Q&A: At the passing of a Christian . . . funeral? Or wedding?

Popular culture pictures heaven as a place where we’ll bounce on clouds, strum our harps, and admire our new wings.  

Of course, popular culture pictures Satan as a funny guy in a red suit with a pitchfork.  

And both are wrong.

Among all the pictures of heaven, the picture of a wedding & feast stand out as most prominent.  Many of Christ’s parables draw on wedding imagery to describe heaven; these parables are grounded in Jewish wedding custom and practice.  In order to understand what Jesus says about heaven, here’s a quick overview of the wedding practices that he describes:

  • A family would arrange a marriage between a young woman (perhaps as young as fourteen) and a man.  The man would often be into his 30s or later, which was still considered young.  (Solomon called himself a “little child” when he took the throne, even though he was older than 30.)  Both the man and woman agreed to the marriage; even though it was arranged, it was not a forced arrangement.
  • The families would get together and the bride & groom would sign the legal marriage documentation - in our world, this would be the marriage ‘license.’  They were now betrothed.  Any separation would require a legal divorce, but the couple had not begun their married life or had relations.  (Mary & Joseph were betrothed; legally marrried, but not fully married - so to speak.  See the next point.)
  • After the betrothal, the man would go back to his father’s house.  In his father’s house, the man would begin constructing an addition – the room where he and his wife would begin their married life together.  A man with many sons would have a house with many rooms.  (Ring any bells yet?  Check John 14.)
  • When the father determined that the room was suitably finished, the father (of the groom, it seems - according to Matthew 22) would make preparations for the wedding ceremony, reception, and feast.  The groom would go to bring his bride to the ceremony and feast.  (Parable of the Ten Virgins, Mt 25; Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Mt 22.)  
  • Isaiah describes life with the Messiah as an invitation to a free banquet, given for those who have nothing to contribute (Isaiah 55), while the servants of the groom are given instructions to invite all - far and wide - to come to the feast (Mt22.)  
    • You might consider some hymns from our hymnal: “This is the Feast of Victory,” CW 265; “Wake, Awake,” CW 206; “O Bride of Christ, Rejoice,” CW 134; “O Kingly Love, that Faithfully,” CW 335; “The Church’s One Foundation,” CW 538; “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White,” CW 550; and many more.
  • Believers are described as being clothed in wedding garments (Is 61:10).  Psalm 45 is a wedding psalm, and the tools & garments of the Messiah in Psalm 45 are then attributed to believers in the New Testament (Eph 6).  
  • Christians, then – the Church – are described as the bride of Christ (Eph 5) and the relationship between husband and wife is a picture of the relationship between Christ and Christian.  A heaven full of sainted believers descends out of the sky like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (Rev 21:2).  

What does all this mean?

Heaven is far more than fluffy clouds, harps, angel wings.  (Yeah…don’t hold your breath about those wings.  You will not become an angel.  Far better!  At Judgment day, your body will be raised from death and reunited with your soul in glorified, glorious fashion!)  Heaven is a place described as the most beautiful, happiest, most joyful event: a wedding, a feast, the birth of a child…multiplied by a thousand, and extended for all eternity – where we, the Bride of Christ, will finally enjoy life face-to-face with Jesus.  No more mourning, death, crying, or pain; everything sad will be ended, while the joy will never cease.

Why will I be in heaven?  

Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, to forgive your sin.  

Where’s my invitation to this eternal banquet?

It’s the gospel message – a message of free forgiveness through Jesus, the same message that the Holy Spirit uses to create and sustain faith.

What do I wear?

The ‘garments of salvation’ (Isaiah 61), the robe of Christ’s righteousness which is yours through faith.  

What a beautiful picture – what wonderful comfort – a far better life than bored bouncing on a cloud with a harp.  Quite to the contrary!  You will see Jesus face-to-face, bowing down to worship him with all believers of all time!  

 

The Church’s one foundation

Is Jesus Christ, her Lord;

She is His new creation

By water and the Word.

From heaven He came and sought her

To be His holy bride;

With His own blood He bought her

And for her life He died!