"As is her right, the bride will be a little late this afternoon."
This was the message to the congregation eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bride. It was the sort of wedding where no one was surprised by this announcement, and lively chuckles rippled warmly through the church building in North London.
It was the wedding ceremony of some dear friends. I love weddings - there's so much to love and enjoy and celebrate. It can highlight the best about the special people in our lives. Through the readings and wedding liturgies, there various wonderful truths about God that I am reminded of at each wedding: that God is love; that God's love is sacrificial, self-giving and covenantal; that God has chosen to show his desire for intimacy with his creatures through the symbolism of marital union... Beautiful.
But at this wedding I, there was something rather unusual which I think reflected a different, yet beautiful aspect of God.
Eventually, the bride arrived with her bridal entourage of friends and children and siblings and flower girls. All brides are beautiful, and this stunning bride was no exception. She entered the church building after some exhilarating African drumming and she followed her entourage down the aisle and met her groom at the front of the church. The various wedding liturgies ensued: the songs were sung, the sermon was preached, the vows were declared, and the marriage was pronounced. At the end of the ceremony, the vicar presented the married couple to the congregation, and they began to walk down the aisle exiting the church building.
This bride took two steps down the aisle and she saw someone. I don't know who this person was. But the bride stopped. She looked at this man, who was clearly a very special friend or relative. This person meant a lot to the bride. The bride locked eyes with that person, paused, turned towards them and started walking towards him - in completely the 'wrong' direction! The bride embraced this man - the friend of family member - with a long, warm, meaningful hug. As a few tears glistened on her cheek, I think she whispered something to him. Something seemingly personal. Something weighty. I presume something that conveyed love and gratitude and appreciation.
The groom-now-husband presumably was somewhat used to this sort of behaviour and followed her patiently towards this man, pausing their procession out of the church building.
Once this hug had finished, the bride and groom continued their interrupted procession. However, two steps further down the aisle, and the bride saw someone else that was a special person in her life. And, seemingly, she couldn't restrain herself. The bride launched herself towards an elderly lady (again, presumably a close friend or relative) with a hearty, wholesome loving embrace.
This happened again.
The bride couldn't walk down the aisle.
She couldn't get out of the church building. She was too moved and overcome with emotion - with a generous love and kindness towards her friends and family.
Again and again, she made eye contact with someone. Eyes met and locked on one another in a way that said something ineffable. Something like: "Only you and I know what we've been through together. Only you know what we've shared. Words cannot express how much you mean to me." Again and again she walked from the aisle, down between the pews, to hug and embrace someone. There were kisses, tears, private words of love and kindness.
While the groom, and the rest of the room waited. It was a weighty, moving moment.
Reflecting on this scene afterwards, I couldn't help but draw parallels between this bride, and the God of the bible.
To me, there's something so raw and real and 'unvarnished' about the love of God in the bible. The God described in the scriptures isn't aloof, distracted, away in his own head, considering all the things he needs to do and get right. He's not worried about the 'optics', like a modern politician in search of being liked, or trying to make everything look spic and span, neat and tidy. Instead of trying to make it seem like he's content and satisfied without us, he demonstrates that he's desperate for us!
Jesus, telling us about what God is like, tells us that God's like a shepherd who notices one sheep missing, and leaves the 99 other sheep to go out in pursuit of the 1. That's technically either bad maths or terrible shepherding. But the point is that God is willing to incur crazy costs as he notices you, and me, and comes hurtling desperately towards us.
Jesus talks of a women who loses one of her 10 coins, but turns the house upside-down looking for that one coin. God turns the house upside-down looking for you and for me. He's desperate for us.
Then Jesus's stories show God like a father who's son has taken his inheritance and gone off and squandered it all. Despite his son's arrogance, waywardness and ungratefulness, the father sits waiting, day after day, month after month, with his eyes out on the horizon, hoping that his son will return. When the son returns with nothing but a sob story and a foul stench, the father runs shamelessly out to embrace and hold his beloved son. The father throws a costly welcome home party and gives the son a family ring as a sign and symbol of his love and acceptance.
Like the bride who couldn't leave her own wedding ceremony, God notices each one of us - notices you - and looks deep into your eyes and declares his undying love and overwhelming affection for you. This God, through streaming tears whispers gently of how much you mean to him. This God, the creator and sustainer of all things is less concerned about 'optics', or our sob stories of how unworthy we think we are, or God's personal cost to reunite us into his family. He just loves us. This God 'wandered' from the safety of heaven into the complexity of human existence. This God stumbled his way to Calvary under the weight of an undeserved cross. He peered out, through blurry, bloody eyes, at the crowd which taunted him and spat at him. Laughing at this joke of a saviour. And yet, somehow, as he gazed dizzily at the faces these anonymous violent persecutors, these cowardly, insulting traitors, he sees you, and he sees me.
And he just loves us. He's desperate for us.