Lighting a unity candle, stomping the glass, burying the bourbon, circling the fire, embarrassing speeches at the rehearsal dinner.. the customs surrounding weddings are incredibly diverse, yet they all exist for one purpose: to usher two separate people into a new life as one. Marriage is one of those stories that has been told countless times in countless ways. It's been told throughout history, across all cultures, in all places. Today and in posts to come, I’d like to share from the array of beautiful wedding traditions used to celebrate this story called marriage.
The white gown is a nearly ubiquitous custom here in the West, but I did a little research and found that it only became popular in the 1800s after Queen Victoria dressed in white for her ceremony with Prince Albert. Since then it has become a trend that brides rarely depart from, often choosing blush and neutral colors even when they do. Many consider the white gown a mark of purity. But as I searched through Scripture for passages on marriage and purity it became clear the white gown is a symbol of something very different.
The writers of Scripture use lots of images to describe the relationship between God and his people. A vine and its branches, a Father and his children, a shepherd leading a flock. One of the biblical depictions that resonates most deeply with me is that of a bride and groom (hence the hours I spend working on weddings - just can’t get enough!). When this imagery is used in the Bible, the purity of the bride is actually bestowed upon her. It is not something she brings to the table. It is a gift given to her in grace.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord… he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
God’s people are broken people. God’s people are like an unfaithful bride who cannot rightly wear a garment that signifies purity and goodness. And yet the Bible says over and over again that God runs after his broken people as a husband running after his wayward bride. And when he finally catches up to them and wins their affections, he washes his people clean.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow.” Isaiah 1:18
The white wedding gown is not a symbol of the bride’s purity. It is an emblem of the work Jesus has done on the cross. It is a mark of the work the Holy Spirit continues to do, changing hearts, breathing life, making his people new.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
One day, Scripture promises, the Holy Spirit’s work will be complete and God’s people will stand before him, as a bride on her wedding day, wholly forgiven, wholly changed, wholly new, completely in love with her groom, seeking none beside him.
“As a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” Isaiah 62:5