“The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’”—Hosea 3:1
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”—Revelation 21:2
I had a moment of clarity yesterday during worship. Maybe not so much clarity as stark, hard, cold reality slapped me across the face. It happened, strangely, not during the sermon (which was excellent and listened to intently); it was not during the songs; it was not during the time when we received communion at the altar (although there are a lot of things that were realized while I knelt and received the body and blood of Christ).
It happened, strange as it may sound, when my wife held my hand.
I think of 18 years of marriage and what has she seen, heard, and known about me and there she stands in the place where we are most unmasked, most undone—the worship—holding my hand while we pray. Is anything more absurd? Is anything more true and untrue at the same time? I held her hand back; later I pulled her close and put my arm around her. But she is the one who started it. She held my hand. It’s funny, I know, so go ahead and laugh.
I’m not one for public displays of affection so the hand and the arm are about as far as it gets, but there was that moment of clarity when I realized that this woman, this beautiful, spectacular, young, cooks-a-mean-pot-o-chili, girl—still loves me. After all she has seen; after all she has heard (and she has heard nothing short of the most ungodly misery over the last 4 and half months); after all the foolish decisions I have made; after all the poor choices I have decided upon at one time or another; after all the times when I have been mean and unpleasant at best—there she stood, in the worship, in the Spirit, in the presence of Holy Christ holding my hand. Not ashamed. Not embarrassed. Loving.
I’m not sure which is more amazing: that she has stayed married to me or that she has not filed for divorce.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the church; many of them are true. Many of them are hurtful. Many of them are just unhappy people complaining because they have nothing better to do. Often the church seethes with ugliness. And much more often there are those among us who do really well at complaining about how ugly the church is. It’s easy to point out the ugliness and wrong and think that what is best for the church is to redo the way we do church. I suppose that is what the satan does all day long as he constantly accuses the church and slanders her (Revelation 12:10, just so we know where the accusations really come from.)
Everyone has a better plan for the church–and a better picture, a better idea to make her more pure, more perfect, more holy. And everyone has a swell picture of all that the church has done wrong. We are adept at painting pictures of ugliness. Reading through Scripture gives that idea sometimes: the church can be an ugly place, the church can be an unfaithful bride. And yet all Jesus does is continue to love us in spite of ourselves. “Go and love your wife,” the Father says to the Son.
My dad taught me that lesson one time too after my wife had an argument with my mom. “Dad,” I complained, “what am I supposed to do?”
“Go with your wife. Love her.”
Then there’s God’s words to Hosea: Love your wife.
Then there’s John’s vision: I saw the Bride; beautiful; glorious.
And Jesus remains faithful to us even though we are, well, what we are. He—as amazing as this is—stands there in the worship and holds our hands, covers us with sloppy wet kisses, puts his arm around us with deep affection, and loves us. The wonder is that despite our fears and inhibitions to demonstrate our affection publicly, I wanted to dance yesterday and didn’t), he stands right beside us and can’t stop showering us with affection.
I cannot escape the wonder of it: She loves me; He loves us. Can you make sense of it either?
Yes. “The church is wicked, evil, wrong, hypocritical, blah, blah, blah, etc, ad infinitum, and so on and so forth…day and night, forever and ever…”–the world.
“HEY WORLD, HEY ACCUSERS, HEY HATERS, I STILL LOVE MY BRIDE!”–Jesus
The wonder is not that we are in worship or taking communion or singing songs. The wonder is not that we have anything to bring before him. The wonder is that He shows up.
The church is bloody. Beaten. Bruised. Crushed. Unfaithful. Undone. Rebellious. A whore. And loved. Loved. Loved–loved more than we can hope or imagine or dream. Sometimes we try to hard. The wonder is that He loves us in spite of our complacency.
Jesus loves his bride. The wonder is that after all the years, after all the anger, after all the sins, and mistakes, after all the unfaithfulness—He remains. The wonder of it all is that Christ Jesus has not divorced the church. The wonder of it all is that though now we are beaten, broken, and bruised, yet someday we all together will be that beautiful bride prepared by God and ready for the wedding-feast.
though i am poor and needy
my Shelter You’ll be
not by my merit lead me
to where You say
waste my time on lover’s quarrels
speed my breath and hope to stumble
out of my disdain and still
–Jennifer Knapp, You Remain
The wonder is not that I am a catch or pleasant or all that much fun to be around. The wonder is that Renee loves me. The wonder is that she is faithful. The wonder is that she has not divorced me. The wonder is that after 18 years she is still here, still refreshing me each day with her affection, grace, mercy, and love. The wonder is that she believes that I am worthy of her love even though I am clearly not.
I fact, I can think of no better metaphor for grace than that of the love that a wife has for her husband. Marriage is about so much more than we think. Marriage is about so much more than feelings. Marriage is about holiness and Christ means to perfect us thus he stays with us, faithful in season and out of season, day in and day out, rain and sun—the wonder of it all is that he still loves the church. And he will purify us because he is faithful, because he loves us even when we fail.
Ugly we may be. But we are loved. And nothing or no one is going to change Jesus’ mind about that.*
*I hate to have to add this disclaimer, but the internet can transmit ideas that were not intended by the author of a blog post. Thus, my post should not be interpreted to mean that I have been unfaithful to my wife in any physical way. Of course, as with most men (except the superheroes among us) my eyes and heart have been wayward at times, and I have confessed and repented. And Renee and I have talked about this and she assures me that although she believes Don Draper is dreamy she has not been unfaithful to me either.