treating us harshly. In the opening verses of this chapter, Isaiah writes, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”
Israel was recovering from exile in Babylonia. Things were so bad that Jerusalem was called “Abandoned” and the land was called “Desolate.” God was giving them new names, however. The new names were “My delight is in her” and “married.” This was Isaiah’s message of hope to a suffering people.
Maybe you’ve gone through a difficult time when your name was “Abandoned” and “Desolate.”
How many of you remember the name James Stockdale? Some of you may remember Stockdale as Ross Perot’s presidential running mate way back in 1992. He deserves a better remembrance.
Vice Adm. James Stockdale was an authentic war hero. He survived 2714 days in a POW camp in Vietnam. On one occasion, the North Vietnamese handcuffed Stockdale, put his hands behind his back, dragged him out of his prison cell where he had been in darkness for days, and set him in the middle of a courtyard where the sun beat down on him. They tried to make an example of him. This is what will happen if anyone refuses to cooperate.
Stockdale stayed in that position for three days. The guards wouldn’t let him sleep, they beat him repeatedly. And yet, even in that hell-hole, a message of hope came through.
After one beating, Stockdale heard the sound of a towel snapping. But this towel wasn’t making a random noise. It was snapping out a message in a special code the prisoners had devised. And what James Stockdale heard as he was sitting in that prison courtyard that day, was a towel snapping out the letters, G, B, U, J, S. God Bless You, James Stockdale. He said that in all his pain and in all of his misery, it was those simple letters, that simple act of communication that kept him going.
Sometimes the greatest need we have is a word of hope. That was true of the people of Israel. How could they endure as a people after years in exile and their land decimated? Isaiah gives a word of hope: you have been called “Abandoned” and “Desolate,” but you will have new names, “My delight is in her” and “married.”
I hope if you are ever in a time when you are about to give in and give up, you will hear God’s voice, “You are my beloved. My love for you will never fail.”
I believe it’s important to note that God’s love didn’t depend on Israel’s worthiness. Israel was not a perfect nation, any more than we are a perfect people. But their relationship with God was not a reflection of how good and noble they were, but how loving and how patient God is.
God did get frustrated with Israel at times. God sometimes dealt harshly with Israel. But even those times of chastisement grew out of God’s love.
Pastor Robert Morgan recalls with some embarrassment his first counseling session in the ministry. He counseled a young couple with marriage problems. The couple argued like cats and dogs, and no amount of persuasion or reasoning on Morgan’s part could calm them down. Finally, pastor Morgan lost all patience. He began yelling at the couple! Then he kicked them out of his office. For days afterwards, pastor Morgan cringed whenever he thought of his behavior at that counseling session.
But one year later, the husband returned to pastor Morgan’s office to thank him. He and his wife had been so shaken up by their pastor’s reaction that they decided to make some real changes in their marriage. They were now happier than ever.
I imagine that every pastor has wanted to shout at some of the couples that have come to their pastor for counseling, but most of us keep our cool. This does not mean that we do not see many pitfalls ahead for some couples. If we knew that shouting would do any good, we would shout.
In the same way, God looks at us and understands us better than anyone else can ever understand us. God knows the pitfalls, and from time to time God may shout at us in some way to get our attention. But whatever happens, whatever we do, we never stop being loved by God.
This is our best hope when life is treating us harshly. This is our best hope when we’ve wandered off to a far country away from God. God never stops loving us.
That is true in this world and the world beyond. God is not finished with us yet. There will come a time when we will behold the One who loves us face-to-face. Then we will discover what true love is.
Many years ago there was a gospel song titled “We Shall Behold Him.” It painted a stirring picture of that final triumphant day when we will behold our Savior.
Writer Max Lucado compares it to the experience Joni Erickson Tada had on her wedding day. Are you acquainted with Joni’s story? A diving accident left her paralyzed at the age of 17. Nearly all her 50+ years have been spent in a wheelchair. Her handicap doesn’t keep her from writing or painting or speaking about her Savior. Nor did it keep her from marrying. But it nearly marred her wedding.
She’d done her best. Her gown was draped over a thin wire mesh covering the wheels of her wheelchair. With flowers in her lap and a sparkle in her eye, she felt, in her words, a “little like a float in the Rose Parade.”
A ramp had been constructed, connecting the foyer to the altar. While waiting her turn to motor over it, Joni made a discovery. Across her dress was a big, black grease mark courtesy of the chair. And the chair, though “spiffed up … was still the big, clunky thing it always was.” Then the bouquet of daisies on her lap slid off center. Her paralyzed hands were unable to rearrange them. She felt far from the picture-perfect bride of Brides Magazine.
She inched her chair forward and looked down the aisle. That’s when she saw her groom. She writes: “I spotted him way down front, standing at attention looking tall and elegant in his formal attire. My face grew hot. My heart began to pound. Our eyes met and, amazingly, from that point everything changed. How I looked no longer mattered. I forgot all about my wheelchair. Grease stains? Flowers out of place? Who cares? No longer did I feel ugly or unworthy; the love in Ken’s eyes washed it all away. I was the pure and perfect bride: That’s what he saw, and that’s what changed me. It took great restraint not to jam my ‘power stick’ into high gear and race down the aisle to be with my groom.”
Do you understand that Joni’s experience is a pale reflection of our relationship with Christ? Christ has loved us, and in his death and resurrection married us. We are his beloved. Were not perfect, but we are loved. And when life treats us harshly, when other people betray us or misuse us, we can cling to this truth, we belong to Christ. In this world and the world to come.