August 4, 2009

It's A Wedding!

When we think of weddings pictures like this one (yes, that is My Beloved and me on our Wedding Day) come to mind with all of the attached images of wedding cake, birdseed being thrown, flowers, candles, and the long awaited "I now pronounce you man and wife!" This is only natural as this is what we have come to know as a wedding.

A conversation several years ago with a member of the flock here led me on a journey of discovery concerning what came to mind when the Jewish people thought of weddings. It was arresting to realize the differences and stunning to consider the implications of the ancient Jewish wedding ceremony. As I learned more about the process of the ancient Jewish wedding (which is still practiced to this day) I was awe-struck by the fact that God had placed into the social fabric of the Jewish people a vivid picture of what He was doing in salvation.

Before I proceed here a couple of disclaimers are in order. First, I am no expert on Jewish wedding customs. I consulted several sources including The Everything Jewish Wedding Book (I get comments on that one when it is spotted on my shelf - so far no requests to perform a Jewish wedding ;-)) and The Ancient Jewish Wedding by Neil and Jamie Lash. Secondly, what follows is a synopsis of 9 weeks of preaching. These are just the high points. I believe you will readily see the meaning filled significance of each of these "steps" in the ancient Jewish wedding.

The steps in the ancient Jewish wedding (somewhat simplified):
  1. A Bride is chosen.
  2. A price is paid.
  3. Promises are made by the husband to the Bride.
  4. The Bride must agree.
  5. A cup of covenant is shared.
  6. Gifts are given.
  7. The Bridegroom departs.
  8. The Bride makes preparations for the Bridegroom's return.
  9. The Bridegroom returns.
  10. The Bride is taken to the place prepared for her.
  11. The marriage feast takes place.

A Bride is Chosen - Jesus told his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you..." (John 15:16). It is an humbling thought that He has chosen us as the ones He loves!

A Price is Paid - Scripture affirms the great worth of women. "An excellent wife, who can find? She is far more precious than jewels." (Proverbs 31:10). This is quite astounding in view of the ancient world these wedding practices were instituted where women had no rights. For those of us who are in Christ we remember the price paid for us every time we celebrate Communion, recalling His body broken for us and His blood shed for us - simply because we were, and are, the objects of His love.

Promises are Made - Interestingly the bride doesn't make any promises. This portion of the Jewish wedding ceremony is decidedly one sided. The husband makes it clear all that he promises to do for the bride. Here enters a marvelous opportunity for discussing the issue of salvation! It's not based on anything we do - it is simply our acceptance of what our heavenly Bridegroom has promised!

The Bride Must Agree - I call this the "Yes Factor." The Bride has been chosen, a price agreed upon, and promises have been made, all initiated by the Bridegroom. Yet for the wedding to proceed the Bride must say "Yes." In similar fashion, God initiates the relationship but we must respond to His most marvelous offer. After all, a gift not received is worthless to the recipient.

A Cup of Covenant is Shared - We re-enact this moment every time we celebrate Communion. It was stunning to consider the fact the Jesus' disciples understood His words "Take and drink, all of you, for this cup is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." in the context of the Jewish wedding. I was amazed to learn that many Jewish rabbi's still teach that the Passover in terms of God wedding His people.

One other note of interest here is that Jesus is waiting to drink this cup again with his Bride. Matthew's gospel records these words from Jesus concerning the cup, "I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Fahter's kingdom." (Matthew 26:29) What a moment that will be at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb!

Gifts are Given - Usually the Bridegroom would give gifts to his bride to remind her of his love for her and to help her remember that he would soon be returning for her. As believers we recognize the "promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13-14) as the gift that our Bridegroom gave us upon His departure.

The Bridegroom Departs - This really struck me as an oddity in the wedding ceremony. How many weddings have you been to where the 'I do's' are said and then the Bridegroom leaves? Well it's part of the Jewish ceremony and it has a wonderfully practical purpose. The Bridegroom has to get a few things ready for his Bride. Sound familiar? Jesus told his friends, "I go to prepare a place for you...And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:2-3)

The Bride Gets Ready - Her preparation is a gift given by the bride to the one she loves. There is a time when it is too late to prepare. Are we ready for our Bridegroom's return.

The Bridegroom Returns - This would often happen in the middle of the night. His return would be announced by a blast from the shofar and a loud shout, "Behold, the Bridegroom comes!" Amazingly, this is paralleled in the descriptions of the return of Jesus, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God." (I Thes. 4:16)

The Bride is Taken to the Place Prepared for Her - For a mental picture of the place being prepared for the Bride of Christ take a look at Revelation 21 and 22. Our Bridegroom has outdone Himself!

The Marriage Feast Takes Place - Jewish weddings are not quiet and reserved events. They are exuberantly joyful. Simcha describes one such feast like this, "The amazing all-out joy at such a wedding is hard to describe. It can, in fact, be quite wild, with people juggling fire, dancing in big hora circles, the bride and groom up on chairs in the middle, and so much more. The entire atmosphere is one of extreme joy, all done in fulfillment of the instruction to give joy to the bride and groom."

Here's how Revelation 19 describes it...
"Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God the Almight 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!...

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

How about it? Have you been invited and have you accepted the invitation? If not, why not?


sojourner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sojourner said...

Si senior! Le veré en el banquete!

Gracias a Dios para los hermanos de Cristo como usted!

sojourner said...

PS You and your beloved look like little children playing dress up! Are you sure you were old enough to get married?

Paul Thompson said...

good post John, I will put your observations to the test and use them. I love to look at my wedding day photos.