A bride walking down the aisle to meet her groom is always a moment of anticipation and honour. The groom beams with joy. Perhaps he gives her a wink or sheds a tear. The bride gazes into his eyes. The assembly stands, craning their necks for a better view. Smiles abound. Arrayed in all her splendour, the bride is adored.
The bride of Christ is not. Rather, as she proceeds down the aisle towards her beloved groom, too often she is mocked and spurned. We point out one flaw after another. We wonder and dream for all she could be, and miss, right before our eyes, the beauty of who she is. This is the story of the people of God today: all those who confess Jesus as Lord, who through faith have been cleansed from their sin and shame.
Criticizing the church can be a blood sport. In the realm of social media, with many critics and few creators, we churn out one article, status update or tweet after another calling out “the people of God.” I can be guilty of it, too. As a pastor, I spend much of my time thinking about the church. I wonder, worry, hope, despair and yearn for her future. This is one aspect of my calling. However, too easily it becomes my primary calling. My dominant posture can be that of a wild-eyed prophet making clear that the church is wandering in the wilderness, pointing with great angst to the “Promised Land” I’m so certain she must pursue.
I do not see this in the ministry of Jesus. Of course, he served as a prophet, a sharp-tongued one at times. However, he loved his bride deeply. He walked with her daily. He adored her. He became nothing, obedient to death, giving up his life for her. This was his primary posture towards the people of God.
One of the most surprising and puzzling verses I’ve come across in the Scriptures is Ephesians 3:10. Here, Paul writes that God chose to put his revealed wisdom on display through the church. Not only does he love his people, but the Divine chooses his bride as the primary canvas on which to illustrate how marvellous he is. Fascinating!
She’s not perfect. She’s not yet fully renewed. But she’s beautiful. A partial, developing glimpse of the kingdom of God. Do you want to see how wise God is? Gaze upon his people, the church of Jesus Christ.
Recently, I was in a congregational leadership team meeting that contained a difficult conversation. Our souls felt weary as we grappled with the pain some dear sisters and brothers were walking through. And so we closed by honouring the bride. One-by-one, we went around the circle and verbally identified various evidences of beauty on display in the church. This was a gift. A breath of fresh air. Maybe, just maybe, it could be true that God has decided to show his wisdom through us, his beloved bride.
Following five years with the Kingsfield-Clinton church plant in southwestern Ontario, Ryan Jantzi now pastors the nearby Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.