By Jonathan J. Routley
Imagine a bride whose wedding has almost arrived preparing herself for the ceremony and her long-awaited marriage to her beloved groom. She has adorned herself with the purest white dress to accentuate her beauty and highlight her chastity. Her hair is done up, her make up just right. She has anticipated this day for what seems like thousands of years.
The bride leaves her abode and begins her journey down to the little chapel by the lake. She can see the chapel about a mile away hiding on just the other side of the small village. The sky is deep-sea blue with just the right amount of cotton clouds on a comfortable mid-October day. She wears a smile on her face as she stares at the chapel and eagerly desires to stand in the presence of the man waiting for her within.
As she walks, presently she notices that two animals have joined her procession; a donkey to her left, and an elephant on her right. The bride feels uncomfortable to be in such close proximity to the animals, but maintains her focus and continues on. After some time the old gray donkey begins to glare at the bride angrily, then gnashes her teeth and shakes her mane. The bride reaches out to sooth the donkey, but the donkey responds by biting the bride’s hand, and before she knows it the donkey has turned and kicked her to the dusty ground.
The bride quickly gets up and moves toward the elephant, sure that the size of the larger animal will deter any further attack from the donkey. For a while they walk uneasily, the bride keeping both eyes on the donkey while holding the elephant’s ear. The bride’s once-beautiful dress is now dusty and ripped, but she knows it won’t matter when she gets to the chapel and sees the face of her true love.
Presently she becomes aware that the elephant is not walking straight as she originally thought, but he is moving progressively toward the left, bringing her closer once again to the donkey. She begins to talk to the elephant, kindly asking him to steer right. The elephant is stoic. She nudges the elephant; no response. As the donkey gets closer she pushes the elephant, yelling, screaming, shouting for the beast to move. She’s frantic, trying to get the elephant’s attention until at last the animal looks down at her in concern. But instead of moving, the elephant raises his head, flexes his muscles, straightens his trunk and bellows in a deafening, earth shaking trump. Then he turns on the bride, battering her with his uncontrolled power, throwing her to the ground again and dragging her behind him as he continues down the road. The donkey follows, a smirk of cruel satisfaction on her face.
The bride is humiliated, sobbing as the elephant drags her like a toy. Her dress is covered in blood and mud, stained, and tattered. She is cut and bruised, broken and defeated. The elephant drags her to the gate of the chapel. There he drops her, sounding his triumphant bellow, then bows his head to the donkey and exits the scene. The donkey approaches the bride, looks her over from head to toe, then brays a scornful “hee-haw,” and departs.
The bride rises, aching and gross from her encounter with the donkey and elephant. She looks to the chapel, longing to see the man inside, but overwhelmingly embarrassed to present herself to him bathed in filth and bleeding. The people of the town gather and stare, wagging their heads in disgust and jeering at her appearance. Now the chapel bell rings; the hour of her wedding is at hand. There is no more time for bathing or cleansing. She must present herself before her husband defiled and in rags.
She knows that her groom loves her; his reception of her is not a question in her mind. Yet that does nothing to comfort her as she hates the thought of dishonoring her love by appearing at their wedding in this manner. Now she sees him moving in the chapel, coming to the door. The moment is here. Tears run down her cheeks. She straightens and composes herself, taking a deep breath. She closes her eyes. She hears him opening the chapel door.
Her eyes open and meet with his, the groom in his splendor and the bride, defiled by her encounter with the donkey and the elephant.
…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Jonathan J. Routley received a B.A. in Archaeology and Near Eastern Studies from Wheaton College, an M.A. in Theological Studies from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently a Th.M. student at Western Seminary. He is a faculty member at Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, IA.