23 Pentecost, Proper 27 – November 8, 2020
Today is the day after the calling of a long, contentious presidential election and we are presented with the parable of the ten bridesmaids. This week we also honor our Veterans. So, today, with all of that, we talk about healing. I think we can all agree that our nation has been divided and as Christians perhaps our present and immediate call is to heal that divide, to do what we can to work toward healing our communities.
So, what does our gospel have to say to us today about that. Well, first I think we need to understand how weddings were actually handled back in the times when Jesus walked the earth. Life was hard. People worked from sunup to sundown. Weddings provided a much-needed break from the routine–a time to get together–to celebrate–to have fun. The bride and groom would throw a party that would last almost a week. There was food–and wine–and dancing. Unlike our weddings that start with the ceremony, their weddings started in the evening when the bridegroom came to the bride’s house to escort her to their new home. Friends would line the route, lighting their way with burning torches. It was a grand and festive display. It was a great honor to be invited to be a torchbearer for that procession–like being invited to be a bridesmaid today. The young women who agreed to serve as torchbearers were expected to be ready for the big day.
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom…five of them were called foolish and five were called wise. This parable is confusing…why was the bridegroom delayed? Why didn’t the wise bridesmaids share their oil? Why did the bridegroom turn away the foolish ones when they came back? Notice that all ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom to appear. So no judgement…they all fell asleep.
Are we all asleep now? Are we accustomed and indifferent to the absence of the groom? Are we tired of waiting for the celebration? The five wise bridesmaids came with extra oil just in case. They consider and take seriously the possibility of surprise, of delay, of hardship, of unpredictability. They don’t allow their preconceived ideas about the groom or the party to distract them from what’s actually in front of them. They remain open and adaptable to the circumstances they find themselves in.
Do we? Are we ready for the long haul? Do we have the flexibility to handle the unexpected? Or are we clinging to rigid, narrow notions of what God’s presence looks like, so much so that we miss God when God actually shows up? If Jesus’s notion of time, faithfulness, fulfillment, and celebration look different from ours, will we still follow him into the wedding hall — or will we bail?
Debi Thomas presents an interesting reading of this….she says perhaps the fatal mistake the five “foolish” bridesmaids make is that they leave. They assume that their oil supply is more important to the groom than their presence at his party. So they ditch the scene at its most crucial moment and go shopping, thereby depriving themselves of a wonderful celebration, and depriving the bridegroom of their companionship, support, and love on his special day.
I think many of us can relate to this thought…..when we’re tired, our reserves on low, we feel like our light may be fading….and then we’re expected to act, to do something. So we scramble for perfection, insist on having our ducks in a row before showing up in front of God, or the church, or the world. After all, it’s scary and vulnerable-making to linger in the dark when our pitiful little lamp is flickering, our once-robust faith is evaporating, and our measly, leaky flask is filled with nothing but doubt and pain and grief and weariness. Only a bridesmaid who trusts in the groom’s deep and unconditional compassion, only a bridesmaid who knows that the groom has light and oil to spare, only a bridesmaid who understands that her presence — messy and imperfect though it may be — is of intrinsic value to the groom, will find the honesty and the courage to stay.
The bridesmaids in the parable lack this comprehension and courage. So five of them scatter, and the wedding procession suffers as a result. Five fewer lights brighten the groom’s path. Five fewer voices cry out with joy at his arrival. Five fewer friends dance and sing the night away in honor of the groom and his beloved bride. The loss is communal, extensive, and real. This is not a situation to celebrate or endorse; it’s a situation to grieve.
In our country today, now….the relationship divisions are a situation to grieve. The loss has been communal and real. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke passionately about our need to take the lead in healing for our nation – his passionate address to our Diocesan Convention yesterday is posted on our facebook page. He spoke of the Eagle depicted on the Great Seal of the United States. In the Eagle’s right talon, he holds an olive branch, in his left a bundle of thirteen arrows, and in his beak he carries a scroll inscribed with the motto: “E Pluribus Unum.” E Pluribus Unum is latin for “out of many, one”. Our country’s motto – “out of many, one”.
Our country was born on the understanding that we are different, that we hold differing points of view and by coming together and discussing those differences, we can be a healthier community of one. Our governing, democratic system was designed with two different parties for a reason. And also, what’s right in front of us, is our need to address racial inequality. As Bishop Curry also says, Justice is important, it is necessary. But justice by itself is not enough. It must lead to reconciliation. We are all God’s children.
Our Veterans, who we honor this week, have put their lives on the line to uphold and support our country’s motto of E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one. The way of love is the way of life. Unselfish, sacrificial love that seeks the beneficial welfare of the “other” as well as yourself – the other being that person or persons that are different from you, that you don’t like, that may even be your enemy. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan….don’t walk on by, don’t turn back for more oil in your flask, stop and do what you can for your neighbor. We are all invited to the wedding feast.
Our parable today ends with a wedding feast, a party, a celebration. Perhaps the lesson of this parable is: don’t allow your fear or your sense of inadequacy to keep you away from the party. Be willing to show up as you are — complicated, disheveled, half-lit and half-baked. The groom delights in you. Remember Jesus is the light of the world. Your half-empty flask of oil isn’t the point. You are. So stay. Be in conversation with those who are different, who are “other”, be a part of the healing process. Be in it for the long haul, doing the hard work we need to do to ensure the beneficial welfare of all of us.
Robert Capon reminds us that the ultimate point here is that a party is happening: “Watch therefore,” Jesus says at the end of the parable, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” When all is said and done—when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or-never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgment—we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh. Because what we are watching for is a party. And that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us. It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs. The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all part of the divine lark of grace. God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped. He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other. We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun
(“The End of the Storm,” in Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002] p.501).”
To say the obvious, healing the American body politic is an urgent task in which there is no “left” or “right,” no “blue” or “red.” It’s simply something We the People must do—if we value a democracy that always has been and always will be a work in progress. Just as each of us is! The door to the wedding celebration is open.
God loves you with an everlasting love. Amen