Proper 27, Year A, The Church of the Messiah, Pulaski

“The bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet” (Matt. 25:10).

I don’t know about the sort of day you had last Sunday, but I had a happy morning and afternoon at All Saints’ Church in Smyrna: meeting with a couple of Sunday school classes; preaching, confirming, and celebrating the Eucharist; joining the congregation for a traditional Karen feast afterward. The sun was shining and the temperature was mild. People were glad to see me and my gold hat. This is pretty much what I do every Sunday: the names and places change but the experience is always a good one. Sunday is the bishop’s best day, hands down.

All that changed when I got in the car and read the text from my wife, about the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As evening wore on details became clearer, and the enormity of what had happened began to take shape in the mind. We are no strangers to tragedies like this, even tragedies in church, but this one seemed particularly terrible since we’ve hardly had time to recharge our batteries since the last one. Has it just been a week since this happened? How do we make sense of something like this?

The Gospel being the Gospel, the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ for us and for our salvation, there ought to be a clue in our reading today. Jesus is telling a story about a wedding, where ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. He’s coming in the middle of the night, so the bridesmaids need oil for their lamps. Five have oil and are ready, but the other five have no oil and aren’t ready when the bridegroom comes. Only the wise ones are prepared to go on to the wedding feast.

This story, this parable that Jesus tells, is understood as a story about the coming of the Messiah, the Bridegroom, at the end of time. Jesus entered human time in order to save us, being born at a particular time and place in Judea two thousand years ago; but the time in which we live now, this present moment, is an “in-between time”. Jesus has come to save the world, to redeem all time from the moment of his birth to this moment now, but we still struggle in this time in which we live with sin and all its consequences.

In the midst of this we have hope because we can see the horizon ahead. The Messiah will come again to wrap up this “meantime” in which we live. That’s our horizon, a promise that’s still there, come what may. The Bridegroom draws near, and the wedding feast is prepared. The church is like those ten bridesmaids, waiting in the midst of the darkness, in the deepest and darkest part of the night. That’s when the Bridegroom will arrive, when we’re least expecting him.

Hope is about keeping our lamps burning. If we limit our hope to this world alone, we won’t really have a hope. The Gospel teaches us though that there is a horizon ahead and that God holds this world in his hand. We can’t explain why things happen but we can keep hope alive.

There are things we can do in the meantime to keep our lamps lit, to be prepared in the midst of come what may. Oil is a traditional symbol of repentance, among other things, as in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face” (Matt. 6:17): that is, repent, turn your life around, rejoice and be filled with the power of God. Canon John Fenton suggests that the best way to understand the anointing in this part of Matthew is encompassed in three words: “repent, be converted, rejoice” (J.C. Fenton, The Gospel of St. Matthew).

That’s what we can do to keep our lamps burning, like the bridesmaids in the story. That’s the hope that we can share with our confirmands today, the horizon we can sketch out for them. They’re stepping forward in faith today, with lamps that are burning with hope for the future. It’s a hope that is prepared for each of us today.

We can go further, however, as we think about this story. Did you notice that somebody’s missing from the story? We have a bridegroom and bridesmaids but no bride. She’s off stage in our story, waiting in the wings. I think there’s no bride in the story because we, the members of the church, all of us together, are the bride who is waiting for the bridegroom, for the Messiah who is to come. We’re off in the wings of this story, listening in, looking toward the Messiah in the meantime in which we live.

The Lord loves us and doesn’t want to keep us waiting. He’s not coming for the bridesmaids, after all, but for the bride. “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride”: that old saying does not apply to the church. When the Messiah comes in glory we will be ready.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee