Saturday, January 13, 2007

THE REDEEMED BRIDE

Isaiah 62:1-5

A bride always stands out at a wedding. Even the groom is overshadowed by her presence. To give you a sense of the disparity between bride and groom, let me tell you about a Midwestern tradition called the groom’s cake. Being from the West Coast I’d never heard of such a thing, but in Kansas, it seems that every wedding reception has a groom’s cake. Compared to what has to be called the "bride’s cake," this little cake is humble and nondescript. It’s just a simple ordinary cake – no tiers, arches, or fountains. It’s just cake, frosting, and maybe the groom’s name.

Perhaps the reason why a bride stands out on her wedding day is that she’s simply more beautiful than the groom. No one pays much attention when the groom and his attendants enter the sanctuary with little fanfare, but when the bride's maids begin to enter everyone pays attention. They know that the real show is about to begin. The crowd turns and watches expectantly, hoping to get a good look at the bride as she walks down the aisle in all her glory. Entering with much pomp and circumstance, we "ooh and ah" at her beauty, her splendor, and her radiance. Bedecked in a flowing white gown that she’ll wear only once at great cost to her family, she’s the star of the show.

When the groom sees his beautiful bride, he’s just as impressed as everyone else. He beams from ear to ear, because at the end of the day he gets to go home with this wonder of beauty. Now, I speak of this spectacle from experience, because I too was once a groom, and my bride looked radiant the day she walked down the aisle to meet me at the altar.

A CHANGE OF NAME
This morning’s text celebrates a wedding of great importance. Like an attentive groom God declares his joy at seeing the beauty and splendor of his bride, even though this bride is a scraggly group of exiles wandering home from Babylon to the holy city of Jerusalem, This remnant people returned home to find a wasteland. The temple and the palaces were all destroyed, and so they didn’t feel much like a beautiful bride, but this word from the prophet offers hope. Like Cinderella, who is transformed from a humble maid into a beautiful princess, so God will transform Jerusalem and vindicate his bride.

As a sign of hope, God changes the bride's name. Although things seem to be changing in our culture, tradition suggests that a new bride will take on her husband's name. This signifies a change in relationship. Though Cheryl isn’t a traditionalist, she did take on my name. And, so on July 9, 1983, Cheryl ceased to be simply Cheryl Otis, and from that point on she became Cheryl O. Cornwall.
In this wedding ceremony described by the prophet, God says to his bride: from now on you will be a "crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand" of God. And your name will change from "Forsaken" and "Desolate" to "City of God's Delight" and "Bride of God." God changes the name of a devastated Jerusalem to signal that the city's situation has changed. Yes, the prophet declares: The "Lord delights in you" and "your land shall be married."
THE JOYOUS GROOM
When I saw Cheryl standing at the doorway of the sanctuary, my heart jumped with joy. To think that someone that beautiful would marry me, the poor seminarian, was more than I could take in. Now I know when Cheryl was growing up, she never envisioned marrying a seminarian or a preacher. But on that sunny day in July, she seemed happy to be taking the plunge with me. And so, I was blessed!

The prophet writes: "as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." This is no ordinary joy; it’s a joy that can’t be contained. God's joy at seeing his bride isn't halfhearted, it's absolutely jubilant. And as God takes Israel to be his bride, God transforms her. Where once she was barren and forlorn, now she bears God's radiance and splendor.

THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
The New Testament says something similar about the church. It speaks of the church as the bride of Christ. This image speaks of the sense of intimacy that exists between Christ and the Church. Jesus says to us, you are my bride and I rejoice over you. As recipients of this promise of transformation, we move from being forsaken and desolate to being the object of God’s delight. The book of Revelation, often mixes the metaphors of bride and New Jerusalem, and it lifts up the beauty of the Lamb of God’s bride. It declares that Christ and the church will live together in intimate union, so that the church might be adorned with God's glory and radiance (Rev. 21:9-14).
When Ephesians 5 urges husbands to love their wives, even as Christ loves the church, we hear the voice of the gushing groom of Isaiah 62. Seeking to present his bride to the world as holy and full of glory, Christ washes the church with "water by the word," and he makes sure that the bride is without spot or wrinkle. Everything is in place, so that the bride’s beauty might declare the glory of God to the world.
I must admit that there is at least a hint of patriarchalism in all of this. That’s to be expected of a text that dates from a patriarchal age, but hopefully the point comes through. We have been invited by God to enter an intimate relationship with God through Jesus. God promises to bless us and care for us. Because of this relationship we will be transformed and we’ll become agents of transformation. Our task is simple: We are called to invite others to share in an intimate relationship with God so that they too might be transformed. Our calling is to participate in God’s work of transformation. The goal of this work of transformation is the birth of a world that includes rather than excludes, a world that shares rather than hoards, a world where the color of one’s skin no longer matters, a world where love rather than fear is the guiding premise of life. This was also the dream of another prophet named Martin Luther King, whose memory we honor this weekend.

Preached by
Dr. Bob Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church of Lompoc
2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 14, 2007

1 comment:

Kitty Wenk said...

Great sermon, as always. Sorry we missed it. And I can take enough notes that I can use on Wed. at the CCC.