June 2, 2013

Holy Bridegroom Intro

A familiar image of Christ is as the Bridegroom to the Church, His Bride. During Holy Week it occurred to me that we are individually Chosen, Betrothed, Redeemed to be the Bride of Christ. This inspired me to start considering the aspects of brides and bridegrooms, especially in Scripture. As I read various citations, I realized that there is a subtheme of choosing/being chosen and of redeeming/redeemed in the saga of brides in the Bible.

The deeper I dug, the more intrigued I became with the image of Christ as Bridegroom to our souls. I am certainly not the first to take this route of study, as I learned in skimming through internet articles. Over the next few weeks, I will share some of my thoughts as well as a few insights from other writers about how the metaphor of Bride/Bridegroom plays out through scripture and culminates in Christ and the Church and you and me.

Early on, I started considering aspects of a ‘perfect’ bridegroom. What characteristics would such a man have? I found answers in the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Written in 1889 by Cecil Alexander for H.H. Dickinson, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, Alexander used a Gaelic poem, “St. Patrick’s Lorica”. (Interestingly Cecil was a woman.)

Lorica is the Latin word for all kinds of breastplate armor. St. Paul advises putting on the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ (Ephesians 6:14) and in that context lorica has come to take on the meaning of a prayer of protection. Knights of old had loricas inscribed on or inserted into their breastplates as protection. In some traditions, the lorica prayer has come to be used as an invocation against danger and sickness and even as a guarantee into heaven. There are other lorica style hymns like Be Thou My Vision but St. Patrick’s Breastplate is perhaps the best known. (If you’d like to hear the whole hymn, watch this video.
It is in the 4th Verse that I found some characteristics of the Holy Bridegroom:
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard

Interestingly, these aspects could also be characteristics of the Holy Spirit, but that’s perhaps a topic for another time. The Holy Bridegroom is one who leads, watches, holds, listens, is wise and teaches, guides and protects, guards, and gives speech. It is likely that few human grooms fit into all those categories, but let’s consider why these are important for the Holy Bridegroom.
The Holy Bridegroom, unlike human grooms, provides all we need in the way of guidance and provision and protection. The Holy Bridegroom leads us in the way we should go (Ps. 24:4-5, Ps. 119:35, Ps. 23:3 and others). At the same time, the Holy Bridegroom teaches us (Ps. 119:33-34) all that we need. Hebrews 8: 11 echoes what is said in Jeremiah 31 that “they shall not teach everyone his neighbor…saying ‘know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” For now in Christ, the Holy Bridegroom is our teacher, just as Christ went from place to place teaching during his ministry.

The image of God as shield is used many times in scripture. From Genesis 15:1 where God tells Abram “Fear not, I am your shield and your reward shall be very great” to the Psalms and Proverbs (Prov. 30:5). As we saw above, St. Paul suggests not only the breastplate of righteousness, but “in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16) A shield protects the bearer from objects being thrown at you. In the same way, the Holy Bridegroom stands between the bride and all dangers.

Our Holy Bridegroom is not only a shield, but an active protector who guards us. Psalm 91 is all about the ways that God protects and guards the one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High”. In the New Testament, St. Paul (again) says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthians 16:13-14) Indeed part of the protection of the Holy Bridegroom is the loving holding of us when we are sad, or ill, or grieving. Ps. 23 is always a reminder that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…you are with me…you prepare a table in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 139 examines all the ways God, the Holy Bridegroom, holds us safe. “You know me when I sit down and when I rise up…where can I go from your Spirit…you formed my inmost parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb…”

This leads to the empowering of the Holy Bridegroom who gives us speech and “hearkens to my need.” Remember in Exodus that God tells Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Genesis 3:14) When Moses argues “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and of tongue.” God is not dissuaded but says, “Now go; I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall speak.” (Genesis 4:10-12). Moses continues to argue until God ‘hearkens’ and agrees “Aaron, your brother…can speak well…I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you what you shall do.” (Genesis 4:14-15). God still gives us the ability to speak the words of God. At Pentecost the disciples were given the ability “to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” so that all could hear the mighty acts of Easter. Speaking for God does have to be done carefully and while listening to the Holy Bridegroom. We are warned in I Corinthians 13:1 that “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…”
Over the next weeks, this blog will look at how and why brides were ‘chosen’ and how that relates to us being chosen as a holy priesthood, a new nation, a bride for Christ/God. We’ll explore the differences between a betrothal and an engagement. How might the vows exchanged relate to our own baptismal and/or confirmation promises? What about the aspect of redeeming the bride, even if unfaithful, as seen in Hosea? Naturally that must relate to Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. Following naturally from all this talk of brides and bridegrooms is consideration of marriage both in the Old and New Testaments and now. Also we’ll consider the roles of women and men and how our perception of the ‘downtrodden’ woman may be a bit skewed. Finally, are there any images in the mystics that relate to Brides or Bridegrooms or Marriage?

Join me on this journey to discover how we can live as a holy bride for the Holy Bridegroom.

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