A Broken BrideThe wedding march swells as all eyes turn toward the back of the church in anticipation of the Bride’s grand entrance. The Groom’s heart swells, too, as He eagerly awaits His love’s coming forth to be joined together forever. There is a scuffling sound and down the aisle scurry two feet beautifully adorned in white satin shoes. They are followed by a pair of legs, but before they can make it to the front, they are overtaken by arms, each with hands waving for attention. The torso comes next, hopping and rolling forward awkwardly, but forcing a place in the middle of the appendages due to its greater size. Lastly the head processes, chin held high in a sense of dignity and beauty, at least as high as it can be given the absence of a neck which refused to take a subordinate position and is up first, glad to be ahead for once. As the various members of the body of the Bride jockey for position closest to the Groom, the look of pain and grief on His face, still mingled with undying love, can only be imagined.
The Bible tells us that all God’s work in history is moving toward the great wedding feast of the Lamb when Jesus will have His heart’s desire, to be married eternally to the Bride the Father promised and He purchased by His own blood. If the wedding were to take place today, I am afraid that it would be more like the one pictured above than the glorious feast of Revelations. Jesus’ Beloved is divided along theological, racial, ethnic, and cultural lines. She is further broken by disputes, prejudices, and damaged relationships. What cause we have for mourning and humiliation over her state!
In our shame and consternation, though, there is great reason for rejoicing. God promises that
…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Eph 5:25-27
Jesus will complete the work He began on the cross, removing stain, wrinkle, blemish – to say nothing of brokenness and division – so that on the great wedding day, the Bride will be radiant. We live in trust in His power and love to bring this transformation about. And in the meantime we cooperate with every movement of the Spirit in our lives to prepare us for that day.
This is the first reason that we are an ecumenical community. We are looking for the day when the Bride will reflect in her wholeness, devotion and radiance the love which flows from Jesus to us. Only God can resolve the divisions and heal the brokenness, but we can cooperate with the grace He has extended to us to walk out in a limited way that Bridal radiance by loving and serving each other across lines of church, tradition, culture and more. Christian unity is not an exercise in tolerance; it is the heart response of the Bride as she is being prepared to be presented to her Groom.
A Team Divided on Itself There is a second motivation for our investment in unity. Imagine an all-star football team, something like the NFL Pro-Bowl. Representatives from many teams have assembled, a few from the Patriots, several from the Eagles, only one from some teams, but each gifted and accomplished in their own way. The whistle blows and the ball is kicked off, the game begins. But there is something wrong here. The Colt quarterback will only throw to the tight end because he is also a Colt, ignoring all the other receivers. Meanwhile the right tackle decides he won’t block for the running back because his team was beaten badly by the back’s team earlier in the year. So it goes, players working with those from their own teams or a few others who they like for one reason or another, but without any overall unity or cohesion. You know what the result will be, a shellacking of the All-Pros by the All-Foes.
We are in a contest far more serious than any Pro-Bowl – a war for the souls of men and the revelation of the kingdom of God on the earth. Our spiritual enemies take advantage of the gaps in our lines and those who we hope to reach pull back because the message of the Gospel is marred by the rancor of the messengers toward one another. Jesus said
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me? John 17:20-21
The world looks at us to see what they can learn about Jesus. When they see a unity rooted in the love for one another such as the Father and Son have for each other, Jesus says it will be a sign testifying to Him.
A Family Discovered We find ourselves in the back of a van on a long trip. Around us are all these other kids who look different and act different than we do, and who frankly are beginning to get on each other’s nerves. We cry out to the Driver, ‘Dad, these kids are bothering us!’, only to hear, to our shock, all the other kids crying the same thing! Something is wrong here. Where did Dad pick up all these others and why are they on the family trip with us and who do they think they are addressing our Father as ‘Dad’. Just then Dad turns around and shouts “Don’t make me stop this car and come back there!!!” – no just kidding! Dad actually turns around and addressing all of the kids at once says (adjusting the pronouns just a bit):
19You love because I first loved you. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment you have from Me is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 1 John 4:19-21
A third reason that we are an ecumenical community is that those who have known the love of God and love Him in response, also must love what He loves. And it turns out that what He loves are all those other folks who are alive in His Son, Jesus, but are not like us! We have discovered that in Jesus we are all brothers and sisters, children in the same family and we can’t do a thing about it. Now, like it or not, we need to love one another! But actually, the more we are conformed to the image of Jesus, the more we like it! We might not agree, but we don’t need to agree in order to love. If we did, marriage would never work! We just need to lay our lives down for one another as Jesus did for us.
A Costly Calling It is costly to be an ecumenical community. It is simpler and more efficient to work with those who agree with us theologically, organizationally, culturally. And God loves and blesses the different expressions of his Church on the earth who share these traits in common. But he has blessed and honored us with a costly call – to try to express in our limited way that unity which we shall all someday have in fullness at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Living this call is inconvenient, it makes extra demands on our schedules, at times we hurt or aggravate one another – but it is worth it! We get to experience imperfectly, in humility, but prophetically the oneness for which Jesus prayed, hopefully as an encouragement and a testimony to the whole Body of Christ.