What does it mean to be God’s bride? Despite being a long-held image of Israel’s ideal existence, I doubt that was a commonly used pedagogical approach. Teacher: “If we are to be God’s bride, how are we supposed to live?” Class: “Faithfully, patiently, and devotedly.” Yeah, that doesn’t really roll of the tongue. But the point remains—God’s people were often depicted in scripture as the beloved spouse of almighty God. And that leads me to wonder…what does it mean for me—for us—to truly be God’s bride?
Although an expression of a hopeful ideal, usually that image was used to show how unfaithful Israel was despite God’s never-failing love. God is faithful; we are not. Yet God pursues his wayward bride despite her sinfulness and calls us back to himself. And someday God will make us the faithful partner he yearns for us to be. That’s captured in today’s reading from Isaiah61: “he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Israel’s righteousness, given by God, is like a renewed betrothal and a reason to celebrate.
So what does it mean for Mary, the mother of the Lord, to be chosen and called by God to be his handmaid—his bride? What does it mean for her to take on all of the hopes and dreams of her people in order for God’s marriage to his people to finally be consummated? What does it mean for Mary—Theotokos—to give birth to God? It means that through the Incarnation everything we have been waiting for has come to pass. It means that God finally has clothed us in righteousness and made us his faithful people. It means that we can claim for ourselves the title that God has given us—his bride.
But how do we get there? How does God use a teenage virgin to redeem the faithlessness of his people? Through Mary’s submission—by her saying “yes” to God’s intergenerational invitation to faithfulness—we are able to say yes to that which, on our own, we could not have given our assent. Mary’s yes leads to our yes. She says it on our behalf so that, through Jesus Christ, we might also say yes.
Sometimes those of us in the Protestant tradition get lost in Marian devotion. And while it is true that Mary did not redeem us—God did—it remains true that she shows us what it means to be the faithful bride that God is calling us to be. And, by her faithfulness, it becomes possible for us to be clothed in righteousness, too. Humanity has been waiting for the opportunity to live up to its calling, and through Mary it finally becomes possible.