Pentecost 23 Proper 27 November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Eschatology: The Ten Bridesmaids – Being Prepared for the Wait
Who was part of a 4-H Club or Scouts or Girl Guides growing up? Do you remember being taught to be prepared? Do you remember what you were being prepared for? I belonged to 4-H Clubs. I remember one particular skit given by another club where they were being prepared for the call for a date. It is very sexist and dated, but I still remember it. It was on good grooming, always bathing, washing our hair, taking care of our nails, and shaving. One of the girls in the skit is asked out on a date, so she gets busy getting ready. The young man arrives, but she is not ready yet. Her sister, who is a good 4-H’er, asks the young man if he would like to take her on the date. When he says yes she whips off her housecoat all ready to go and out they go. The sister who was not prepared missed out on a chance for a date. Moral, be prepared for you never know when an opportunity may present itself.
This morning’s gospel story is also about being prepared, being prepared to wait for the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is providing a familiar example of what the kingdom of heaven is like, it is like a wedding. In a first century wedding it would be traditional for the groom’s family and friends to be gathered and waiting at his father’s home. The bride’s family and friends would be gathered at the bride’s father’s home waiting for the arrival of the groom to come and take his bride home with him. The bridesmaids could have been waiting for the groom to complete making dowry arrangements with the bride’s father so they could lead the way back to the groom’s home or they could have been waiting at the groom’s home and waiting for his arrival so they could enter the groom’s home for the prepared wedding banquet. The celebration could go on for several days.
We are told five of the girls are foolish and five are wise. They have all come with lit lamps. They all grow weary with the wait for the groom and fall asleep. All their lamps burn down after the long wait and they all have to prepare them when the shout comes that the groom is on his way. The difference is that five of the bridesmaids were prepared for the wait with an extra flask of oil. Five of the bridesmaids did not plan for a delay and did not have sufficient oil when the groom finally arrives.
Matthew and Paul are probably telling their stories in response to the delay in the return of Jesus Christ. The early Christians were expecting Jesus to return within their lifetimes, but people have started to die with no return of Jesus. What does this mean? Do those who have died miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life? Paul says no, that those who have died in expectation of the Messiah’s return will be called forth at his coming so they can share in his return.
In the gospels Jesus tells many stories of being prepared and of giving examples of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The story of the ten virgins or ten bridesmaids is unique to Matthew. The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. The ten bridesmaids are the listeners, you and me. Has the Kingdom of Heaven come or is it yet to come? When is Jesus returning? Has he already returned, will he return in our lifetime, will he return at our death or will he return in some distant future? I do not know the answer. Even Jesus did not know the answer and tells his disciples that this is known only to God, but we are to be prepared for their arrival like a thief in the night. We are to live as though the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. We are to do acts of kindness and love for the poor and the marginalized. We are to show mercy and grace and forgiveness as we go about our lives. We are to be the light for the Kingdom of Heaven now, not some distant time in the future.
We could say, “I will live for another 30 years so I will do this ‘Love your neighbor’ thing some other time, but not now.” These stories are saying, “No, you need to love God and love your neighbor as yourself NOW”. We do not know when we will die. Life is unpredictable. We do not know when Jesus Christ will return like the delayed bridegroom. We cannot stay awake and alert our whole lives, but we believe Jesus will return and our lamp needs to be full of the light of mercy when that time comes.
In the church calendar November is the end of the church year. In November we hear stories of the Eschatology, the end times, the end of the age, we are waiting for Advent; we are waiting for the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, for the incarnation of God’s own son as one of us. Isn’t this the most joyous time of the year when we pray for peace on earth and goodwill among all people! Wishing it could be this way all year round.
We are waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later we are not so concerned about the imminent return of Jesus Christ, but we still hear stories such as the “Left Behind” stories. But we also wait for a third manifestation of God’s self by the Holy Spirit in our brothers and sisters and in God’s creation. Where have you seen the presence of God today? Have you seen God in the laughter of your child? Have you seen God in a beautiful sunrise? Have you seen God in the dying of a loved one?
In this time of waiting for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, we are also waiting for the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God and watching for the in-breaking of the Kingdom and God in our lives today. God is active in history. God acts outside of time and space. How God does this is a mystery. God loves his creation. God loves his creatures. God loves humanity. God loves you and me and desires to be present in our lives. Expect God to show up in your life today. Expect God to show up at the most unlikely times in the most unlikely places. There is no place that you can go or hide where God will not already be there waiting for you. So like the 4H girls, be prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Be prepared for the wait for the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven filling your flask with the light of acts of kindness towards your neighbor, with generosity to the poor, so that you can be a light to the world in the procession to the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.