The Bible’s emphasis falls not on the beauty of ‘ME’ but on God’s community, the beautiful “US”. For someone who has experienced “excommunication” and other bitter experiences in the Church this is a difficult theme to expound. Paradoxically however the truth of the beauty of the people of God can only be seen by those who have insight into our own unworthiness (1 Cor 2:13). The great beauty of the plan of God is that he is able to beautify all things, especially those which appear ugly (Ecc 3:1-11).
Beauty Over All
That extraordinary splendour of Eden is poetically portrayed in Ezekiel; ““You were … perfect in beauty…in Eden…; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings….You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you.” (28:12-15 cf. Gen 2:11-12). Though sin stripped humanity of the manifest presence of the heavenly beauty almost remained central to God’s plan of redemption (Gen 3:22-24; Rom 3:23).
Under the old covenant the High Priest alone could approach the glory of God in the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the people (Lev 16). He did so as a person clothed with “holy garments” made “for glory and for beauty” and on these were arrayed all the precious stones that once glamourised Eden (Ex 28:2, 17-21). Although the dwelling place of God with his people could be described in glowing terms, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” (Ps 50:2), for most of her history Israel was a rebellious Bride (Jer 3:20). Therefore the prophets spoke increasingly of a future Day when all would be glorious.
“In that Day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious….when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion….the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy.” (Isa 4:2-6) “On that Day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” (Zech 9:16-17) The LORD is “a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty” that will “beautify” his “beautiful house.” (Isaiah 28:5; 60:7 cf. 60:9, 13; 61:3). The “beautiful garments of salvation” which will cover Israel are identified as the bridal jewels of righteousness that will declare God’s glory to the nations (Isa 52:1; 61:10-11). With such a background the Jewish expectation in Jesus’ time was of a visibly glorious Messiah, this however was not to be.
Christ the Beauty of Humanity
“Beautiful humanity is the reflection of the kindness of God towards men as it has appeared in Jesus Christ (Tit 3:4)….God’s beauty embraces death as well as life, fear as well as joy, what we might call the ugly as well as what we might call the beautiful.” (Barth) Jesus is superlatively beautiful because he was rich and for our sake became poor: the immortal God assumed our mortality, the righteous one clothed himself with our unrighteousness, the blessed one took upon himself our shame (John 1:14; Heb 2:14-15; 2 Cor 8:9; 5:21). This is “the wonderful exchange” which turns our ashes into beauty and our mourning into gladness (Isa 61:3). Where Edenic man failed to retain the beauty of the LORD and Israel sought treasure from other gods Christ’s humanity contained all the fullness of God’s loveliness (Col 1:19). In Jesus, above and below are inverted; “the last are first”, “the lowly are exalted”, “the hungry are filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Matt 19:30; Luke 1:52-53). This is the key to the beautifying of the Church.
The classic text on the beautiful “US” as the Bride appears in Ephesians, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27) The entire emphasis falls on what Jesus has done to make us pure and holy in him. The regular congregational “US” is a very average looking community; but that is at the heart of the mystery of the beauty of the Bride. Those whom the Father sees in the Son are beautiful because they are gathered into the beauty of Christ; they are reconciled and justified people “in Christ”. There is no such a thing as an ugly bride! When the light of Christ shines through the people of God the result is a beauteous spectral radiance containing all the colours of the rainbow.
Clothed with Beauty
Where we see the Church clothing itself with the Babylonian garments of fame, fortune and influence it has failed to understand its splendour as Jesus’ wife-to-be (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:27; Rev 17:4-5). The jewels of false spirituality bedazzle the undiscerning but entirely fail to instill among “US” a willingness to imitate Christ in the adorability of sacrificing his life for “US”. As the Church we can only ever recognise our beauty when we receive the revelation of how much we are loved in our difference to the Son of God. God loves “US” as weak and fallible human beings who contribute nothing to our salvation or sanctification. Our glory is to be pure receivers of the gracious and radiant life of Jesus (1 Cor 4:7).
The Day predicted by the prophets when the Spirit of the LORD would beautify his Bride has broken upon “US” (Heb 6:5). It is our vocation to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet 2:9). As bearers of the news of Christ’s reign our feet are truly “beautiful!” (Romans 10:15; Isa 52:7). As those seated with Jesus in the heavenly places we together form a “beautiful habitation” for God (Eph 2:6; Rev 13:6; Isa 63:15). All the glories of Eden and the Old Testament dispensation will soon be consummated in “US” ; the resplendent wife of the Lamb (Rev 21; 22:20).
“There is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ” (Dostoyevsky). It is the revelation of this simple truth that will turn the Church back to her Bridegroom in our time; not by spiritual coercion but through the conquest of attraction (John 3:29; Hos 2:14-23). The manifestation of Jesus beautifying presence as a humble servant in our midst is the illumination that alone can sweep us off our feet.
Paradoxically, only those who have nothing to gain from “talking up” the brilliance of the Church can proclaim its true majesty. Only those who have experienced how fallen the Bride of Christ can be are able to speak purely of Her inner radiance in Him. The manifestation of the beautiful “US” awaits a chorus of wounded and scarred healers who can remind Jesus’ Betrothed that all her bejewelled splendour comes from him.
 The “canopy” is in fact the huppah or bridal tent where a marriage was consummated (Ps 19:6; Joel 2:16).