Here comes the bride

Weddings. I’ve done them in churches and chapels, in backyards and gardens. I’ve done several at local wineries, and even one at an equestrian center. Often, standing in front of the guests with the groom at my side, I could almost feel the nervousness radiating from him. But the bride radiates in a different way. As she comes down the aisle, her face is sometimes wet with tears. Resplendent in her white gown, she practically glows.

Can you picture it? That is, after all, the shot people are trying to get as they lean into the center aisle with their phones at the ready.

If you can picture that, then picture this:

The apostle John is having a vision of the joy in heaven at the wedding of the Lamb. “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,” he says, “like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals.” The multitude cries out,

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;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
    with fine linen, bright and pure
… (Rev 19:6-8a, NRSV)

Here comes the bride, the church, dressed in glowing white linen. And lest we miss the symbolism, John interprets for us: “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:8b).

As we’ve studied the book of James, we’ve seen repeatedly how James insists that true faith is not a mere matter of intellectual belief, but demonstrated in how one lives and treats other people. We can envision our ultimate destiny in similar terms. John does not say, “for the fine linen is the theologically accurate beliefs of the saints.” Nor does he picture the bride of Christ adorned with finely worded statements of faith, covered with the signatures of the saints.

No: at the wedding of the Lamb, at the ultimate destination wedding and celebration, the bridal gown is woven from the fabric of love and justice, from the righteous deeds the saints have done in their lifetimes.

So much care (and often anxiety!) goes into the choice of a wedding gown. The bride envisions the day, and wants everything to be just so. Similarly, in Revelation, we are given the vision of a joyous celebration in which the church is beautifully adorned with all the ways believers have lived out their faith through faithful action.

We may forget what we have done in faith; over the course of a lifetime, how could we not? And the more that faithful action proceeds naturally from our faithful character, the less we will notice it, because it’s just what we do. But to the extent that such faithfulness impacts the lives of others, bringing them much needed moments of mercy or peace, they will remember.

Most importantly of all, though, God remembers, and weaves that remembrance into the grandest celebration of all.