Friday, July 9, 2010

Longing for the Wedding Day

Song of Solomon 3:9-11 (NKJV)
9 Of the wood of Lebanon Solomon the King Made himself a palanquin: 10 He made its pillars of silver, Its support of gold, Its seat of purple, Its interior paved with love By the daughters of Jerusalem. 11 Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.

Young women love weddings – from serving as bridesmaids to walking as the bride, from enjoying others’ weddings to anticipating their own, from designing wedding dresses to choosing out just the right one for their wedding. Weddings are the transition point for many young women – the transition from being young women to being married women – and so many years are spent in anticipation.

Knowing this hunger, the daughters of Jerusalem are invited in our text today to witness the wedding procession of King Solomon:

Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.

This hunger that young women display for weddings is to teach us something as the people of God. For God in His wisdom describes the ultimate consummation of the Messianic Kingdom as the final enjoyment of the wedding feast – the day when the Church will be presented to her Groom a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. King Solomon is a mere type of the Greater King Jesus. And the day of His wedding will be the day of the gladness of His heart.

Consequently, we are to anticipate that day and strive for it with all our might. We are to make the bride – the Church – more lovely, more beautiful, more glorious. We are, as we shall see this morning, to remove her reproach, and prepare her to wed the Groom.

There are many who think that this loveliness will just happen: the wedding day arrives and – poof! – a beautiful bride magically appears. But any man who is married and any woman who has been married and any young woman who dreams of being married knows that this is a farce. It takes an immense amount of labor, invested for months and even years, to reach the day on which the bride is adorned and beautiful. Months of preparation go into a mere hour or two of ceremony. Preparing for weddings is hard work.

The bride must consider what she shall be wearing, what the attendants shall be wearing, the jewelry that shall adorn her, and how she can best honor the Groom. All these details and thousands more have to come together. And this is the picture given to us of the ultimate destiny of Christ and the Church. We are to be planning for that Wedding Day in the same way in which a young woman prepares for hers. We are to meditate upon the glory that will be ours, consider the joy that shall be ours, and give attention to the garments of holiness in which we shall be arrayed. The anticipation of this great day will demand an incredible amount of labor on our part as we make the Church more glorious by making ourselves more holy.

So reminded that we are called to labor for the beauty of the New Jerusalem and that that beauty is amplified by our own holiness, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to pursue that holiness with passion.

Centrality of the Psalms

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. “Lord, I don’t understand; God help me; Father, lift me up; My God, my god, why have you forsaken me, why are you so far from my groaning?” When we are suffering it is not simply a good idea to take our pain to the throne of God, we are commanded to do so. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries. And where do we find examples of what faithful cries to God in sorrow look like? In the psalms.

Balancing this imperative comes James’ imperative for times of joy. When we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When we are joyful there is only one proper response in James’ mind: praise. And where do we find examples of what faithful praise to God in joy looks like? In the psalms.

Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of God’s people. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray the psalms. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing the psalms.

So here’s the question for us – do we know our psalter well enough to fulfill James’ exhortation? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalter. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. We have psalm sings every month so that we can learn them, we sing the psalms in our corporate worship together so they become intwined with our corporate life, and we are hosting again our Savoring the Psalms BBQs this summer to revel in them. All these things are specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.