A Tale of Two Cities
N. T. Wright laments the new world of postmodern Britain, where weddings are still highly popular, but also highly expensive. So much so, in fact, as he notes, that it is now the norm rather than the exception for couples to live together for some years, intending to get married, but finding that in order to afford the kind of spectacle they have been led to expect they have to save up. Even in areas of relative poverty, people still spend tens of thousands of pounds [dollars] to stage something that seems appropriate to the occasion.
Likewise, in post-Christian America we see similar dynamics. And like Wright, there is much about this modern custom that I find sad. It feeds commercial interests, and gives to the ceremony itself a flavor which is out of keeping with its real meaning. But at another level, Wright regards it as an affirmation of something profoundly true about what it means to be human. We are, after all, made male and female in God’s image, and in Genesis that is the climax of the whole story of creation. For a man and a woman to come together in marriage, whether they know it or not, is to plant a signpost which says: God’s creation is wonderful! God’s purposes for it are not over! His plan is going ahead, and we are part of it!
Theologians down the ages have always seen the promises made at a wedding, promises of faithfulness through thick and thin, as a proper reflection of God’s promises to his world, to the human race, and to his own people in particular. A wedding, then, is a glorious symbol. Even when people enter upon it with no thought of God, and with an eye only for the dress, the photographs and the wine, it remains powerful, Wright declares.
All of that is in the background of the great reversal which now takes place in the book of Revelation, beginning at chapter 17 and concluding at chapter 22. The harlot is judged; the bride steps forward. The glossy, glitzy world of Babylon is overthrown; God’s people emerge, with shining, pure linen to wear as God’s own gift. The marriage of the Lamb and his bride is to be the focal point of the marriage of heaven and earth themselves, and Babylon, the symbolic equivalent of the ancient Babel which thought to climb up to heaven by its own energy, is shown up as a futile parody of the real thing, a human attempt to get, by sheer greed, what God proposed to give by sheer grace.
This week we come to Revelation 17:1-19:10 where we will see Babylon exposed, fallen and replaced. Here we see the claim of almost incredulous joy in Isaiah 52:7, ‘Your God reigns!’ (It’s true! He’s done it! He’s become King at last!) This is no theoretical, general statement about the overall providence or sovereignty of God. God has become King by overthrowing Babylon the harlot, and so preparing the way for that of which Babylon and her vile trade was a ghastly imitation, namely the marriage of the Lamb and his bride.
I pray that you are able to join us this Sunday as we consider ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. I urge you to pray for our service, our people, and for those whom you love and know, that we might not be deceived by the ‘vanity fair’ of Babylon, but instead, that we will go forward to the city whose builder and maker is God.
Following the Lamb,