The Bride and the Cross - Part III

 Fra Angelico, Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. Dominic

Fra Angelico, Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. Dominic

The Son was prepared for the wedding through the Incarnation and the Cross.

The Bride is also prepared for the wedding through the cross.

As we said earlier, a Bride and a Groom must share the same nature in order for a marriage to be valid.  The Son humbled Himself and took on flesh for His part.  But He was still sinless, and we were not.  The cross was necessary to take away our sins.

John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Bridegroom.  And he understood that his own ministry prepared the way of the Bridegroom.  John called people to repent of their sins, and this was crucial. It remains crucial for prophets and pastors to call people to repentance.  But when John saw Jesus approach Him, John called out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Friends of the Bridegroom call the Bride to repentance, but only the Lamb, only the Son, can take away her sin.

The cross is the means by which the Bride is washed clean.   The blood Jesus spilled on the cross takes away our sin. But the mystery of the cross runs even deeper.  In the Incarnation, Jesus took on our nature to become like us.  Through His death on the cross, Jesus invites us to partake of His nature.

Early church fathers saw a parallel between the creation story and the crucifixion.  In Genesis, God puts Adam into a deep sleep.  He then opens Adam’s side, removes a rib, and fashions Eve, his bride, from that rib.

In a similar way, Jesus was put into the deep sleep of death.  A spear pierced His side, and water and blood gushed forth.  Early church fathers saw the water and the blood as symbols of baptism and communion – the two signs by which Christians are marked and changed, separated from this world. This is the cleansing which transforms us into a fitting Bride.   Jesus said unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no part of Him.  These are shocking words, but the transformation which must take place is shocking.  We must take on His nature, and the cross provides the only path for this transformation.

So just as the cross is the glory of the Son, it is also the glory of the Bride.
But there is a further mystery of the cross.  Jesus calls the Bride to take up her own cross and follow Him

Here I want to tell you a funny personal story about my courtship with Thomas.

Thomas began pursuing me when were both in college.  He spent a few months in Taiwan, visiting his aunt and uncle who were missionaries, and while he was there, he remembered me from our high school youth group and decided I might make a good wife.  So when he came back to Texas, he started calling.

What he did not know is that I had just sworn off men.  While he was away, I was breaking off a serious, but unhealthy relationship with another boyfriend.  So when Thomas started calling me, my heart was still hurting.  I was afraid that I could not be trusted with romantic relationships.  I was afraid that God was disappointed in me.  I was simply afraid, and so I did not return Thomas’ calls.  Now I am not sure why, but Thomas kept calling, for a whole month, and I did not respond.

I did not respond because I did not want to mess up another relationship.  But I knew that Thomas was an exceptional man!  I admired him greatly.  In fact, I had once told myself, “I want to marry a man like Thomas Cogdell” – never imagining that the real Thomas Cogdell would be interested in me.  So I went to my former boyfriend who knew Thomas from church, I told him my situation, and that young man spoke the wisdom of God to me.  He said, “Amy, you would be a fool not to date Thomas Cogdell!”

So the next time Thomas called, I answered the phone and agreed to see a play with him and his sister. This seem to encourage him, so he proposed another date. Here was Thomas’ idea of a good second date.

“Amy,” he asked, “would you come with me next Saturday to an abortion protest and get arrested?”

What young man in his right man proposes a trip to jail as a first date?
What woman in her right mind accepts?

Well, I did.  I was arrested for criminal trespass and spent the night in a very dirty, uncomfortable cell. I went to another protest, was arrested again, and ended up spending 30 days in jail.  30 glorious days coming to know the tender heart of Jesus for His hurting sheep.  30 days in which I saw Jesus heal people.  30 days which changed the course of my life.  Those days in jail are a treasure to me.

I was thinking back on those early days of courtship with Thomas recently, wondering whatever made me say yes to such a proposal.  The truth is that I had not thought much about the tragedy of abortion before Thomas invited me to be arrested.  I did not go to jail out of passion for a cause.

I did not go to jail for love.  At the time, my heart was still numb.  I was not in love with Thomas.

But I did admire him.  I respected him.  I trusted him more than I trusted myself.  If Thomas thought going to jail was the right thing, then I felt it must be.  Even though I missed class.  Even though going to jail jeopardized my grades and put a mark on my criminal record. Even though it was a little scary.

When I was thinking about those days recently, I laughed to think how much my earthly husband resembles my Heavenly Husband, Jesus.  “Take up your cross and follow Me,” is a daring invitation to one’s Bride.  Most people will say “no thank you” to such an invitation.  The promise of suffering does not sound so romantic to our ears.

But Jesus is good and can be trusted.  And for those who will take up their cross and follow Him, their cross becomes their glory and their victory, just as it is the glory of the Son.

At the last supper Jesus is praying to His Father and He speaks these words which are so beautiful, so powerful that we hardly dare to believe them. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one. John 17:22

What is this glory? It is to be like Jesus, to share His nature and character. We partake in His glory when we manifest the name of the Father, like Jesus did.  We carry His glory when we are kind and merciful, when we forgive sin. We carry His glory when we proclaim good news to the poor and the captives.  We carry His glory when we practice justice and defend the weak.  But we carry His glory most clearly when we suffer with Him.  When we take up our cross and follow Him

The first apostles were martyred for their witness, and in their death, they carried His glory.  St. Francis fasted and lived in extreme poverty, and in that suffering he also carried the glory of Jesus.  Our Anabaptist brothers and sisters refused to fight in the military; they refused to even to defend themselves, and so they chose to embrace suffering for the sake of Jesus.  The world takes notice when people lay down their lives for Jesus.

For the past five years, Thomas and I have had the honor of partnering closely with a team of friends, of spiritual fathers and mothers, in this work of Wittenberg 2017.  I have seen the glory of Jesus in them – Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Free Church brothers and sisters, Messianic Jews – and my heart is closely united with them.  I love them.  And in working with them, I have come to see the wisdom of Jesus.  Doctrinal discussion is good, but in itself, it will not bring unity. What unites us is the glory of Jesus.  When we carry His glory, we bear witness to His name – and if we love Him, we will love anyone who carries His glory.  And if we love Him fully, we will take up our cross and follow Him.  We will lay down our lives for one another, because that is the glory The Bridegroom shares with the Bride.