The Church From a Different Perspective
There’s a royal wedding coming up on the other side of the Atlantic. America’s interest in the British royal family in general — and royal weddings in particular — is always strong. But this time, it’s exceptionally high because Prince Harry is marrying an American.
As evidence of American interest in the wedding, consider that CBS is promising “extensive and live coverage” starting at 4 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, along with a two-hour primetime special highlighting the “royal romance.” All the excitement is a bit odd for a nation that was born as a rejection of Britain’s monarchy. But that’s a subject for another day. Besides, people seem to love the idea of a king or prince finding his perfect bride and the two living “happily ever after.” I just wish we got as excited about an even bigger and better royal wedding that’s coming up.
We in the Church sometimes take for granted, or simply forget, that we are the Bride of Christ. It’s something that Christ never forgets, never takes for granted. He loves us as passionately as a groom catching that first glimpse of his bride on wedding day and as deeply as a faithful husband after many decades of marriage. It might help us to keep Christ’s perspective on the Church in mind.
When the world looks at the Church — Christ’s bride — it sees only her flaws and failures. Some in the world see the Church as fake, hypocritical, a dressed-up fraud. Others see her as old and tired, a withered and wrinkled shell of what she once was. Still others see her as weak and worthless.
To be sure, the Church is imperfect. At times, she is standoffish and separate from the world; at other times, she tries to win the world over by imitating the world.
What the world doesn’t understand is how difficult it is to find a balance between being in the world but not of it, between loving sinners and hating sin.
The Bridegroom knows how hard this is because He lived in this world. And He sees what the world doesn’t see. He sees His bride as heroic and tireless. He sees all the good she does — the countless deeds and actions of love for her neighbors and her enemies that He actually counts. He sees her strive to show the world a glimpse of a better world, a glimpse of how things could be and should be, a glimpse of how He intended them to be.
He sees her help the forgotten and friendless and fatherless, the helpless and hopeless, the unloved and unwanted. He sees her defend the weakest and sickest and tiniest — unborn babies and old folks and special ones with special needs and people hovering between this life and the next.
He watches as His bride searches for the lost and lonely. He knows she’s the first to arrive when the storms come — when the test results bring tears, when there’s no work, when a family is broken by death or divorce, when there are more bills than money, when floods and fire destroy — and the last to leave when the work of mercy is done.
He hears her beautiful, hopeful, mournful prayers — begging and pleading that a neighbor or a nation might be healed.
And He holds her close as she bears up under the most terrible kinds of tribulation and brutality — in China and North Korea, Iraq and Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan, and too many other places to list or count.
In all this, the Church shows she is anything but weak. She is strong. She is determined. She is vibrant and alive. She is indomitable.
While the Church may at times act like Hosea’s wife — wayward and wandering from her one, true love — Jesus sees her heart. He sees a bride as gentle and good as Mary, as courageous as Esther, as faithful and true as Ruth, as righteous as Elizabeth, as committed to service and duty as Martha.
When He gazes at His bride, He sees something that is true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable, excellent and praiseworthy — because He sees a reflection of Himself.
She is imperfect, but she is good. She is good not because she is flawless, but because she is willing to confront her flaws, eager to address her imperfections, ready to confess her sins. She is good because she holds Christ in her heart — and shares Him with a world in desperate need of Him.
She is being prepared — we are being prepared — for an inexpressibly joyous reunion. He is returning for His bride. “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.