Wedding Clothes: A Cultural Window

(from Eric)

One of the wonderful things about crossing cultures is the window it can provide into your existing world.  The world around us now can sometimes be different in just the right way for you to look at your home world with a new light.  Rachel wrote about this years ago in terms of reading the Bible in a foreign language.  A few days ago, in hospital devotions, I had a similar moment.

Pastor Luc was reading from Revelation 19:7-8.  It is a classic passage which describes the church, or the unified group of believers in Jesus, as a bride prepared for a wedding where Jesus (here referred to as "the Lamb") himself is the groom.  It reads:  

"Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to cloth herself with fine linen, bright and pure - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

Pastor Luc then started to talk about traditional Burundian culture.  Though the tradition has been greatly modified for some of the more modern Burundians, it sounds like this practice is still the case in rural villages, and something like it survives even in the cities.  The wedding dress is picked out by the groom, sight unseen by the bride until the moment comes to put it on (right now, many western ladies are having panic attacks at the thought of their husband donning this responsibility).  In addition, at the time of the wedding, the groom gives his bride an entirely new wardrobe, and the bride gives all of her old clothes to other people.  From this moment on, she is clothed by her husband, with nothing remaining from her pre-married life.

I find this is a compelling image.  There is obviously a strong image of trust.  There is also an image of a shifting of one's identity, a belonging now to someone else.  From the husband's perspective, there is a very public image of his provision for his wife.

Pastor Luc was talking about the church, about us in our relation to God.  "the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."  A gift.  A gift that calls us to trust in the giver.  A gift that shifts our identity from being those who clothe themselves to those look to God for their provision.  I doubt I'll ever look at the Bible's use of wedding clothes the same again.  For that, I thank Burundi and the God who is work in their culture.

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