Any trip to the local supermarket in search for some cleaning agent that will remove spots, stains or blemishes from clothing will take you down an aisle of multiple choices. Each claiming some enzyme, some chemical, some combination, that will miraculously remove the spot, so you never knew it was there. It is amusing to watch adds that suggest such products have an intrinsic intelligence, as if they were capable of cognitive thought as they search diligently for the specific spot or stain to be removed. They even promise money back if the product doesn’t work as you thought it would. I have often wondered how many people take that offer up?
It’s even more challenging to remove a stain or spot from people. The blemish upon the church over the child-sex scandals will resonate for many years yet to come in Australian society. The notion that anyone guilty of sexual deviance, be placed on a register for the world to see for the rest of their life defies logic or reason – why don’t we insist on the same for murderers, thieves, corporate fraudsters, or driving offenders. It is hard to remove a social blemish, and even harder to remove an individual blemish. Even in the church, we seem to want to make such people live with the shame of their offence for the rest of their lives.
Yet Paul’s words in Ephesians reminds us that the task of Christ is to present the church to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. This is his ultimate work of redemption, to remove the stain of sin through his own death and resurrection. He is the lamb who was slain whose pure and perfect sacrifice removes that sin which condemns us. It is so easy to miss that Paul is not giving a mandate for how marriage works in these verses but using the perfect marriage as an example for what He has done with the church. He is the bridegroom, the head of the church, who is his bride. The church willing submits in every way to Christ, because Christ is the one whose life and death brings His body into being in the world. The mystery of marriage intimacy is nowhere seen more profoundly than in the intimacy between Christ and his church.
The call of the church is to be the body of Christ. It does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of Him who is in all and through all. The one in whom the entire universe finds meaning. Song of Songs is a beautiful love song that speaks of this intimacy. We are one with Christ, for without Christ we are nothing. Our first call as church should be one of willing submission to He whose sacrifice made us pure and blameless. Here, in now other place, everyone gets a clean start, every day, every minute, because the one who is in and through the church has made such a new start possible. Baptism washes us, not just once, but everyday of our lives, we walk wet, returning to that moment when the blood of Christ washes, and continues to wash us, clean.
As church, we have the unique challenge to not operate the way the world does. We have the unique challenge to be radically different. The lives we live are not our own, they were bought with a price, not for our sake but for the sake of the world in which we live. Our submission to follow Jesus should always seek to draw others with us. The spot and blemish of sin in their lives deserves the cleansing power of Jesus even more than our own. We are, in the eyes of God, pure and holy, without blemish, not to lord it over others, but to invite others into the freedom such an act of grace creates. We are the bride, so we can bear witness to the hope Christ offers of truly cleansing a sin-stained dirty world.