Saying 'I Do'

April 27th, 2011
Photo © ukrepsome | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license

This weekend in London, Prince William of Wales—grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and successor to the thrones of the sixteen sovereign nations in the British Commonwealth—will exchange vows with longtime love Catherine “Kate” Middleton. For months the press and public have speculated about every detail of the ceremony. While most brides and grooms enjoy extra attention on their very special wedding day, few couples can imagine what it would be like to have the most watched and famous wedding since William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, were wed in 1981 with an estimated worldwide audience of 750 million people. Royal weddings appeal not only to people in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations but also to people in the United States and elsewhere in the world. The preparations are intense for everyone involved, including ceremony guests who receive a twenty-two-page guide to proper etiquette for the event.

Prince William has been preparing for his future role as king since birth, but only in the last few years of their courtship has Kate received a crash course on being a princess and a royal ambassador for the crown. Despite the couple’s desire to be less formal than royal couples from generations past, there are still traditions to uphold and protocols to follow. Even though this particular wedding is a global media event, for the couple it is the beginning of a covenantal relationship that, we hope, will last for a lifetime.

Something Old, Something New

The prophets of the Old Testament had the unenviable task of delivering messages to God’s people that warned of destruction, oppression, famine, hardship, exile, and even death. But God also gave these prophets visions of restoration, hope, peace, and justice. The prophet Hosea, speaking of God’s unfailing and redeeming love, writes, “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hosea 14:1). God responds, “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them” (14:4). In the Book of Hosea, God speaks of Israel as a bride: “I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy” (2:19b). We see this bridal imagery elsewhere in the prophets also, for example in Isaiah 62:4-5 and Jeremiah 2:1-3.

The idea of God’s people as God’s bride is also referenced in the New Testament, where we meet the long-awaited “bridegroom.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself by performing the first of his miraculous signs at a wedding. He uses the image of a bridegroom to describe himself in the parable of the ten bridesmaids (see Matthew 25:1-13). In the New Testament, Christ’s bride is the church. John, author of Revelation, looks forward to the marriage of the “Lamb” (Christ) and the bride. In Revelation’s final chapter, the “Spirit and the bride” invite anyone who hears and who wishes to “take the water of life” (17:17) to join in the wedding celebration.

To the Church on Time

The image of Christ as a groom and the church as his bride may seem odd to some of us, especially if we've witnessed marriages that ended badly. But marital language helps us understand the commitment that God, through Christ, has made to us and the commitment that we are called to make to Christ. In Scripture, we see God’s promises at work and we know that God is always faithful. But are we? When we are baptized or join the church, we take vows (or others take vows on our behalf) to follow Christ and to love and serve God and neighbor. It's important to understand the importance of these vows.

Weddings are all about hope and possibility. People celebrate weddings because they look forward to what life has in store for the couple. As part of the church, and as Christ’s bride, we can look forward to the glorious future that God has in store for us.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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