"It's just so messy," she said, and I nodded through the phone, tears making paths down my face. We're talking about a bride. A wanton, wayward bride who keeps soiling up her wedding clothes and back-handing the face of her groom. We're talking about a bride who wreaks havoc on the wedding guests and who is never satisfied with the direction of the aisle, the taste of the cake, the reception, and the feast.
We're talking about the Church and we're talking about us—because the Church is so grand and marvelous and becoming, and it is made up of messy, selfish, petulant us.
I've been covenanted at my church for a little more than two years now. Two years is nothing, a drop in the bucket, but when you have a shelf-life of two years, "a little more" can feel like an eternity. There's nothing I love more than the Church and so there's nothing I love more than us, the church local: the men who lead us, the ministries that serve us and fail us, the people who break and bless us. I love this mess. But you can't be around mess for too long before you begin to carry a bit of the mess yourself.
It's all fine, well, and good to have thoughts and theologies about how Church ought to be; it's easy to point fingers at all the ways Church has failed us; it's more common than not to leave when we feel the push of life against life, mess against mess, broken against broken. I know this because this is what I have done, more times than I know. I may not have left physically, but my heart unknit itself from the mess around me long before my body did.
I love the Church, but sometimes it is so very hard to love the church.
Because loving the church means mourning with those who mourn—the family who just found out their nine year old daughter has an inoperable tumor. Loving the church means standing in the hallway while a young girl grips your arm and confesses dark things that mirror your own heart. Loving the church means pressing close when you feel like pulling back, when you have been wronged and no one wants to right it for you. Loving the church means loving what Christ, the groom, loves, and He loves you and me and all of us soiled and broken.
I wake this morning, the sun streaming across my messy bed, and I feel the wrinkled mess deep in my soul. I feel the stains and the need to be washed in the water of the word. And I want to do it on my own, I do. I want to clean myself up, clean my brothers and sisters up, eradicate injustice and eliminate tumors.
But I cannot.
A groom sees past the irregularities and blemishes, he sees beauty beneath the strains and stretches of what life has done to his bride's body, he sees what he has chosen to be his—and He has called it good from the very beginning. And there, with that in mind, He presents us blameless, spotless, stainless to Himself. He reconciles what is broken and messy, and brings us whole to the Father for the eternal wedding feast.
And only He can do it.
...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27