By Heather Judd
Throughout Scripture, marriage is used as a glorious picture of Christ and the Church. I have often reflected on how marriages depict the heavenly union, but until my own engagement I had not considered how this prelude to marriage also illustrates deep truths. Being engaged, particularly to a far-away fiancé, has taught me much about my life as a Christian awaiting the heavenly Bridegroom.
The long-distance engagement and the Christian life are both times of waiting, yet activity, and of expectation alongside present reality. They force us to consider a key question of humanity: How shall we live? Knowing that the here and now is prologue to coming joy, we must wonder how we ought to carry out our days. The answer links the present and the future, and like every aspect of Christianity, it relies on placing our trust not in our own feelings, but in the promises we have been given.
It did not take me long to discover that being engaged is a marvelously distracting state of being. Grading papers or choosing bridesmaid dresses? Doing laundry or adding items to the registry? Washing dishes or whittling down our list of 20 wedding hymns? Wedding planning is always more appealing than the tasks of daily life! Yet, the papers must be graded, the laundry done, and the dishes washed. Reality does not stop even for a joy so transcendent as preparing for marriage.
Being a mostly dutiful person, I was neither surprised nor distressed that life continued to be filled with simple vocational tasks, even while I basked in the happiness of my engagement. What did surprise me was the first time I realized I had been going about just my daily tasks. After days of being utterly distracted with thoughts of my beloved, I had, for a brief time, seemingly forgotten him. I had gotten so busy with the work before me that it had become my focus. There was his ring still on my finger. Time was still moving me toward our wedding union. I certainly still loved him. But all that had faded from my consciousness as I became preoccupied with my to-do list.
It made me realize how very like the Christian life engagement is. Just as the ring I wear was given with a promise of faithfulness and now marks me as claimed by the one who loves me, so as the bride of Christ have I been marked with my Lord’s promise in baptism. In the first weeks of wearing an engagement ring, I was physically aware of it nearly all the time, feeling its smooth circumference around my finger and gazing at it about a hundred times a day. After months of wearing it, those recognitions still come, but not so constantly. Much the same, at particular moments of high spiritual experience, the Christian is hyper-aware of the sign of the cross placed upon him. Yet, as the days go by, that identity becomes a routine part of life, some days bringing to mind the beautiful promises bound up with it, some days simply traveling along with the Christian whose mind is on other matters.
Many Christians would view such mundane forgetfulness as a serious failing. If you are measuring your love for Christ by the strength of the happy emotions you feel and your ability to be constantly thinking of Him, the moments when your mind focuses on daily tasks must signal a lapse in love. But Christians can no more maintain a constant high emotional experience of love than earthly lovers can. This is why Lutherans rightly realize that love—both spiritual and earthly—must be measured not by fluctuating, subjective feelings, but rather by enduring, objective promises. Thus the words “I love you” are proscriptive as much as descriptive. They proclaim my steadfast commitment, even while reflecting my feelings.
The surety of love lies in the words. Being a thousand miles away from my fiancé, sometimes it seemed impossible that there really existed a godly man who was really going to marry me. Then would come a morning text from him or an evening phone call, and the sureness of his words would dispel my doubt. No matter how far away he was or how long until I would see him again, I had his words to daily strengthen my faith in his promise, my hope for the future, and my love for him. Of course, this is precisely how the Christian is strengthened, too. The heavenly bridegroom must be apart from His bride for a time, but we hear His word and remember that He has promised to come for us and that the wedding feast is one day closer than before.
Fortified with these promises, we must realize the answer to our question. How shall we live? We shall live faithfully carrying out the tasks of the present, but we shall also live mindful of the future. We shall continue to live in our identity as “Miss” until the bridegroom comes to claim us, and yet we shall be irrevocably changed by the promise of becoming “Mrs.” We shall get our hands dirty with the dishes and diapers of earthly life, even while we beautify ourselves with holy living in eager preparation for the wedding. We shall look daily to the tangible signs and sure words of our Beloved’s promise until the day when we shall see Him coming to claim us as His own dear bride, never again to be separated from Him.
For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.”
Heather Judd is currently a sister, daughter, and teacher in a classical, Lutheran school in Wyoming. The last of these vocations demonstrates the divine sense of irony since she (a) was homeschooled for her entire K-12 education, (b) only became a classical education enthusiast after earning her B.A. in education, (c) attended just about every denomination except Lutheran growing up, and (d) had never been to Wyoming before moving there for the teaching call. When she is not spending time in the eccentric world of middle school students, she enjoys reading, writing, acting, baking, playing organ, and pondering the mysteries of theology, physics, and literature.