When the Wedding Interrupts the Funeral

by Sean Nolan August 3, 2016

An older pastor once told me he didn’t do weddings because he became a pastor to preach the gospel, not to officiate weddings. How I wish he had learned these two things are not mutually exclusive.

I once shared a similar sentiment, but I was officiating a wedding in Mexico when I noticed strangers pulling up chairs on the sand when my heart changed. I had labored to make Christ the central figure in my message to the couple and in that moment it struck me: weddings present a unique opportunity to share the gospel with many people who otherwise wouldn’t have an interest in it. Since then I view weddings as one of the clearest glimpses of the kingdom of God we get here on earth. In fact, the gospel is a wedding. A righteous savior who purchases and purifies his bride with his own blood, rescues her from death and unites her to himself. Why would anyone want to miss out on an opportunity to unite two people in a mini-telling of the gospel?

Jesus himself likens his disciples to a wedding party. They were questioned about why they didn’t fast. Jesus defends them by comparing himself to a bridegroom and the disciples to wedding guests (Luke 5:34). A wedding is a time for celebration and joy, and no wedding is complete without food. A time would come when he would no longer be with them, and then it would be appropriate for them to fast (Luke 5:35). So long as they were in the presence of Jesus their joy would be comparable to that of the best weddings. This wedding party also had a mission to invite others to experience this joy, to join the wedding party, so to speak. They were to follow Jesus as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). This wedding party would grow (Luke 14:23).

The Wedding Party and a Funeral Party

As it grew, Jesus led them to a town called Nain (Luke 7:11). There the wedding crowd intersected with a funeral procession. Two crowds crashed into one another: one full of joy as they followed after the author of life (Acts 3:15), the other mourning as they prepared to bury their dead relative. The initial collision was likely to have been awkward, but this bridegroom is like no others. He commands the mourning mother not to weep (Luke 7:13), not because her tears make him uncomfortable, but because he was about to remedy the situation that was causing her grief. He then touches and addresses the dead, commanding him to “arise,” and the dead obey his voice (Luke 7:14).

With a couple words Jesus is able to transform a funeral party into a party of celebration. Those witnessing this praise God for visiting his people (Luke 7:16). Many people have commented that these accounts of Jesus’ miracles “turned the world upside down.” But this is imprecise. Jesus turned the world right side up. His introduction of the kingdom of God gives us a peek into how things are supposed to be, how they were before the curse, what joy in the presence of God looks like. We only think of Jesus turning the world upside down because we’ve gotten used to living in an upside down world separated from God’s presence. Right side up looks peculiar when we’ve gotten used to living in a fallen world.

How I wish I had the power to turn a funeral into a celebration. To bring the dead to life and reunite them with their loved ones. For all the joy I have in being present at a wedding, I have equal sorrow for the reality that funerals exist. If weddings are a glimpse of a future day when Christ will take the Church as his bride, funerals are a haunting reminder of that past day in which God promised, “you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But Jesus, the Church’s bridegroom, is the one who came to conquer that curse of death. We await a future wedding (Revelation 19:7) that will put an end to all funerals (Revelation 21:4) and turn the world right side up again.

The Bridegroom Drinks the Cup

From his very first miracle at a wedding in Cana, Jesus, our bridegroom shows us the seemingly upside down economy of God’s kingdom. Though his time had not yet come (John 2:4), he changes the water into wine. The water was for the Jewish purification rites (John 2:6). In his ministry debut he ensures that the celebration does not end for lack of wine, but also gives us insight into his love for his own bride. On the evening he was betrayed, he institutes the practice of using wine as a representation for the blood he would shed to secure her (Luke 22:20). In submission to the will of his Father, he drank the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:15) “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The one who began his ministry by reviving a wedding when he made purification water into wine, would now purify his bride by his own blood. When his time had come (Galatians 4:4), Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin, so that in him his bride might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Revelation 19:8).

There was a stop in between the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the cross, however. It was in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus prays, “remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). A fitting backdrop, a garden was the setting in which the words were uttered, “you will surely die.” Those words that have kept funeral homes in business ever since, guaranteeing that no one gets out of life alive (Hebrews 9:27); those words that turned the world upside down and separated man from God. But now, the bridegroom would become the curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). Out of love for his bride he would interrupt the funeral by absorbing death (Isaiah 53:12). By his own blood he would purchase tickets to the greatest wedding there will ever be and we won’t be spectators, we will be the bride. There are many things that gospel preachers should avoid, but weddings aren’t one of them. If we’re looking for representations of God’s kingdom (the right side up) here in this upside down world, we should look no further than weddings. When the funeral party is interrupted, it’s not by a power outage or someone pulling the fire alarm, but by the bridegroom calling us home to the eternal wedding celebration. For “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God" (Revelation 19:9).