Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Proper 27

Three certainly is the magic number.
Last week we had three kinds of saints.
There are three aspects of God.
There are three sides of a triangle.
This week there are three kinds of apocalypse.

This is going to be important.
Not only for this week's Gospel story,
but also for the whole season of Advent,
just a couple of weeks away.

They say this story about the Ten Bridesmaids is an apocalyptic story.
However, when most of us think of apocalypse, we tend to think of it in two ways.
Either in the sense of natural disasters ending the world, the first type of apocalypse,
or in the sense of man-made destruction ending the world, the second type of apocalypse.

You know the movies, 2012, Deep Impact, 28 Days Later, Armageddon...
Hollywood loves making these movies.
We have a unparalleled fascination with the end of the world.
The story of the Ten Bridesmaids is about neither kind of apocalypse.
There isn't a natural disaster or a man-made disaster in the story at all.
Unless you see missing a wedding feast as a man-made disaster.
Even still, the world doesn't end.

No, the story of the Ten Bridesmaids is about the third type of apocalypse.
The word apocalypse means unveiling, uncovering, disclosing.
The third type of apocalypse is a revelation of truth.
Which for some people would certainly end their worlds.
So the story of the Ten Bridesmaid is apocalyptic literature because it unveils or uncovers or discloses a truth.
Jesus shares this story with his disciples in order for them to know the truth.

The truth about what?
The kingdom of heaven.

How is the kingdom of heaven like the story of the Ten Bridesmaids?

Naturally, in order to actually uncover the truth of this story, we have to understand the metaphors and allegories Jesus is using in the story.
Let's take it apart.

The Bridegroom.
The Bridegroom in the story basically does three things. He is delayed, he arrives and processes, and then he does not let the five foolish bridesmaids into the banquet.
It was typical in the first century that the groom would process either from his family's house to his bride's house or vice versa, depending on where the wedding was being held.
Sometimes delays did happen before weddings,
for the reasons they happen today, cold feet,
but also because negotiations between the families required last minute renegotiation, 
or troubles along the way, if the distance between the families was far.
It doesn't matter in the story, delays happened and people were expected to prepare for them.
The groom does arrive and expects his escort to his bride with light in the darkness.
Light in the darkness, huh?
Doesn't that have scriptural overtones?

In the metaphor, Jesus himself is the bridegroom.

The Bride.
The bride is never actually mentioned in this story.
For Matthew's readers, it would have been well understood that the Church itself was Jesus' bride.

The Banquet
Wedding feasts in the first century were well known to go on for a whole week.
Seven days of food, laughter, family, dancing, and more food.
And wine.
Gallons of wine.
A wedding feast broke the tedium of daily living in the first century and you certainly didn't want to miss out on any wedding feasts you were invited to.
Metaphorically the feast is what we call Eschatological Messianic Banquet Imagery.
Meaning, we use a wedding feast,
well known for its abundance and blessing and inclusiveness
to describe the joyous heavenly inclusion and abundance of when Jesus and his faithful followers are reunited at the end of all time.
I hope it is not lost on you the significance of food and its abundance in Christianity.
We remember and look forward to this feast of heavenly glory every week when we participate in Communion.
This is not a feast you want to be missing.

Which leads us to...
The Bridesmaids
This story has ten Bridesmaids.
Ten, in Jewish tradition, was a number of perfection.
Ten was the number needed to start a synagogue or have a worship service.
Typical weddings had ten bridesmaids.
They were supposed to be virgins and friends of the bride.
Usually the ten bridesmaids would wait for the groom and escort him with light in the darkness.
They were supposed to bring a lamp and enough oil for the procession.
And any unforeseen delays.
The lamps they had with them were jars with cloth wicks which would be hung from sticks and carried in the air to provide light and a festive atmosphere.
More like torches.

Now the ten bridesmaids we have in our story today are pretty much all the same.
They arrive on time to wait for the groom.
They all have their lamps.
They all fall asleep.

This is important to note.
All of them fall asleep.
All of them have their lamps.

The difference between the two groups of bridesmaids is not their presence or their wakefulness or even not being prepared.
It is amount of oil they carry with them.
Which isn't something that is apparent.
Oil makes a difference.

Do you know that song?

Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning.
Give me oil for my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil for my lamp, keep me burning for the Lord,
keep me burning to the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the Servant king
sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna, let us sing.

The oil the bridesmaids in the story were using was olive oil.
Plain old olive oil.
Nothing special.

Yet, some of the early Christians would even bring olives and olive oil to the Sunday services to be blessed.
Some of the early Christian texts have prayers for olive oil.

And while we may think it kind of odd that the five foolish bridesmaids try to go buy olive oil at midnight,
they do find someone to buy oil from in the middle of the night.

See, the Greek text of this story says that the five foolish bridesmaids didn't bring any oil.
None at all.

But the plain old olive oil was special.
Because the metaphorical understanding of the oil is faith.
They didn't have any faith.

Well, we have taken it all apart and now it is time to put it back together.
How does the story of the Ten Bridesmaids reveal truth about the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus is the long awaited groom,
coming for his bride, the Church.
Once they are together,
there is going to be a joyous, abundant, heavenly banquet.
And all those with faith, waiting and ready,
being the light in the darkness,
will be welcomed into the wedding banquet.

The kingdom of heaven is open to all those with faith.

At the end of the parable, Matthew tells his readers to keep awake
because we do not know the day or the hour that Jesus the groom is coming .
Which is true.
However, we saw in the parable that what makes the difference was not
being awake,
because all the bridesmaids had fallen asleep and had to be woken up when the groom arrived,
but having oil,
having faith in Jesus' coming.

Where do you put your faith?
Do you have enough oil in your lamp to keep you burning until the break of day?

May God give each and every one of us enough oil of faith to be the light in the darkness of this world.