So imagine that this morning, over your second cup of coffee and your first bowl of granola, you decided to take a look at the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. And, after perusing an article about what Taylor Swift is wearing, and flipping through the proliferation of articles about holiday cooking, you turned the page to glance through the Weddings and Celebrations. And after reading a couple of descriptions of glorious parties attended by glamorous people in glitzy hotels, you stumbled upon this peculiar headline: Wedding, November 11/12, 2017, Bridegroom and ? Intrigued, you read on: "The Bridegroom and his bride were married sometime between 11:45pm Saturday night, November 11, and 2:00am November 12. The exact time of the wedding is unknown, as the reporter covering this particular wedding got stuck outside the door and didn’t see the actual vows. Not much is known about the couple’s romance or the proposal, although it is reported that they first met over a glass of a most excellent wine at a recent wedding in Cana of Galilee.
"Their wedding took place in the city of Jerusalem at the bridegroom’s home, where there was presumably a lavish banquet prepared, although this reporter did not herself see said banquet (please reference the previous paragraph on how she was rudely shut out of the reception). The ceremony was significantly delayed by the fact that the bridegroom arrived several hours after his expected time. There was no official reason given for this lateness, but it is rumored that he got into an argument with his future father-in-law about the exact number of goats he was due to acquire along with his beloved.
"It is difficult to describe what the groom wore because it was midnight by the time he arrived and pitch black outside. There were long robes, for sure, and some kind of wrap, but the overall palate of the ensemble was impossible to see in the dark. This reporter can comfortably say, though, that it seemed to be an entirely appropriate wedding garment. The bride was dressed in – well, now come to think of it, I’m not at all sure what the bride wore because I never actually saw her. Is that true? Did I never actually see the bride? I think that’s true, I never saw her and I never got her name. Mostly this is due to the fact that for some reason that was never adequately conveyed to me, the door was slammed in my face when I tried to go inside.
"The other interesting event during these nuptials was the procession of the ten bridesmaids that led the bridegroom and…I guess the bride? Was she there?...anyway, the procession that led the wedding party into the actual party. The night was dark (reference earlier paragraph about the groom’s tardiness, etc.), and the light from the bridesmaids’ lamps added just the right touch to make the moment particularly magical. The bridesmaids themselves, to be honest, were a little disheveled, because they had been waiting for hours and hours (earlier reference, groom was kinda obnoxiously late) and they looked like they had been asleep. Some of the more elaborate up-dos had started to become un-dos and one of the girls had a line across her face from where she’d fallen asleep on the hem of her garment. But the light from their lamps provided a warm, romantic glow…except that, wait a minute, there was that whole scandal with the oil. Apparently the groom’s entrance was so delayed (earlier reference, you get the point), and the girls’ lamps had been burning for so long, that some of them started running out of oil. Where the wedding planner was during all of this, I have no idea, but there was this fraught moment when the five, let’s call them flakier, girls asked if they could borrow some oil. And the other girls actually said no. Ha! Apparently, caring means sharing unless you’re competing to be the bridesmaid who looks the best by lamplight. So the flaky five had to leave, and by the time they got back, the procession had already gone inside, and the door was shut. And when they knocked on the door (this was unbelievable) the groom actually looked right at them and said he didn’t know them! And he slammed the stinkin’ door right in their faces, which all happened to be right next to my face, which was so unbelievably rude that I turned on my dusty heel, walked right to the all-night falafel place, and then went home and filed this article."
When you take a close look at this parable, a couple of things become abundantly clear. First of all, Jesus is not actually interested in describing proper wedding etiquette. I mean, surely the man who provided buckets of wine to bail out an ill-prepared sommelier would let a few ill-prepared bridesmaids come in the door a little late. Secondly, and I’m going to have to offer my apologies to Saint Matthew on this one, Jesus is not actually interested in coaching his followers on how to keep awake. I know, I know, the last line of the Gospel reading is “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” but I suspect this is just the doings of an overly-excited editor who was trying to make this parable fit a particular pattern. Because the bridesmaids do not, in fact, keep awake. They conk out – completely – and only wake up when the town crier starts bellowing that the bridegroom is on the way.
No, when you look closely, this parable seems to be about waiting. The bridesmaids are rewarded or punished for the way that they wait. The bridegroom is late, no word on his e.t.a., and some of the bridesmaids wait well, and some of them wait not so well. They all seem to understand that in the waiting, it is their job to keep their lamps lit. No question about that. We don’t hear any tales of bridesmaids who tried to conserve their oil by snuffing out the flame. And they all seem to understand that the waiting is just that…waiting. There’s no anxiety, no running around trying to figure out why the bridegroom is so late. They’re just present in their waiting, un-anxious and relaxed – so relaxed, in fact, that they actually fall asleep. The only difference between the wise and the foolish bridesmaids is that the wise women bring reserves. The wise women know that the delay might just last longer than they expect, and they bring along extra fuel just in case. These are the women who will turn into mothers who always have a pack of crackers in their purses. They know that there’s a chance they might be here for a long time, and they know what it looks like when they start to run on empty, and so they make sure they’ll have enough fuel for the long, dark night.
And if this parable is about the waiting, then it is a good parable for today. Because you and I have been waiting for a long time, for so many things. We have been waiting for healing or for clarity or for real love. We have been waiting for that long longed-for peace that passes our understanding. We have been waiting to see somebody do something about the proliferation of guns and the ease with which they can get into anyone’s hands – wise or foolish. We have been waiting for some truly good news for the poor and the addicted, for the incarcerated and the recently incarcerated, for people of color, for women, and for all of those who live or work in systems where they have little to no power. We have been waiting for the Church to step up and start living like this Jesus we follow actually meant what he said. We have been waiting a long time for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. We have been waiting and waiting and sometimes we feel like we cannot wait any more.
But hear Jesus’ words for us this day – we’re going to have to keep waiting. We’re not going to get peace and perfect righteousness today, somewhere between our second cup of coffee and the end of your Danish. We’re not going to get it all right now. We’re going to have to wait. But here’s the thing – we can wait well. We can wait like Christ wants us to wait, like we know he’s coming. We can wait without fear or anxiety. We can wait and do the job he has given us to do, to wait and let the light of our good works, of our good deeds, of our good lives shine before others. And most importantly, while we’re waiting, we can fill ourselves up. We know what we get like when we’re spiritually hangry, so we can head that off at the pass. We can fill ourselves up. We can pray. Read. Study. Talk. Listen. Sing. Give thanks. Give. It is a truth known by many wise people that the more we give of the gifts that God has given us, the more we become filled up, like a cup that runneth over. So give. Give some more. Do justice. Love mercy. And take and eat, take and eat, take and eat, here at this richly-set, lavish banquet table.
Yes, the eternal justice and complete peace we long for is delayed. And yes, sometimes it feels like we have been waiting in the darkness for a long time. But look around. Imagine that this morning, you are surrounded by bridesmaids, waiting. We are waiting with hope and expectation. We are waiting with our light shining bright into the world. We are waiting with a reserve of oil – of patience and love – fed by Christ’s very presence in this worship. Open your eyes and see that this is the very beginning of the kingdom of heaven, shining all around you.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
12 November 2017
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia