As a pastor, I often have the privilege of officiating weddings. Part of officiating is translating the “traditional” parts of a wedding ceremony – you know, the parts that become major plot points or sight gags in wedding movies – to a couple and their family.
For me, the most intriguing time is the giving away of the bride.
During a wedding rehearsal, I’ll run through the “Who gives this woman to be married?” and typically the father of the bride knows the “her mother and I do” part but it’s what happens after that where things get muddy.
The dad stares at me.
I nod again.
What should I do? He asks.
I usually ask them to give their daughter’s hand to the groom, but even after two run through rehearsals it never fails that on the day of the ceremony the dad freezes.
He just stated that he, on behalf of the bride’s mother, was present in order to give his daughter away to her groom, standing patiently in waiting for her hand. For their lives to join in a unique, spiritual, and finally legally binding way.
The dad knows why he’s there. He can’t conceive of how to execute this giving away.
Honestly, we aren’t good at giving away the bride.
The Church is the bride of Christ, and oftentimes we can start to operate in a “protective father” role over our local worshipping communities. Please note I’m not talking about the Church universal – everyone who believes in Jesus – I’m talking about the church local. The gathered group of believers at one place for worship, teaching, encouragement, healing, and direction so that they may continue the mission for which Jesus made them.
We change our political stances to protect the civic and legal "rights" of the church while at the same time forgetting that the majority of our Christian forefathers were martyred and today many in other countries are martyred. We "compete" against other churches for converts and members instead of partnering with them to do greater work, because frankly churches close every day and we'll be damned if ours is going to do so. We shift evangelism from inviting someone to the greater story of Jesus & the Kingdom to inviting someone to our local church gathering and we'll see what happens - it isn't evil, it's just not the whole picture. Here's the reality:
We are great at the gathering.
We’re not so good at the scattering - the letting go of the bride's hand so she can walk bravely into the mission for which she was made.
One of the most powerful pieces of Christian spiritual formation is the understanding of how to give away the bride.
Sharing the church’s influence and hope in a way that is courageous and risky is how this community of believers was built to function. Not to protect itself, but to reflect Christ with reckless abandon into dark hearts and corners of humanity.
Read the book of Acts – Stephen gave away his life for the greatest sermon ever written (which began with Abraham, if you notice). Philip went where no good kosher Jewish boy had (or should have) ever gone before and helped an Ethiopian outcast find his way to the world’s true King. On and on…
The early church understood that their local gatherings had a shelf life: shifting politics, culture, and pressure could end their gatherings at any point. They weren't as interested in making sure civil authorities didn't hurt them as they were making sure the bride was given away. They didn’t try to preserve their gathering, instead they gave them away and held them loosely – they gave away the bride.
They gave themselves away, one person at a time, and in so doing they were formed to love the most permanent thing – Jesus Christ who rules and rescues, the Spirit that inspires and motivates, and the Father who creates and calls.
One day – perhaps even today – you’ll be asked to give away the bride. You’ll be asked to give the most beautiful thing in the world, the hope you have in the Gospel, to someone who will be profoundly changed by it. You may have to abandon some things, like protecting reputation and social status and what others see as common decency, but you will be standing in a long line of fathers giving away the beautiful bride.
When we gather well and scatter well, the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:9-13). May it be so today, Lord.
(For more on this idea, check out Halter & Smay's AND)