Summary: A reflection on what it means to wait for God and what is of value to us in the process of waiting...
WAITING FOR THE LORD...
Weddings are like breeding grounds for embarrassing moments, aren’t they? Of course they’re incredibly precious moments and wonderful celebrations of love and all things beautiful, but how many weddings have you been to where there hasn’t been at least one thing that went wrong?
Whenever I prepare couples for marriage I try to prepare them for the fact that something on the day will probably not work out the way they wanted it to... The bride usually has a file the size of a doctoral thesis that outlines everything from when the groom must open his eyes that morning to how many steps she will take down the aisle – but no matter how well she plans and how minute her detailed analysis of everything might be, it is very likely, experience teaches us, that something will not work out the way she planned. That’s just the way weddings work, and in fact that’s just the way life works too.
I read of one occasion when a cake decorator was asked by the bride to inscribe the words from 1 John 4:18 on a wedding cake. The words are: "There is no fear in love... perfect love casts out fear."
Unfortunately, the decorator didn't know the Bible very well. So, instead of inscribing the words from 1 John 4:18 on the cake, he wrote the words from the Gospel of John 4:18. And these words happen to be: "You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband…"
Talk about a big mistake and something clearly not working out the bride had planned! See friends, like we said... that’s just the way weddings work. There’s always something that doesn’t quite go according to plan. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, is it? I mean sometimes it’s precisely the mishaps and embarrassing moments that we remember about a wedding – and these more often than not become good and happy memories. It helps when it’s something silly and laughable though... on the other hand, when it’s something serious it becomes a different matter altogether.
For example at the wedding we read of earlier in our Gospel text from Matthew 25 – when the bridesmaids failed in their responsibility, neglected the simple duty of being properly prepared, and as a result missed out on the wedding entirely. Because of their mistake they were excluded from the celebration, and when we consider that this wedding is actually a symbol for eternal life we see that in this case it no laughing matter at all.
This particular parable is perhaps one of Jesus’ less popular ones, not for reasons of creativity or prominence in his teaching, but probably because of the tremendously challenging message it conveys, the fact that it’s meaning is such a disturbingly difficult one to embrace – Jesus is essentially telling his hearers that there will come a day when he will return, as a groom to receive his bride; that the day of his return will be completely unexpected and unpredictable; and that if we are not found ready for it we will be excluded from the celebrations – for most people there is very little about this parable that is attractive because it isn’t exactly comforting or easy to accept.
But I would put to you this morning that if we listen carefully to this text and challenge ourselves to come to a deeper and fuller understanding of it, there will be few parables as comforting as this one (and of course others like it), for we will come to appreciate that we are indeed one the groom’s list of invited guests and we have the remarkable privilege of beginning our preparations for the great day of his wedding – we may be, at his invitation, part of the wise group who were ready.
However, before we can reflect more carefully on the meaning of this text there are a few background matters that we must come to terms with first. A couple of things that stand behind this text, as it were, that will shed meaningful light on our reading of it.
The first relates to the plausibility of the situation Jesus is describing at this point. See, for most of us modern, non-middle-eastern readers this whole situation sounds a little ridiculous; why in the world would the groom appear in the middle of the night – the bride would probably divorce him before they even got to the altar. Why would they not know exactly when he would arrive – the bride’s massive file would have dictated the time of his arrival to the minute... this whole situation is one that is foreign to us because this is simply not the way we do weddings.