Summary: The Church is called the bride of Christ to stress the purity we should maintain, as well as the sense of anticipation we have awaiting the coming of our bridegroom.
Max Lucado tells a story from ages past about a stately prince and a peasant girl who fall in love. This really a difficult one to understand. On the one hand is a prince who literally had the world at His disposal. There has never been a more perfect specimen of a man that ever lived. Nothing about Him was common. You wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that He is a perfect catch.
On the other hand there is a peasant girl. She is nothing more than average. At her best she is plain, but at her worst she can be just plain ugly. There are times when she is cranky and moody, and she rarely ever achieves all she could. To look at her from anyone else’s eyes you would never believe she was worth much. But if you could see her through the eyes of the prince, you would believe that she is “to die for.”
Because the prince determined that He couldn’t bear to live without her, he asked her to be His bride. The angels in heaven listened expectantly as she accepted his proposal. The prince promised his bride that He would come back for her soon, and the peasant turned princess pledged to faithfully await his return.
To this point the story could be any of a number of fairy tales, but now the plot takes a bizarre twist. You would expect the bride to be always thinking about the coming wedding, but she rarely ever mentions it. You would think that her every waking moment would be lived out in anticipation and preparation for the coming of her prince. However, by the way she lives you wouldn’t even know she’s the bride of a perfect prince. More frequently than not, you can’t even tell the difference between the bride and any of the other peasant girls in the village. There are even times when she can be seen flirting with the other men of the village in broad daylight, and who knows what she is doing when nobody is around to see!
Can you imagine a peasant girl fortunate enough to be the object of a perfect prince’s eternal love? You would expect her to be captivated by His love and filled with a sense of wonder that she was fortunate enough to be loved by Him. You would think that she would be careful to remain pure in anticipation of the return of her royal groom. Instead, to look at her you might wonder if she even remembers she is engaged at all. How could a peasant forget about her prince? Is it possible for a bride to forget her groom? (Lucado, When Christ Comes, p. 138)
That’s a good question, but only we are able to answer it. You see, the story of the prince and His peasant bride is not a fairy tale, or some medieval fable. It isn’t a story about anyone else at all, but rather a story about us, you and me, the church. We are the ones the Bible calls “The Bride of Christ.” And to be quite honest, far too often observers might ask if we’ve forgotten about the groom we are betrothed to.
This morning we continue to look at the Bible’s images for the church and learn from them who we are and what we are supposed to be. One of the most prominent images, and one that is filled with meaning, is the concept that the church is Christ’s Bride. It is an image that is woven throughout the entire Bible. In Isaiah 62:5 God speaks through the prophet, “…as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” In the book of Hosea, God commands the prophet to marry a woman who is an adulteress. Even though she is unfaithful and leaves her husband, God commands Hosea to purchase her back from the slave market as a parable of God’s love for His people. It is not an act of empty symbolism. In Hosea 2:19-20 God promises His people, “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. 20 I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as Lord.” (NLT)
In order to understand this image completely, you have to understand what a Jewish wedding was like. There was an initial engagement or what was called a betrothal. Often marriages were arranged by the family of a man and woman. After the betrothal took place, the couple was considered husband and wife, but they still remained apart. Then, at an unknown time the groom would return to claim his bride. At that time there would be a wedding feast and a formal uniting of the couple, and they would live together and begin their life as a family. During the betrothal period both the groom and the bride to be were supposed to remain faithful to their betrothed. As you can imagine, the time leading up to the wedding were filled with anticipation and excitement as the couple prepared for their union.