Text: Matthew 25: 1-13 Pentecost 22a
“That engagement party was so extravagant; William had better ride into the actual wedding on an Elephant or drop in like James Bond from a helicopter!” My husband, Eric, said on our way home from my best friend’s engagement party last weekend. It was, indeed, extravagant: Overflowing with Middle Eastern hospitality and abundance. She’s been so busy planning and preparing for this long-awaited party that no progress has been made recently on the planning of the actual wedding for next summer. For many of the hundred or so guests, this party was their first opportunity to meet the groom-to-be as the couple has lived in separate states for their entire 5 year relationship.
The occasion began with a religious ceremony where the priest chanted and blessed their rings and their betrothal to one another, and ended in an epic dance party. Everyone from college students to great grandmothers participated. The joy was ecstatic. The feast was sumptuous. And the music was LOUD. “If this was the engagement party,” my husband pondered, “I can’t even imagine how wonderful the wedding will be!”
As you can imagine, I’m very excited. You see, I have the privilege of being a bridesmaid. This is a really big deal because I’ve never been a bridesmaid before and I was really starting to think that I’d always be the pastor and never the bridesmaid! The bride’s sister and I will have our work cut out for us! There will be a lot of things to prepare for leading up to the wedding. When the day finally arrives, our number one job will be to make the bride look good! We will walk down the aisle to the front of the huge orthodox church and prepare the assembly for witnessing the bride’s last moments before she forms a new family with her beloved bridegroom.
The bridesmaids in our gospel text had 1 job: to light the way for the bridegroom. In first century Palestine, wedding celebrations would last for 7 days and began with a grand processional through the town. The bridegroom would arrive with his entourage to the bride’s family’s house and take the bride back to his family’s house. When he arrived after last minute negotiations, it would be dark and the bridesmaids would be ready with torches in hand to lead the way from bride’s house to groom’s. Their most important job was to light the way in the dark for the bridegroom and to engage the whole community in celebrating the joyful occasion. A wedding without a joyful procession through the town would have brought shame on the families and would indeed have been considered a disaster!
And so, while this passage sounds harsh and confusing to our modern ears, in some ways it’s not surprising that the wise bridesmaids refused to share their oil. They were scared that they might not have enough oil to go round. They were worried that if they shared what they had then there might not be enough oil for anyone’s lamps to burn brightly. Five torches burning brightly are better than no torches at all, after all. Rather than sharing, they send the foolish bridesmaids out to find their own oil in the middle of the night who then miss the procession altogether. Perhaps if they’d stayed and processed with their flickering torches, they’d have been slightly embarrassed but totally welcomed into the marriage feast. We’ll never know what would have happened. We get caught up in the details, because we see ourselves in this parable and the ending is so unsettling, so unfair.
Sometimes we shine brightly with faith, but our torches all begin to flicker from time to time. We are all sometimes the wise and other times the foolish bridesmaids, after all. And the church professes that we are all welcome –flickering torches in hand- to the feast we share in worship and await together the ultimate marriage feast when Christ comes again. The foolish bridesmaids did not trust that they’d be welcomed in with their flickering torches. They left the community in search of oil –desperate to prove their worth as bridesmaids. They missed the celebration.
This is a confusing parable. Jesus tells us to keep awake for we know neither the day nor the hour… and yet, all 10 bridesmaids –both foolish and wise- fell asleep in this text. All dosed off while waiting for a delayed bridegroom. And yet, Jesus tells us to keep awake. Wait for the kingdom of heaven. Prepare the way. Light the way.
According to Matthew’s gospel, we are the LIGHT of the world and as disciples we are called to live as salt and light. We are called to be light in darkness. We are called to stay awake and to shine in the middle of the night, while our bridegroom at times still feels far off.
We get caught up in the contradictory details of this parable, but at its heart, this is a parable about discipleship. As disciples, we are called to live like we’re expecting the kingdom of heaven to break loose at any moment and for Christ to return in glory!
We are privileged to be Christ’s bridesmaids. Our job is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to live in such a way that all the people around us see our bridegroom and sense our joy and excitement in his service!
Christ invites us day by day to light the way so that all may see and rejoice with us in the coming of our bridegroom.
The oil that keeps our lamps burning is the very justice and righteousness God calls for through our prophet Amos. We are called to live as people who are ready for the day of the Lord. We are called to live as people with one foot firmly planted already in the Kingdom of heaven which is constantly breaking into this world. This inexhaustible oil of justice and righteousness flows as grace out of relationship with Christ Jesus through Faith. Since we know the bridegroom and love the bridegroom, we can’t help but burn with love for God’s people, we can’t help but hunger for justice to reign down upon this Earth. Relationship with Christ transforms the way we live on Earth right now as we wait expectantly for the coming Kingdom of Heaven.
How are we lighting the way for others to see and experience Christ with joy? Last Sunday our 7th graders and their dads met me at the soup kitchen and cooked breakfast for the guests of Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S. at 6am. There was no grumbling about the earliness of the day, but real joy in preparing a hot meal for friends in need. Many of you know this joy in Christ’s service as you bake and serve meatloaf once a month to our homeless friends, sleep overnight on the floor of local churches to ensure that our friends without homes have everything they need and a warm, safe place to sleep. Many of you know the joy of Christ’s service as you use your skills and craftsmanship to build homes for Habitat for Humanity or knit prayer shawls which will envelop the sad or sick in comfort or sew quilts which will provide warmth and dignity to brothers and sisters all around the world. There are numerous ways God is using you to light the way for disciples right here in this building. Many of you experience and show forth joy in Christ’s service right here as you lead worship, teach Sunday school, or help with our youth activities. You empower our young brothers and sisters to witness to their faith and to invite their friends to join them for youth group. Through worship, Bible Study, Sunday School, and Fellowship you nourish the faith of our adult brothers and sisters, helping their spiritual torches burn a little brighter. You are the light of the world and you are lighting the way for others to see and rejoice in Christ.
Sometimes we feel like we’re ablaze for Christ, and other times we feel as though our light’s burned out, but as a community we don’t navigate this life of faith alone! The wise bridesmaids refused to share their oil, and it’s true that none of us can create faith in one another, but we can certainly be instruments of the Holy Spirit in encouraging and building one another up when we feel broken. The foolish bridesmaids were foolish not because they missed their girl scout training and failed to prepare for the possibility that the groom would be delayed. The foolish bridesmaids were foolish because they failed to trust that the bridegroom would welcome them inspite of their flickering torches. The foolish bridesmaids were foolish because they abandoned their community when they felt like they were in darkness. Instead of waiting together in the dark, the foolish bridesmaids went off on their own. They abandoned their community and they missed out on the long-awaited celebration!
Community is a gift from God and a means through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and joy. Jesus calls us every day anew to trim our lamps and to light the way for others to experience and rejoice in Christ. Jesus freely rekindles us when we’ve burned out and helps us to shine in eager anticipation of his Kingdom come to Earth.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ healed the sick, comforted the mourners, blessed the poor and the meek, gave us a radical example of love to live by –love that turns regimes upside down. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ fed the hungry and cried out for his disciples to care for the vulnerable, for the least and the lost. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ challenged hypocrisy, cleansed the Temple, broke down barriers on all fronts, and challenged his followers to baptize and make disciples of all nations…
If THAT was the engagement party, I can’t even imagine how wonderful the wedding feast will be! Light the way, the bridegroom’s coming. Amen.