Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Unusual Marriage Proposal

My marriage proposal was nothing to fill the pages of a romance novel and definitely not worthy of appearing on The Bachelor. There were no roses, no candles, no dressy clothes or special location. Instead, my then boyfriend of four years proposed in his apartment...after I had sat typing for over an hour as he dictated legal briefs to help him study.

And then? He gave no beautiful speech for me to memorize and play back for our children--just the simple words, "Will you marry me?" I've laughingly told him many times that he already knew I wouldn't need much convincing, so that's why his proposal was so unromantic.

Jewish marriage customs in the time of Christ are significantly different from what we experience in modern-day culture (and definitely not focused on romance). Yet, understanding the past gives deep insight into the meaning of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples.

In The True Easter Story, Ray Vander Laan explains how in Jesus' day, the prospective bride and groom's fathers first negotiated a bride price. After an agreement was reached, the prospective groom offered a cup of wine to his bride-to-be as part of the engagement ceremony, symbolically asking her to accept "a new covenant." Interestingly, the bride could reject the cup and, thus, the offer of marriage. Yet, if she chose to drink from the cup, she accepted the marriage proposal.

Knowing this background, imagine you are in the upper room with Jesus. A traditional Passover meal lays before you like every Passover meal you've ever participated in since your childhood--the same number of cups to be consumed, the same selection of foods with all their symbolic meaning to Jewish history, the same memorized prayers and "order of ceremony."

And then in the middle of the ordinary, Vander Laan explains that Jesus inserts something new, something unexpected, yet something the disciples would have picked up on immediately--the verbiage of a marriage proposal: "In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'" (Lk. 22:20, my Italics).

What must the disciples have thought upon hearing those familiar words--"new covenant"? Surely their heads jerked to attention as Jesus offered them a cup of...marriage?

Unusual? Yes. But oh so beautiful.

The image is an invitation for Jesus' followers--then and now--to enter a covenant with Him. Through those words, He sought to communicate His undying love and devotion for His followers, His "bride," a love that would lead Him to Calvary only mere hours later.

Before the end of the Passover feast, Jesus once again used an image from the marriage customs of the day. Jesus said, "'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am'" (Jn. 14:1-3).

Vander Laan explains that according to custom, after the bride accepted the cup, the groom went back to his father's house for up to 12 months, spending that time adding rooms onto his father's house. Only when the groom's father thought the "new home" was sufficient did he give the son permission to go get his bride.

Do you see the beauty of promise in these marriage images? When we, as believers in Christ, take communion, He symbolically offers us an invitation to be part of His bride. To drink the cup is to accept His new covenant, written in the blood of the cross.

Once we have entered into the new covenant, as part of His beloved bride, you and I should awaken each day in anticipation, as a bride waits for her groom to return, claim her, and take her to a new home.

We must long for the day when God the Father looks to the Son and says, "Go get your bride."

*The True Easter Story, part of the That the World May Know video series, Zondervan 2000.


  1. This is lovely. I thought of the scene in "The Nativity Story" where Joseph offers Mary the cup. I had never heard this before so it really brought that scene to life. In my heart I also yearn for The Groom to come. Thanks!

  2. Wow. What a wonderful way to describe this.
    And so we patiently wait, come Lord Jesus, come.

  3. I've enjoyed RVL's teaching for a long time and many Easters ago I came across the Passover teaching about the "proposal cup." I just got the full series of 8 volumes of That the World May Know for Christmas from my wife, but I don't have the True Easter Story on hand for some reason. Thanks for summarizing it. We're going to do a Christian Seder meal on Good Friday and I wanted to be reminded of Ray's teaching.