The Esiankiki of Christ

The Maa word for a wedding or marriage is enkiyama.  Traditionally, there are two important parts of the ceremony.  The first is “the wrapping with a skirt” or erotianaroto.  A simple ceremony, sometimes this suffices (like going to a justice of the peace).  But for a proper wedding, there is also “the leading away of the bride to her husband’s homestead.”  Thus the bride is referred to as esiankiki narikitoi, “the bride which is being led away.”

This imagery is beautiful.  The Church, of course, is the Esiankiki of Christ.  We also have a sort of erotianaroto ceremony.  We remember that Ruth told Boaz, “spread your skirt over your maidservant.”  She was telling him to cover her with his protection, to claim her, to marry her.  In the same way, each of us who is immersed into Christ have been clothed with Christ as with a garment — we have been wrapped with the skirt of righteousness.  The ancient church outwardly symbolized this by clothing the newly baptized with a clean, white robe after they emerged from their watery burial.

We are also being led away from our sin and rebellion and towards the home of our Groom.  Like the esayiunoti (a Maasai wife married properly, observing all fitting cultural customs, and who can thus hold her head high), we demonstrate our devotion and our pledge of fidelity by not looking back as we are led away.  (Luke 9.62 and Genesis 19.26 come to mind.)

Upon being led away and settling in her husband’s homestead, the Maasai esiankiki leaves her temporary name behind and receives a new name.  A young woman may have been known as Nashipai ene Sakat (“Joy,” the daughter of the Sakat family).  If she marries a man named Saruni ole Yenko, she now will naturally enough be known as enole Yenko (the woman of the Yenko family or Mrs Yenko).  But her husband’s family will also choose a new first name for the bride, perhaps Naramati (“cared for, the one taken care of”).

This sounds strange, and maybe even troubling, to western ears.  But as I am reflecting, I see that this cultural practice reflects a divine reality.  We, too, shall receive a “new name” (Revelation 2.17).  But this will not represent an abrogation of our former name but rather a fulfillment of our true identity.  As Jacob (the heel-grasping deceiver) became Israel (wrestles-with-God-and-prevails) and Lo-Ruhamah (not-pitied, not loved) became Ruhamah (compassion, lovingly-accepted), so in Christ we become whom we were created to be.

May we all be wrapped with the skirt of Jesus and led away by him, following without looking back!

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