On the morning of my wedding, I woke up at 8am, had a leisurely breakfast, put on a suit, and headed off to the Church. Caroline, on the other hand, was awoken at 6am to start doing hair and makeup. The photos do reflect the difference in time spent preparing!
One of the most frequent depictions of God and His people throughout the Bible is that of a husband and wife. Israel is the faithful or unfaithful wife of God in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist talks of Jesus as the Bridegroom, Jesus himself tells parables about wedding banquets, and both Paul and John depict the Church as the Bride of Christ:
"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband." (Rev 21)
"...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5 - emphasis mine)
In both passages, there is a focus not only on the joy of the wedding, but on the preparation involved in making the bride ready. Caroline did not style her own hair or put on her own makeup; however, her cooperation was necessary to the success of the professionals. Similarly, we are unable to make ourselves perfect and pleasing to God, however hard we try; on the other hand, we can cooperate with Him!
What kind of "blemishes" might God find amongst us as a Church? What kind of preparation does He have for us to make us radiant?
Be serious about holiness - the Ephesians 5 passage starts with a high call - for there to be "not even a hint" of sin found amongst us, with particular emphasis on sexual immorality, impurity, greed and unwholesome talk. God has challenged me recently on being ruthless in weeding out even "hints of sin". A friend recently compared sinning to being shot, pointing out that no soldier goes into battle trying not to get shot "very much"; they don't want to be shot at all! Let's be honest with God about areas of our life where we're aiming for a small compromise, rather than for radical holiness - and let's be open to Him pointing out areas that we hadn't noticed.
Heal broken relationships - I was baptised as an acne-ridden teenager, and on the day of my baptism I had the mother of all spots right underneath my eye. Because I was bothered about that one part of my body, I felt-self-conscious about my whole appearance for much of the morning (thankfully, a distraction that was eclipsed by the occasion). Similarly, if one part of the Body of Christ is uncomfortable with another part of the Body, the whole Body ends up out of sorts. This is why, in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul makes such a heartfelt appeal to the Corinthian church to put aside its divisions. Is there someone else in our community who you are having trouble forgiving? Are there people you look down on because of something they've said or a life choice they've made? Has someone let you down, or have you let them down? Our generous God has given us ways of resolving these issues - if it's small enough and the person hasn't sinned against you, can "love cover it over", as Peter suggests in his first letter? Otherwise, Jesus lays out a gracious and loving way to approach the issue in Matthew 18:15-20. Don't let it linger and cause harm to the Body of Christ - bring it gently into the open, and see God bring healing!
Shape our routines around pleasing God - I am convinced that our radiance as God's people flows from our eagerness to please Him; not a desperate, slavish striving to please Him, but a desire to please Him born out of the great love He has shown us. I believe there is something here for us to grow in, and it's about going beyond simply "not displeasing" God (avoiding sin) and instead thinking about creative ways to give more of ourselves to cause God joy. What habits can we develop that will bring God joy?
Perhaps you've had the experience of seeing someone go to extraordinary lengths to make a friend or spouse's day special - let's get creative about carving out more time from our day because we love to give it to God; let's think about ways we could save money so we can give lavishly to God; let's find ways to bless "the least of our brothers and sisters" because in so doing we are blessing God (Matt 25).
Desire fruitfulness - Only in the last few decades have marriage and sexual consummation been separated from the desire to have children. Read the Song of Songs, and you will find images of fruitfulness alongside desire; look to the blessing on Boaz at the end of the book of Ruth, and you see the desire for a loving relationship to bear children. In our love for God, are we eagerly desiring to be fruitful missionally? Jesus gave himself so unstintingly to us; are we willing to give ourselves to Him without reservation, in order to bear spiritual children? Will we eagerly desire to see new birth in our community, and believe that it could happen this year?