The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord:
She is his new creation by water and the word;
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.
(SJ Stone, 1939-1900)
This old hymn, which we sang at a recent communion service, uses the image of a bride in describing the relationship between the church and the Lord Jesus Christ. As with so many old hymns, it is packed with ideas from the bible, truths which inform and give life to our faith and deepen and strengthen our relationship with God. I love to sing these songs, they go to my heart and head like a strong wine, filling me with joy and lifting my spirits no matter how much I am struggling. This is surely one of the main reasons why we are exhorted to sing and use our praise to recall all that God has done for us!
But what really touched me as I sang this time was the fact that the bride is one being, a single entity, not a multitude! It is so easy to lose sight of the truth that in God’s eyes, His people are one, across time and around the world. Our denominational tribes are not relevant, our preoccupation with defending purity of doctrine at the expense of fellowship and the sharing of the good news of Jesus is a source of sadness. The old creed, the statement of faith puts it quite simply…
……I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen!
In this context, the word ‘catholic’ has its proper meaning of “universal/relating to the entire body of Christians”, and what a glorious affirmation it is to make! I do believe that we are one in Christ, no matter how our traditions seem to divide us, or our expressions of praise and worship feel strange to one another.
It is our human weakness, our fearfulness and pride, which drive us into divisions, into putting up walls to make ourselves feel safer, better, holier, than those outside. What shame this brings to the name of Jesus, who prayed the night before he died that his people might be one, might be known for their love for and unity with one another… But we can choose to sit lightly to those boundaries, to reach wherever possible out to those who worship Christ in spirit and in truth, wherever they come from. The reality is that what unites us is so great and glorious, that our differences should pale into insignificance by comparison.
There is a wry joke made by Christians that when we get to heaven we will be a little surprised to see who else is there – and they will be equally surprised to see us!! The point is being made that we none of us can claim to have all the answers, to be absolutely perfect in our interpretation of the bible and our practice of the faith. The important and overriding truth on which our salvation depends is the death of Jesus on the cross, and our trust in him alone.
We have been wooed, as a bride must be, drawn to love and commit ourselves to our beloved – the prophet Hosea speaks beautifully of how God does this:-
I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.
It is the love of God, revealed in Jesus which entrances and captures our hearts, and it is his death and resurrection which are the source of our strength, joy and hope. It is as we grow in faith in him, serving the world in his name, loving one another as he commanded, that we become beautiful in his eyes, transformed and made ready for our future. It will be at the dawn of the new creation, when all believers finally stand together before the throne, united in praise, love and adoration of the saviour, that we will truly be dressed in our wedding clothes and fit to meet the Lord. Then all our struggles will be past, all barriers to fellowship will be removed, and in glory we will rest. Let this wonderful vision of our future bring us joy and strength now, and inspire us to reach out in love to all who call on the name of Jesus as their saviour.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
(Revelation 21. 2-4)