The Royal Wedding

The Royal Wedding was beautiful: the flowers, the music, the gown, and- of course- the fabulous array of hats. But this event was not just a stunning example of a wedding ceremony, but of a liturgy. It was set in a gorgeous chapel, featured traditional English hymns, and presented a rich theology in both the message and the order of service.

The dean of Windsor opened by invoking the Father, Son, and Spirit and then introducing the responsibility of the congregation (Note: not merely guests, but a congregation) to witness the marriage now and to support it in the future. In the brief discourse that followed, he made no effort to soften the truth of marriage as an image of a holy reality:

“Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body, and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.”

From this opening statement, all gathered (and the many millions watching worldwide) were confronted with the truth that marriage is at once something greater than we could ever imagine, but also something far less. In recognizing marriage as an image of the divine union, faithful husbands and wives will find their marriages elevated and edified. However, they also will find that there is something far greater which they must strive toward together: the ultimate marriage of the Church to Christ.

That the Royal Wedding followed a liturgical structure made this explicit. Why should a wedding parallel the order of an ordinary (though grandiose) church service? Because the marriage of a human man and woman is not the primary focus, despite the media thrill. A liturgical wedding reminds guests that they are in fact called to be the congregation and believers that they are to be the Bride.

In the same way that we might consider a wedding liturgical, we must not forget that every gathering of the faithful in worship- that is to say, every Church service- is also to be a wedding. As the Dean of Windsor proclaimed, human couples are but imaging the divine mystery of Christ and His redeemed Bride. This marriage of the heavenly and earthly ought to be celebrated both in liturgies and weddings.

I am thankful for my nondenominational upbringing, but I do feel that something beautiful and significant is lost when traditional liturgy is abandoned completely. I recognize the dangers of becoming focused on ceremony instead of faith alone, but having never experienced the dignity of such a service, I had never considered what it meant to be the Bride of Christ until I began working as an organist for an Anglican church and then attended a mass in Assissi, Italy.

At first, I was inclined to view it all as spectacle; it felt posed and practiced, so unlike the “authentic” and casual services I had experienced. However, as we stood to the strains of a familiar hymn and the priests processed down the aisle with incense and sacraments, I realized that I was not at church as I knew it, but at a wedding.

The white robes, the organ processional, the congregational responses affirming the creeds… These were all things I had associated with weddings, not necessarily with church. However, the two quickly reconciled as I recalled that the Church is a Bride, indeed, the Bride.

I knew then that, should I marry, my wedding would have to be more liturgical, not just because I am a traditional soul with a soft spot for stained glass and organ music, but because I want my wedding and the marriage that follows to be an overt visible image of the union of Christ and the Church. To have a wedding that is conducted like a church service is to image the divine mystery and to remind those of the Church that it is they who are the Bride even if they are not yet gowned in white.

It is for this reason that I now yearn for liturgy and ceremony. I fear that many contemporary believers, like myself, have forgotten (or perhaps never considered) what it means to be the Bride of Christ. To participate weekly in the procession, recital of creeds, and celebratory singing is more than just a rote liturgy; it is a rehearsal for the realization of the true Marriage. 

To rehearse is, simply, to remind and to prepare. The idea of rehearsing for the marriage of the Lamb is beautiful in itself, but also practical. Beyond the joy of realizing ourselves to be a Bride with hope in our future union, to know ourselves as the Bride of our Savior is to change our entire outlook- the entirety of our conduct, relationships, and lives.

Since that moment in Assissi, I have been often been convicted by this. Would the Bride of Christ present herself as anything less than modest, caring, and thoughtful? Would the Bride of Christ fail to speak out for truth and discernment? Surely not! A virtuous woman would not cease to honor and defend her faithful husband.

And men, called to image Christ in their marriages, are yet members of the Bride of Christ. They are called to the same fidelity, focus, and fervor, loving their earthly spouses because they also are to live after the example of Christ and are themselves waiting upon him as the true Bridegroom. A godly husband on earth is yet a Bride of Christ in heaven.

“This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

                                     – Ephesians 5:32-33

Beyond conviction and correction, though, to be the Bride of Christ has been a source of immense encouragement. In recent years, I have watched friends and peers I’ve known since childhood fall in love and marry. While I recognize that marriage is a blessed relationship, I know that it is intended as an image of a greater reality. While this truth gives greater significance to a godly marriage, it also brings hope to those who have not found or cannot have this type of relationship; to be a single believer is not to be excluded from marriage, but to be able to live fully into the most blessed Betrothal.

Indeed, upon the consummation of this most holy and redemptive union, there will be no other marriage. This is not because marriage is not a good thing, but because it is an image; once the divine reality is realized, what need is there for a reflection?

“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

– Matthew 22:30

Husbands and wives are called and enabled to love each other by realizing their identity as the Bride of Christ and their role as image bearers of this relationship. In the same way, single Christians are also to show the redeeming love of Christ and live in the faithfulness of His Bride. How comforting to know that earthly marriage is not a prerequisite to the heavenly union! And how edifying to find that an earthly marriage might sanctify toward this union!

If I never marry, I will yet be a Bride. By the blood of Christ, I have been redeemed to a union that has fully saved and will fully sanctify and fully satisfy forever. As one of my favorite hymns sings, what wondrous love is this?

In realizing this, we find a richer joy in weddings, for we look toward the reality that is promised us. We are also revived in our hope and love as we weekly participate in the various liturgies that represent more than a rote pattern of worship, but the Holiest Matrimony. Married or single, all members of the Church are exhorted to look to Christ with the joyful anticipation and diligent preparation of a Bride awaiting her Beloved.

“Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

                             – Revelation 19:7-10

Let us as Christians be reminded each week in our worship that we are the Bride and let us rejoice in marriages as they image the mystery of the divine union.

The most Royal Wedding is yet to come. 

 

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The Same Sun

“There is nothing quite like the moment when an idea strikes and you can whip out your notebook and favorite pen and scrawl away for an hour. I’ve been going nonstop for weeks now and was overjoyed to have time to write something other than my 30 page political manifesto. (*cries from post-paper-writing trauma*) Anyway, this little story ties together some concepts from my philosophical readings and my own random questions with what I like to imagine is a Ray Bradbury-esque twist. Let me know what you think!

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The Same Sun

The view was spectacular.  Almost enough to make one believe it had been painted, sculpted by some great cosmic artist rather than produced by blind nature with no talent but plenty of time.

Almost.

So Atlas thought to himself as he sat among the spectators, his fellow elite of the Earth. Those elite who, seven years ago, had fled to Mars to escape after some unknown thing had taken a large portion of the population. It might have been a disease. Or a secret enemy. Nobody stuck around to investigate.  All anyone remembered is that where one moment a man stood, the next he was gone. It had seemed so random; one janitor vanished, leaving a broom to fall unattended, while another continued mopping; one mother and child disappeared without a trace while another was left to rock her startled toddler; one surgeon asked for a scalpel and another turned to hand it to him only to find empty air.

Terrifying.

The wealthy did not care to investigate, seeing no explanations in accordance with their unbending logic. But even their logic was subject to fear, so they fled as far as they could from earth, desperate to avoid catching (or perhaps, being caught by) what became known as “the sudden death.” Of course, nobody knew for certain that the victims died, but what else happened when one disappeared?

That was seven years ago now.  Atlas and his partner, Eden, had fled along with the rest of their social class. With the vanishing of thousands followed so soon by the abandonment by the upper class, the oligarchies of earth fell into madness. Now,  Atlas sat in a stadium with hundreds of others, staring through telescopic glasses out across the solar system at a single bluish orb floating like a lonely teardrop in a dark sea. Earth.

“Beautiful view, isn’t it,” Eden said, sauntering up behind him and laying a red-lacquered hand on his arm. Her other hand clutched a wine glass. It was so full that only its magnetic rim kept its iron-laced contents from spilling over and onto her blouse.

“Yeah,” Atlas shrugged. “It’s something else.”

The solar system spread itself before him, a mobile of multicolored planets. He himself perched on the red one: Mars. The Martian Colonies had been experimental for decades. Now, though, with such a rapid influx of investments from the wealthy in their eagerness to escape the sudden death, it became not only livable but luxurious. Seemingly overnight, the industrial Martian Colonies transformed into what some called “New Vegas” and others- poetic from the combined effects of the change in gravity and the influence of Martian wine- called “Paradise.”

From where he sat in the bleachers,  Atlas scanned the planets and moons before him, shining gemstones set against the dark velvet of space. His eyes settled on the sapphire and topaz earth. He turned the dial on his glasses and zoomed in for a closer view of his native planet.

From afar, it was still beautiful. Almost enough to make him homesick for the greens of trees and of the sea near his home.  Almost. When he got a closer look, the feeling faded. Brown, dusty, and swarming with ants who were really men. Rough with the pockmarks of mines and the sharp scars of city skylines. Turning around and peering over the rim of his glasses, Atlas feasted his eyes – thirsty and sore from the sight of decrepit earth – on the artificial Martian oasis behind him. Without having to crane his head, he could see the lights of cabarets, smell the aroma of wine and food, and hear the ever-blasting bass of the Night-and-Day clubs.

Yes, this was better.

“Quake number 333 has struck earth,” announced a bored voice over the broadcasters. “Anytime now, the pious-” he pronounced this word with an audible sneer “- of earth expect it to happen.”

It…

Atlas’ mind flashed through months of news reports.

It.

The gathering of the pious.

The judgement of the wicked.

The end of the world…

Well…the end of earth at least.

An involuntary shudder ran through Atlas. He felt Eden’s nails tense around his bicep. He had forgotten she was there.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing.”

“Exactly,” she said, quirking what might have been a witty smile had she not already downed two glasses of wine. “Nothing.”

“What?” Atlas turned to her.

“Nothing. That’s what is going to happen. These people…the ‘faithful,’ the weak…they’ve been waiting and praying, counting signs and whispering that this thing they call ‘the Day’ is coming. But for what? Nothing. They’re hoping for paradise to come for them. Well, paradise is here!”


She threw out her arms as if to display to Atlas the splendors of Mars, her wine sloshing but stopping at the rim. She beamed, obviously proud of her quippy conclusion. She watched Atlas for a reaction, but, receiving none, lowered her arms and resumed her easy manner. She licked her lips as if savoring her own superiority along with the wine. Her sly mannerisms, usually so attractive, sent another shudder down Atlas’ spine.

“Then why are we watching?” he asked softly.

“What?”

“If nothing is going to happen, why are we here, on Mars, watching like a crowd at a football match, to see what happens? Why pay and wait to watch nothing?”

“Well…” Eden bit her lip. Her confusion was over in an instant, though, and she was all smiles once more. “It will be fun to watch them run about in confusion with nothing happens. Like ants when their hill collapses. Too bad we don’t have a magnifying glass big enough to make them sizzle just a little.”

She laughed at herself.

Atlas stared at her, his eyes wide behind his glasses. She always became a bit morbid at night but this…he shook himself. He was being silly. He was being illogical. Nature was all he saw, not a beautiful design. And nothing was all that would happen, not some wondrous conclusion to the story of earth.

That was all.

And yet…

“Reports of thunder are arising from every continent on Earth despite unusually clear skies,” drawled the voice of the broadcaster, sounding only slightly more interested in this new development.

The crowd barely paid any attention, but Atlas scanned Earth’s atmosphere. No signs of storms. Not even clouds over South America. And yet, the radio had said thunder?
“Suppose,” he faced Eden. His voice had come out too sharply. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Suppose something does happen. Suppose it happens.”

“Does it matter?” sighed Eden.

“Pretend it does.”

“Well,” she said, speaking as if to a child who had pestered her with too many questions already, “if something does happen, all the better for us! We have the best seats on Mars and are safe from anything on Earth.”

“Judgement.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what they – the weak- claim is coming. Judgement.”

“So what? We are here. Judge the Earth? By all means! Makes a better show for us on Mars. I swear,  Atlas, you’ve been in an odd mood all night. Want a sip?” She held out her nearly-empty cup.

“The cup of wrath shall be poured out,” Atlas murmured. He had heard someone say that once on Earth. He had laughed aloud at the time, but now something clenched inside his chest as he remembered the phrase.

“What? I swear…” Eden said again. “You are being awfully serious tonight. And not fun at all.”

She tossed aside the cup and folded her arms over her chest, pouting.  Atlas ignored her. Something else caught his eye. Clouds were gathering in the sky over Earth in one large mass. A hurricane? No, it could not be. It was too mountainous.

In his odd, fanciful mood,  Atlas thought briefly that the clouds looked exactly like a chariot, horses and all. He stared at them in wonder for a moment before, without warning, the sun burst from within them.

But…

The sun was not on Earth. And yet…

A deafening sound reverberated through the air, so strong that he only knew Eden had gasped by her open mouth. He gripped the armrests of his chair and focused his glasses in on the scene before him, aghast.

The trumpets blasted again, shaking him to the depths of his soul. That is, to the depths of his body. He knew rationally that men were animals with no souls. But he did not have time to reflect upon this before another sound crescendoed with the trumpets, surrounding him- and Mars- as well as Earth, from all sides.

He was trembling and, though his vision was unsteady and spotted by the afterimage of that glorious, inexplicable sun, he saw that Eden was shaking beside him. In fact,  Mars itself was shaking. They had watched dozens of Earthquakes from their safe, removed Paradise, through the lenses of telescopic glasses. But never, in the seven years since they had emigrated from Earth to Mars, had they felt their new planet – their world – quake beneath them.

The light of what could not possibly be the sun but could not be called otherwise became blinding. Atlas found that shutting his eyes did nothing against its radiance. He turned away. Behind him, he saw the lights of the cabaret flicker and go out. He watched as food carts, as if in slow motion, toppled and spilled their wares. He watched men stumble about, shocked at the magnificent and horrifying scene they had not expected to watch, let alone perform in. He saw women in ridiculous heels crumple to the ground, their men either letting them fall without noticing or going down with them and remaining on their knees, unable to rise.

Spiderweb cracks thickened and multiplied across the gold-stoned street, spreading up over even the red stones of its buildings. The very sky seemed to crack as veins of that terrifying, wondrous light cut through the atmosphere of Mars like a sword, turning its rust-colored air blood red.

Atlas turned his face back toward Earth, but found the Sun instead. Its brilliance sent pain shooting through his skull. The thundering grew louder. It felt as if it were coming from within his own head. And then the thunder turned to the stampeding of horses. It had been horses all along, he realized, his logic forsaken. What use was logic now? His soul laughed bitterly at him, for he now knew without a doubt that he had a soul.

Another tremor shook the ground, yanking the chair out from under him and tossing him to his knees. He stayed down, no longer daring to stare into that all-consuming, burning, living light. He was a child who had tried too many times to look at the sun and he had finally learned.

Another trumpet blast sent his heart simultaneously up into his throat and down into his stomach. Ecstasy and agony fought in his chest and ended in a despair that could not even find relief in lament.

His mouth fell open and he felt sure he would be sick. But only a word fell out.

“Holy.”

The light flashed. He dared not move. Another trumpet blast sounded. The thundering hooves of horses were upon him. He felt, rather than saw, Eden fall beside him and had just enough time to think that it was almost funny: Paradise crumbling behind him and Eden collapsing beside him. 

Almost.

He could not laugh, though. He could only think over and over that they had been wrong. It had happened.

The Day had dawned.

Mars was no escape.

It was a different planet, but they shared a Sun.

The Day dawned for both Mars and Earth.

Awe and horror filled him, every corner of his body and soul felt ready to explode with the sensation, yet instead poured out in another despairing gasp of “Holy.”

And then, the Day burst forth as the Son rose completely. It had happened and all that remained were fear and trembling: trembling souls on a trembling planet, in the midst of a light they were unable to bear.

“Holy.”