"Wedding Banquet Entrance," Rev. Kinsey
Jesus uses the anticipation and celebration of a wedding, as the setting for his latest parable in the Gospel of Matthew, about the kingdom of heaven. Weddings are such weighted occasions in our lives, full of nervous anticipation – but also symbols of great joy, and markers of perhaps the greatest transitions of our lives! Then, and now, weddings can be, and often are, lavish affairs, with significant resources devoted to them. Planning can run into many months, or even years. Brides and grooms can have dreams for what the day will look like, that have formed them up to that moment, and will continue to form their new families, all their lives!
One of the expectations I had for my wedding was that, my bride, be on time! And that was only because, the one I loved – was, nearly perfect in every way, I believed, except one – she was never on time! Maybe I feared being left at the altar, stood-up! And what I imagined was – just waiting, and waiting, as the organist played the Prelude, one more time, or three or four! Actually, I’ve officiated at plenty of weddings since, where that has happened – so perhaps I was over-reacting, at my wedding!
But, for Kim and me, we had agreed on a kind of unwritten pre-nuptial agreement. We could each have one, non-negotiable demand, for our wedding day. Kim’s was, I absolutely could not smash the wedding cake in her face! And mine, of course, was, she couldn’t be late, not one minute!
Perhaps I got that from this parable – I never thought of that before, so it wasn’t conscious, if I did. And, I had no intention of shutting the door on her, if she was late, or of keeping her out, like the five foolish bridesmaids in the parable. And in the end, I didn’t have to worry. Though it wasn’t easy for her, Kim kept her promise. She was ready and waiting at the ‘doors’ – at least one, or two minutes, before the Processional!
Their was somebody who was late, and that was my college friend, Roland. While Kim stood ready in her beautiful white, wedding gown, just outside the church doors of the University of Chicago’s Bond Chapel, all alone with her 2 female and one male bridesmaids – Roland, the guy who had fixed my beater-car in college, more times than I can count, and whose passion was tinkering with his diesel Volkswagen, showed up out of nowhere, Kim said, asking in his awkwardly gregarious, way, where he could change out of his greasy-oily auto-mechanic clothes before entering the church and joining the wedding celebration?!
(Thanks a lot Roland!) Mostly, Kim was just hoping he didn’t want to shake hands or give her a big hug! They had never met before, and this was their introduction! So Kim pointed Roland in the direction of the Men’s changing room. And Kim was whisked in by her bridesmaids, through the opened church doors, followed a few minutes later, by a somewhat cleaned up, Roland the auto-mechanic. No one was shut out!
‘The best laid plans,’ as they say… And it seems like, there’s always a moment, an incident, some unplanned thing that happens at weddings, which may seem tragic in the moment, but usually you end up laughing about, when you tell the story over and over again, through the years.
The wedding parable Jesus tells is no exception. Why, in the first place, are the bridesmaids, 10 young women, dressed to the nines, going to meet the bride-GROOM? Shouldn’t they be attending the bride? Shouldn’t the bridegroom be surrounded by his male attendants? This was a strictly binary-ordered society, which makes this all the more crazy!
And then we are told that five of them are foolish and five were wise. The foolish took only their lamps with them, but the wise took flasks of extra oil, as well as their lamps. Which seems to be pretty smart, when the bridegroom is delayed for hours. And the delay was so long that they took a nap while waiting. And like a sleep-over, I picture them splayed out all over the place. But finally at midnight, the announcer shouts into the sound system, ‘he’s here! Get up, it’s time to greet the bridegroom!’ And that’s when we find out, the foolish bridesmaids lamps, are about to go out – while the wise bridesmaids are refueling, ready to party!
So maybe the moral of the story is that when the foolish bridesmaids come back after shopping for more oil, and they can’t get in to the eschatological Banquet because the door was shut, that like them, we have to be ready for the kingdom, by staying alert! “Keep awake,” says Matthew, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
But, 2,000 years, is a long time to, ‘keep awake!’ That’s how long we’ve been waiting, as the Church, for day of the Lord. And, isn’t it true that the wise bridesmaids had been napping too – but they get in – how alert do you really have to be?
And another thing! The wise bridesmaids might be wise, but they are hardly a model of Christian fellowship! They might be smart enough to have brought extra oil, but they certainly don’t act very charitably when the lesser prepared bridesmaids ask them to share! ‘Shoo, shoo, get away,’ they say, ‘there’s not enough for all of us’ – even though they’re about to enter the well-lit banqueting hall, and presumably five less lamps wouldn’t even be noticed!
And, not only that, but which “dealers” were these other five bridesmaids supposed to go to at midnight? No one was open for business then! Or, how were they supposed to light their way, with their lamps, all but out? And, we don’t know if they found any or not when they returned. Only that, when they came, the doors were closed and locked, and they were pounding and pleading, “Lord, lord, open to us!”
So, what alternatives do we have, to try and make sense of this parable? …I mean, I’m not sure I know what this puzzling riddle means exactly either! I know it wakes me up, and it creates tension for me, deep down inside. And once again, Jesus surprises, and stirs us up, and challenges the way we look at the world, much less weddings!
It brings to mind too, how Jesus concluded his other wedding banquet parable, with the saying that, the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of heaven, ahead of the traditional religious folk! Jesus seems to favor people we usually don’t!
One thing we do know about these parables about the eschaton, the end-time, is that they were meant to point us back to our lives, we’re living, right now. They were stories about what would happen if things continue on as they are now, giving us an opportunity to repent, and turn around, as the word repentance means – like the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, do – so that we can finally clearly see, that to follow, this Lord, the Messiah, is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’
So, what about this!? What if the wise bridesmaids had decided to, share their oil, with the foolish bridesmaids?
Or better yet, what if the foolish bridesmaids had taken responsibility for themselves, and not assumed they were unwanted at the wedding banquet? What if they walked right up to the doors, along with the other five bridesmaids, apologized for their unlit lamps, and assumed the Lord, our good and gracious Lord, would let them in!
How often do we exclude ourselves, assuming we are not worthy? When is it that we have denigrated ourselves, not stood up for ourselves, maybe because someone has told us, somewhere along the line, we are not in, the in-group?
But our God doesn’t work like that! God knows that, none of us, really can carry enough oil to be perfectly prepared. None of us is perfect enough to curry God’s favor. But, Thank God, the bridegroom, our Lord Jesus, is at the door. And the only way any of us gets in, is by grace alone!
And that promise, frees us up, to be our best selves! Come, the table is set! Hunger no more. Thirst no more. Welcome to the banquet of life!