The Ten Bridesmaids

 

Proper 27A’20

8 November 2020

Matthew 25.1-13

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Amen. – Matthew 5.16

It’s happened to every one of us at one time or another, and no doubt will happen to us again - that moment in time when we realize we have either arrived at a location or find ourselves in a situation where we are unprepared. Like the student who manages to show up for class and the teacher gives a pop quiz on material they haven’t studied; or they left home without their assignment and now are sure their grade point will drop by a whole letter grade. Or we drive across town to the revenue office only to realize we didn’t quite gather all the paperwork and we have to drive all the way back to get it. Or maybe we’ve gone to the grocery store only to realize we don’t have a mask in the car. In these ways and so many others we can all recall that slightly sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs at the moment we realized we weren’t ready for an important moment that came upon us, and at times, seemingly out of nowhere.

This ‘moment on steroids’ is reflected in Jesus’s parable of the ten bridesmaids. Five were ready to join the wedding feast and five were not. The bridesmaids, in order not to miss the party, would need to be prepared for the joyous moment by keeping their oil lamps filled with oil, as they would need a functional lamp to make the night journey to the bridegroom’s home. The groom’s arrival apparently was delayed, and is symbolized by all ten of the bridesmaids falling asleep. The only difference between the ten were that five, before they fell asleep remembered to refill their lamps with oil and the other five did not.  Then the bridegroom, suddenly and with trumpet blast shows up to where the bridesmaids were sleeping.

On the cover of your Sunday service bulletin you will find a rendering of William Blake’s watercolor titled, “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.” In it Blake captures the terrible moment of realization when five of the ten bridesmaids realize they aren’t prepared for the groom’s arrival. The foolish beg the wise for oil but each bridesmaid only has enough oil for their own lamps and it could not be shared.

This parable and Blake’s watercolor are based on the Jewish customs of courtship and marriage that followed three stages. First there was the arrangement of the match” made between both sets of parents, followed by the betrothal where a formal and public engagement took place, and this was followed by the actual marriage at a later time. After the marriage ceremony is when the party, complete with music, dancing, and a several days feast would take place. The scene in Jesus’ parable and in Blake’s watercolor, is the time after the marriage ceremony was over.

This period of time could be hours, days, or even weeks, and no one else knew exactly when the party would be thrown – so a state of readiness would need to be maintained. By tradition, the bridegroom would show up sometimes at midnight or the wee hours of the morning announced with the sounding of a shofar or Jewish trumpet and they would then take their oil lamps and walk to the bridegroom’s house. Once there the wedding party would enter and shut the door and the festivities would begin. Once the door was shut, again according to tradition, it could not be opened for any late arrivals.

In Blake’s rendering this moment is captured but you will notice rather than a bridegroom or groomsman blowing a trumpet we see an angel blowing the trumpet. This symbol, along with the oil, takes us below surface events to a deeper meaning – that we must all be ready for God’s breaking in to human events, when the supernatural impacts the natural order of things. 

The pandemic like the blast of a trumpet, is our most recent and glaring example of the cost of being unprepared – now 220,000 lives later, some are finally beginning to wake up. But by the time the trumpet sounds it’s too late – the preparation already has to be in place, and if it’s not – well the story doesn’t end so well.

The second coming, like the coming of the bridegroom will come at an hour that no one knows – our answer is to be prepared, and what clue does the parable give us in order for us to be ready? To keep our lamps filled with oil. What is the oil? Olive oil soothes, heals, and protects and throughout scripture has been a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

In between Christ’s first coming and his second coming we will be given many “dress rehearsals’, through physical and spiritual storms, in infectious outbreaks, civil unrest – uh basically through the ‘2020s of life’ we will be reminded of the importance of our being spiritually ready for whatever life may throw at us.

How do we stay full of the Holy Spirit and prepared for the unexpected? Simply put, through the investment of our time, our talent, and our treasure. Author and preacher Lindsay P. Armstrong described what our preparedness might look like: “We keep our lights shining before others, continuing in community, study and prayer, doing deeds of mercy, offering forgiveness, and spreading justice and peace. [We haven’t abandoned] [our] hope that the world and each one of us will one day be transformed and fully reconciled to God. With the Spirit’s guidance, [we build] into [our] lives the disciplines and habits of a lifetime that engender hope and empower living as if citizens of the kingdom of heaven.”[1]  A bishop once told me, “everyone wants us to have a spiritual life, they just don’t realize that it takes time to have one.”

Jesus’s parable like directions to the dress rehearsal for a wedding point us to the ultimate moment of Christ’s second coming; and it also serves as a reminder that ‘Christ moments’ are happening all around us, and only those with oil in their lamps, those who are ready will be able to seize these moments and make the progress God intends for us. As Christ’s parable shows, no one can share this oil with us, we must follow the guidance of the Spirit to receive the oil for ourselves.

In order to be ready for Christ’s comings it will take more than extra bullets and bottled water, we must stay filled with the Holy Spirit. Amen!

{Scroll Down to See Blake’s Watercolor}

 

 “The Wise and Foolish Virgins”

 by William Blake



[1] Armstrong, Lindsay, P. in Feasting in the Word Year A, Vol. 4, (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY) p.287

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