After ten years on air, one reality TV show points out there’s still a market for ceremonial cleanliness.
It’s an American show, but it’s sprouted regional versions all over the world. Because ceremonial purity is something everyone, everywhere wants.
The show is called (you might have guessed it), Say Yes to the Dress.
It’s about the journey of brides-to-be and their families, seeking the perfect wedding dress at Kleinfeld Bridal in Manhattan, NY. To see an episode is to see a purification ritual:
People go on pilgrimage from all over the world to seek the temple (Kleinfeld’s). There they hope to find what will cover their blemishes and inadequacies and make them beautiful and clean. In this sacred space, the priests (Mara, Ronald, and Randy) greet the pilgrims and assess their needs. The pilgrims are astounded by the special knowledge, wisdom, and craft of the priests. The pilgrims have journeyed far and are willing to pay great sums to the priests in order to gain access to the clean white robes they seek. The brides are willing to make sacrifices of time, emotion, and money, for where else can they be covered and made pure?
If you’ve ever seen the show, you know there’re problems: Sometimes, as the pilgrim’s insecurities and fears mount, they retreat from the temple. Sometimes they find what they’ve been seeking, but the cost of the white robes are too high. Sometimes they desire even greater purity and beauty, and so say “No” to the dress, and seek another temple and another priesthood.
Now there’s a reason why shows like these don’t have in-depth follow-up. While each episode has a very happy ending, we all know the dress didn’t actually solve any deeper issues. Despite the personal sacrifice, the brides’ hearts remained impure; they continued to be dogged by the same guilt, shame, envy, anger that they had before they came to Kleinfeld’s.
And their circumstances were unchanged; they still had difficult relationships, crazy demands at work, health problems, etc.
It seems there are some things that even a really really white dress can’t solve.
This is our human situation: every person wants purity, cleanness, and freedom, and both religion and non-religion make promises that they can deliver it. Modern people laugh at the ancients: “Get a load of these guys! Can you believe they thought you can get clean by visiting certain temples, saying special words, or making marks in your flesh?”
They scoff, but then they turn immediately to their modern priests, who offer the same cleanliness using different means. These priests tell you to cut out sugar, “pay it forward,” be the authentic you (without any apology), get a new outfit or join a gym, or stay away from all those negative people. Sometimes they’re totally unoriginal and just say you need a “cleanse.”
But neither these modern or ancient cleansing rituals can go deep enough! We leave the temple, the resort, the mall, or the yoga studio with hearts that are a mess.
The problem with both religion and non-religion, is that they both say the same thing: “You can make yourself pure.”
In stark contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ says: You can’t make yourself pure, but Jesus can.
The gospel tells us we are without any strength or hope to cleanse ourselves. And so God, because of his greatness and love, did what we were utterly unable to do (despite our repeated and best efforts).
The Bible teaches us that life on earth is this: The wedding is coming, so get ready! The invitations are being sent out, the table is being set, the doors will open soon.
But there’s not a single person ready for the wedding; everyone is unclean, everyone is sinful, everyone is impure. Even the Bride is impure.
The good news is this friends: Jesus Christ came for you and died in your place so that you’d be ready for the wedding. So that you could be presented to him without spot. Without impurity. Without any guilt. Without any shame.
Do you live with shame and regret for things you’ve done in darkness? Do you try to cover that shame and regret with religion, good deeds, and being a nice person? Or are you doubling down on your shame, hoping that a life lived for purely for selfish ends will somehow lead to life? It can’t work. You know it can’t. None of our attempts can go deep enough.
Only the Saviour who’s given himself for you can cleanse you from top to bottom; inside and out.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was crucified outside the ancient city of Jerusalem, stripped naked, so that our nakedness could be covered.
Jesus, who was clean, was defiled so that we who are defiled could be made clean.
Jesus was cast off and killed so that you could be welcomed in and enter into life.
And the purity that Jesus’ sacrifice bought was so thorough, so complete, that shame and guilt no longer have any place; those who believe in Jesus are dressed in fine linens, bright and pure, that have been purchased for them and given to them freely.
So the call for us, religious or non-religious people alike, is to repent of trying to make ourselves pure, and to accept this good news, that Jesus alone can purify us, and give us the required clothes for the great wedding feast to come.
May that day come soon, and may we be found ready.