At the end of our church service today we sang “The Church’s One Foundation” and I came away from there with the basis for this article. The words to that hymn were written by Samuel J. Stone and he couldn’t have written anything better to explain Ephesians 5:25-33. This section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describes the relationship between a husband and wife, but at the end he turns it and says he’s really talking about Christ and the church.
I did a little research on the traditional Jewish wedding, because our wedding customs are so far away from what they were in Jesus’s time. I found the more I uncovered about marriage in biblical times, the idea that the church is Christ’s Bride made sense. I’ve always taken this passage for granted, that it was more an admonishment for husbands, but I’ve found this not to be true. Well, it is a good admonishment for husbands but it’s so much more.
In Christ’s time, when a bridegroom decides to pick a bride, he would travel from his parent’s home to the bride’s home to see her father. He would then negotiate with the bride’s father for the “Bride Price”. The price that the bridegroom is willing to pay for the bride. When the price is agreed upon and the price is paid, then a covenant is established. This is much, much more than our engagements. This was a contract that was binding. The bride is now only for that bridegroom, she can take no other offers. The bride and bridegroom are considered married at this point, with one big exception. The marriage has not been consummated. As much as a year can go by as preparations for the wedding are being made. The bride is pampered and cleansed. She prepares herself to become a wife. The groom is also preparing by purchasing a home and getting it ready for his bride.
Now here is where we are. Christ came down from heaven and he has paid the “Bride Price”. The price was hanging on a cross for our sins, He paid with his life. What a heavy price to pay! Jesus rose up from the grave and he is now in Heaven preparing a place for us. In John 14, Jesus says “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also”.
To continue on with the marriage traditions the next thing to happen is that the bridegroom comes back for his bride. The bride really doesn’t know when this will happen, so it is her job to always be prepared. The groom starts a procession that usually happens at night. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about ten bridesmaids. These girls are to be ready when the bridegroom comes to take his bride. Since this happens at night, they need to have oil lamps to light the way to the bride. One person in this party goes ahead of the group and shouts “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out and meet him!” This is recorded in Matthew but is also listed in the marriage customs. The bridegroom follows along until they get to the bride’s parents home. He then takes the bride and brings her back to his home where a huge feast is held and the marriage is consummated. Once the feast starts, the doors are closed and locked. Remember the 10 bridesmaids? Five of them didn’t have enough oil for their lamps, they ran out of oil and had to go buy some more. They were late to the feast and so were shut out of the festivities.
We, who are the church, are preparing for Christ’s return for us. He will come back to get us and take us to his home in Heaven where the marriage feast will be held. Revelation 19: 6-8 reads:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
I can only pray that we will all be ready for the Marriage Feast. We need to keep this in the forefront of our minds to be prepared, to be ready. Remember that the bride doesn’t know when the bridegroom will come. She has to stay ready.
Until then, we can sing songs to remind us to be ready, like the one we sang this morning:
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is His new creation by water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
As published in “The Lutheran Ambassador” May 2016 Vol. 54 No. 5