by Rhonda Loucks
First and foremost I want to go on public record saying that God gives me these titles. Often it is the title alone that He shares with me before I settle down to write each day. I am an organizational freak. I know why He doesn’t give me more to go on than just a few words. If He uploaded a topical outline to me, I know within minutes, part of my personality would edit right through the ideas before He really had time to reveal anything significant to me. I would miss the truths He is trying to convey. So, these titles are not mine, and the truths that go along with the titles are revealed on sort of a “need to know basis.” Still, even blaming this whole very poignant word phrase on the Lord… does not make me want to explore it more. My life is hard enough and I have enough of my own mistakes to concern myself with…this bride and her previous actions are of little and uncomfortable concern to me.
Then again, maybe this bride is me. Not in the literal sense, more in the metaphorically woman type sense. Sometimes I most certainly dress up in my purest attire, much like the white gown of the bride, in an attempt to present myself as worthy. I know, better than anyone, the past mistakes and failures hiding under all that satin and sparkle. Like a high definition video recording, the worst mistakes I have ever made arrange themselves in ranking order and then play themselves over and over in my mind’s eye; especially when I am trying to walk down some new aisle of my life. If I am the bride in the title, then I know this woman is no virgin; she is soiled and scarred from a life of bad decisions and regretful neglects. The eyes of those in the pews and the crowds around me can see right through the beautiful exterior of what I am wearing on the outside…and I feel the worthlessness of their appraisal. It is difficult, almost impossible for me to hold my shoulders back, lift my head high and to focus on the goal at the end of the aisle; the new task, a fresh start, an opportunity to act differently, to live differently. It takes everything inside of this bride to muster enough strength to make my legs take steps toward that goal, and past the crowds of shame.
On second thought, maybe this bride is you. “We all have sinned,” so I am comfortable in discussing your sins. Well not the sins themselves, but the fact that you have sinned. So you, my fellow bride, are no virgin either. Knowing that… let me ask you about your wedding attire. Did you choose a confident white, or one of the thousand shades of ivory for your presentation? Maybe you chose a thin flowing silk that clings to the form beneath, or the thickest weave of satin…knowing that you have so much to hide. Your sins may even still define you right now, or at least characterize you. In fact, the things that you have done and the choices you have made may have literally disfigured your physical appearance, and nothing can be done to cover up those marks. Whether you are dirtier than you think, or less guilty than you feel, your sin bears no distinction. All have sinned, and sin is sin. There are no white lies or little sins. Neither are there bad lies or worse sinners. But, once you choose forgiveness, you are completely forgiven.
Each of us has become a bride, and in following Christ we are asked to do many things that are way out of our comfort zone. Some opportunities are easy… like meeting a new friend and living the new you. Some are much more difficult… like meeting up with an old friend who is completely upset about the new you. But, each opportunity is a chance to remember who we are now in Christ and live according to His standards. Sure, like a wedding, we are eager and excited and our heart races with anticipation. And like the journey down that long aisle, we are nervous and afraid and know that everyone is comparing us, judging us according to past failures and the task set before us. That is why gifted vocalists do not sing solos, or even join the choir. And why writers write, but never try to publish. It is more often why church members do not greet visitors and why very few people volunteer to help at needed tasks and activities within the church. We want to reach out, to help, to offer the seekers what we have already found. But, we certainly know who we were, and each of us is our own worst crowd of shame. Too often this shame limits us from traveling the bride’s aisle…toward whatever our groom, our Christ, holds for us at its end. Each of us is a blemished bride. And oh what a mess things can become if we do not focus on the groom.
As my Granny used to say, “speaking of messes”… maybe this bride is the church. Is there any bride less a virgin than that of the church? In fact, is there any bride more of a bride than that of the church? The Lord never called us His Wife, His pal, His comfortable companion. We are His bride because each day, each task, each decision is a new opportunity for unadulterated bridal type commitment to Him. He stands at the end of a thousand aisles, waiting with excitement and anticipation for the greater commitment we are about to make to Him. That aisle will never be too long or have too many obstacles to reach Him. And He, the groom, though waiting and knowing that we ultimately have the choice, has His eyes fixed on us; watching and urging and confidently loving us toward Him. And He knows; this church, this bride, is no virgin. We are heaped with years of scarred reputation. From the early church and their wars to the recent church and their double standards, we have proven to be a people of disobedience and unrighteous behavior. The eyes of the crowd are waiting for us to weaken and run from our commitments, our covenants, our beliefs… our goal. They know our reputation, they have seen it before….the bride whose commitment is only wedding day deep.
The world is the wedding crowd and they have come to the wedding for a reason. They want to see if we have what it takes. So, they watch how we live and listen to the words we say. They are peering over the fences when we are doing yard work in the heat of the day with our family, and scouting us out at the competitive excitement of the ball game. They are looking for a difference; something that sets us apart. The world is seeking Christ. And we are His closest point of introduction. Christ, our groom is counting on us to forget ourselves; who we have been and what we have done. He wants us to be transparent to a lost world; not to worry about how we look, but how they can see Him through us. Christ wants His bride, the Church, to behave the way He sees us; pure and new and loving and full of hope. The Church is the true bride, and she is no virgin.
Lord I don’t know how you even love us. Floods and fires and signs and wonders…and we are still so wrapped up in ourselves. We are embarrassed about our intolerance, non-acceptance, judgmental, and just plain rude behavior to other body members and outside seekers. We are even more embarrassed by our inability to forgive ourselves and step out into the aisle and shine. Please forgive us for our self-absorption and fear and blindness. None of us are virgins; I have sinned, we all have sinned, the church has sinned, the Church has sinned. Help us put the scars of the past behind us… find confidence and strength in your love… and live set apart in purity for Your purpose alone. Because Lord, We are Your Church, we are Your Bride…and this bride ain’t no virgin, but she is completely forgiven.
Rhonda Loucks is a Sunday School teacher and member of Wichita First Church of the Nazarene and contributes regularly to the church’s Women’s Ministry newsletters.