Without doubt the biggest blessing and the most beautiful memories that I took home from Cyprus all came from the purpose for me being on the island in the first place – the wedding!
I’ve been to a lot of weddings in my time but it’s fair to say that I’ve never been to one quite like this! However, it wasn’t the beautiful cliff-top setting overlooking the mediterranean sea that made it so special. Neither was it the venue (quite possibly the poshest hotel I’ve ever been to!) Or even the epic wedding buffet that was laid on (physically couldn’t finish it all!) No, what made this wedding so beautiful, so memorable and so…gospel…was the guest list!
As I mentioned in the intro post J works with women who have been rescued out of sexual exploitation, many of whom have been trafficked onto the island for that very purpose. And J’s really good at her job, which means that there are a lot of women (and children) and their lives are being remarkably transformed by grace. Anyway, there were scores and scores of these precious ladies invited to the wedding and it was a privilege to stand at the back of the wedding ceremony and recognise as I looked out across the congregation that J’s girls made up 50% of the guest list!
However, it was only afterwards during the post-buffet disco that the true beauty of this wedding party hit me. There on one sweaty little dance floor were atheists and former prostitutes dancing alongside pastors and children…and even a nun! It was INCREDIBLE!
And it caused me to look in 2 different directions…
1. Looking back to the way that Jesus partied
All I could think about at the disco was Jesus. The gospels are chock-a-block with stories of Jesus going to parties and, more often than not, they were parties that were frequented by ‘undesirables’. Little wonder that He soon had a bad reputation amongst the religious leaders of the day:
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?
(Matthew 9 v 10-11)
The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
(Luke 7 v 34)
And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.
(Luke 19 v 7)
Jesus loved sinners. And He expressed this by spending time with them (and not just to do Bible studies with them – although that was obviously part of the deal). No, Jesus ate with them. Drank with them. Partied with them. Such behaviour was scandalous to the religious do-gooders, but was an irresistible gesture of grace to those who were more than aware of their sin and shame. And while it’s easy to criticise them for such behaviour, a quick glance around the church today (perhaps even your own congregation) and you may find that we have a serious shortage of prostitutes, drunkards, criminals and…sinners…celebrating grace with us.
And from where I’m standing – that’s a problem!
Somewhere down the line we have made church for the respectable. The gospel for the ‘good’. Church for the clean-cut. Somewhere down the line we have stopped connecting with those that Jesus connected with. We’ve become exclusive, not inclusive.
We’ve sanitised grace.
That’s what I found so flippin’ compelling about this wedding – everyone was invited! There really is something gospel about partying with former prostitutes.
That’s how Jesus did it.
That’s how it should be!
2. Looking forward to the party to end all parties
Looking around the dance floor at this party I could see young and old, male and female, the upstanding and the down-trodden and faces that came from all over the world – African faces, oriental faces, East European faces, Western faces…it was such a diverse crowd, which kinda reminded me about the guest-list at the wedding party to end all parties in the book of Revelation:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
(Revelation 7 v 9-10)
There are people at this party from every neighbourhood on planet earth. It’s the most diverse guest-list ever assembled! There are no VIP sections or cheap-seats. No one looks scruffy cos they’re all dressed in the best threads provided by the extravagantly generous host. Like family all sit as equals around the table. No one is there because they deserve to be, everyone got in on the ‘grace ticket’. There are no racist remarks, no sexist slurs, no condescending arrogance and no inter-tribal conflicts. In fact all anyone wants to talk/sing/shout about is the host. The One who paid with His own blood to provide access to the party, to clothe us and to unite us as family, and as His bride.
So as I l glanced around the dance floor at that beautifully bonkers wedding party my mind was filled with glorious thoughts of heaven and my heart was once again thrilled by grace!
Only Jesus throws parties like this!
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!
(Revelation 5 v 12)