Preparing for a wedding today is a bit like a small conference. Invitations, dinners, engagement ceremonies, save the date cards, counseling, rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, reception. It’s almost enough to make you forget that everything that happens before and after the wedding really count. Practice does not make for perfect marriages. Belief in Christ gives us the opportunity to practice what we believe with someone we love.
I don’t go to many wedding rehearsals. My part is usually the easiest to work out. It’s everyone else that needs the practice. But I do enjoy the conversations with couples before the ceremony. I call it pre-marital coaching (not counseling). Most people need counseling before they get engaged. After engagement, I help people prepare for Christ’s role in their marriage. I help them prepare for the person they’ve committed to and to take the right steps in the first couple of years. Most marriages are made and broken after the ceremony is long past. Every day, we decide to say and show, “I love you.”
It’s no wonder then that Jesus chose the metaphor of a bride to describe the kind of relationship he wanted to have with believers. This is not the only one in the New Testament. There are many. We are friends (not slaves) of God; we relate to God the Father as his adopted sons and daughters; we are body parts of a larger body of Christ. The best one to describe life in a household, however, is still the bride. The Gospel of Matthew uses this image more than others. Through parables in Matthew, we are depicted as bridesmaids preparing (or not) for the arrival of the groom (Matthew 25). We are guests at a wedding party surprised (or not) at the other guests who are invited (Matthew 22). We don’t fast while the bridegroom is around, but we celebrate (Matthew 9).
Jesus commits to us as his bride; we prepare for the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” in the future by practicing the relationship now. No matter who shares the roof over our heads or the neighborhood where we live, we show and demonstrate a different, albeit imperfect, lifestyle. We’re not there to show others up. We’re there to invite people to come to the rehearsal and practice with us. As a church, we are the school of discipleship training people what it means to be Jesus’ bride. If necessary we go out to the highways and byways to invite them in, because we know, as Jesus knew, that most of the people who receive the first round of invitations have other things to do. We who were once guests of the bride and the groom know the power of the invitation and the joy of hospitality and welcome.
When you think about it, it’s easy in church today to be caught up in so many events, classes, programs, ceremonies, and plans that we forget what we’re really here to do. We share the mission of the Bridegroom with the world, and most of us need a lot of practice. How we share that mission and what we do once we’ve accepted Christ’s invitation make all the difference. It’s time for the rehearsal.