I absolutely loved watching the royal wedding yesterday, and can’t help reflecting on the occasion.
This wedding is important, on lots of levels, including theological ones. Weddings – every wedding – point beyond themselves, beyond the couple getting married, to the great future wedding banquet celebrating the marriage of the Lamb of God and his spotless radiant bride, the church. Every wedding, regardless of whether or not those taking part recognise it. And yet we need, from time to time, to witness a wedding on such a scale that it draws back the curtain of time for a moment and points, really points, to that day. The sort of wedding very few can afford to hold and host.
I loved the trees that lined the knave of Westminster Abbey. A building on such a scale needs something to bridge the human-scale and the heavenly vault above. And trees – which will be replanted – are a biblical image standing for the healing of the nations. This occasion, where royal leaders from around the world gathered together between the trees, pointed to that day; to a healing which is yet to be fulfilled, certainly, but which has begun, for all that is yet to come.
I loved the Bishop of London’s sermon, on the spiritual significance of marriage. Yes, it might appear a million miles from most people’s understanding; but I love that in our pluralist society the Church is able to speak to the heart of how we understand and order ourselves. In my view, the Bishop spoke not to the intellect – for want of a better word for the body of things believed in our culture – but to the soul. In terms of what people think about, he was out-of-touch, but he spoke to the soul with clarity. This is significant, as we debate clarity in preaching: Jesus never once spoke clearly, at an intellectual level, and even when he claims to speak clearly, it is not clear according to my cultural understanding of clarity – which leads me to conclude that it is our understanding of clarity that is misplaced, that is earthly rather than heavenly, that speaks to the mind rather than to the soul. Perhaps rather than speaking clearly (to the mind) we need to help people to hear with the soul, or at least ask the Holy Spirit to open those ears, which have become so stopped-up?
Yesterday was a fairytale. And I recognise that for some, fairytales are problematic: divorced from reality. I am not convinced: fairytales endure, not simply because of escapism, but because they enable us to reflect on the deeper realities. They not only need to be told, they insist on being heard. Their great theme is redemption – Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast – though within that framework they explore a host of other themes. The popularity of Lord of the Rings is due to its nature as a male-friendly fairy tale. Yes, yesterday was a fairytale, but that should be engaged, not derided. The interesting question to ask about this wedding is, ‘What is being redeemed here?’
The other thing that is problematic for many is the great cost of such a day. It is not fair. But, God is not fair. God is like a wealthy businessman, who distributes resources unevenly among his servants as he goes off to amass more wealth himself; or an employer who pays unfair wages. God is profoundly unfair. But God is also just, and will hold each to account. The Queen is very wealthy, and I am sure that one day God will ask her questions about how she has used that wealth – though I also suspect that this will not be an unfamiliar conversation between the two.
So I say three very patriotic cheers for William and Kate! May God pour out his richest blessings on them, now and in all the years to come.