I had so many thoughts in my head; the bride of Christ, grapes ready for harvest and struggling in despondency. I couldn`t make sense of which one to share with you until in that prayerfully sleepy transition between awake and asleep I found all 3 made perfect sense. I hope they make as much sense on paper!
Rachael brought a prophetic picture on Sunday of tents, transitory/ temporary/ flimsy/ blown about by the wind; but then God showed a picture of a tent dressed for heaven. It`s canvases were beaded and beautiful, the fabric was moving with and flowing in the wind, not fighting it. These were expeditionary tents that were getting ready for a wedding.
Anybody who has been involved in preparing a wedding knows how much effort it takes to plan and every detail has to be perfect. There is an air of excitement, anticipation and worry. What many brides and grooms don`t realise that the hard work really begins after they say I do!
Stephen and I celebrate our 21st Wedding anniversary this week; 21 years a coming of age and whilst we`re certainly not newly weds and the honeymoon period came and went quite some time ago it is a celebration of love and endurance. This year for many reasons our celebration feels like a victory of many hard fought battles (between ourselves and circumstances) but a well earned victory none the less. So it is with preparing for a wedding or to be a bride of Christ. In Matthew 25:1-18 it tells the story of the 10 virgins, 5 were wise and came prepared, the other 5 were foolish and as a result missed the wedding. It isn`t something as easy as saying I do and then just letting the marriage take care of itself. I do is a verb, a doing word, it means its necessary to takes action; preparation, planning, compromise, agreement ( and quite a bit of disagreement along the way!) resilience, endurance, love, grace and hope.
In these times of restrictions and uncertainty it is easy to get despondent, to let fear for the future take hold and stop us from being our best selves or somehow loose our identity or purpose; the struggles we find ourselves in as individuals, families, in our wider communities and as a Church can make it harder to focus on God and his purposes for us. I am struggling with my identity and my purpose; I find it so much more difficult to engage in worship and in our Sunday services when I can`t share the physical community presence with others and this is another reason why our victory will be so much sweeter for the struggles we endure.
Now for the grapes!
I have been paying more serious attention to the garden this year, the family dug me a new vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and I made it goal to be a little more self sufficient this year. As part of lockdown our village formed a support group with people adding their names to a community whatsApp group. We have shared requests and encouragements and have also shared seedlings and tips for our gardens. I was given flowers, courgettes, tomatoes, lettuce and runnerbeans to pot on and nurture. It has taken effort, preparation and research. The fruit and vegetables that have done the best are the ones I spent the most time looking after. The ones I thought would grow good by themselves haven`t done so well or have gone to seed from my ignorance and inattention. The ones that have thrived in my garden are the grapes. A vine that was planted long before we moved in and that for several years under our care bore some pitiful fruit that was left for the insects and wildlife. This year not so! Armed with knowledge from Monty Don and Gardeners world I have supported, tied, pruned and nurtured these grapes to a fruitful harvest but it wasn`t until a severe and hesitant pruning a few weeks ago that they really flourished. I`d left all the foliage on thinking it would offer the fruit some protection, I hadn`t realised it would be necessary to cut back all the excess leaves creating darkness in order for the suns light to penetrate the fruit and ripen it; turning the still slightly green and bitter fruit into the swollen, deep red and sweetly delicious grapes they were purposed to be. It made me consider what might be holding me back from fulfilling my purposes. Am I holding onto things which I consider are protection and comfort but that might actually be stifling my growth? What am I trying to nurture in the shade but that actually requires some serious pruning in order to let the Son`s light ripen me for an abundant harvest? The same question could be asked not just on a personal level but for our families, communities and Church.
Preparing for a wedding is hard work but it`s worth doing. Preparing a garden for the harvest is hard work but it too is worth doing. How much more worthwhile is it to prepare to be a bride of Christ. The bible talks of preparing the bride many times. Jesus loved a wedding! The Bride or Bride of Christ is found in the Gospels, Revelation, the Epistles and related verses in the Old testament. It is symbolic of God`s relationship with his beloved bride. The Bible talks of people, cities (Jerusalem) and the Church as his Bride and symbolises God`s faithful, loving commitment to a union with his Church (us). No matter how difficult; this is a marriage worthy of our preparation.
Truly a marriage made in heaven!