November 8, 2020
Now, I don’t know about you and your family, but we learned fairly quickly when our children were young, to not tell them of any upcoming plans because the waiting was excruciating for them and we would get tired of the same questions, “is it time now?” or “how much longer?” We can always point to something that we are waiting for in life. We wait in line at the store. We wait to have our car repaired. We await being accepted into a college we want to attend. We wait and wonder when this pandemic is going to be over. We awaited the outcome of a presidential election that has magnified the divisiveness of our nation. We wait for our dreams to come true. I am sure you can imagine at least a dozen other things you are currently or have recently waited for.
In Matthew’s gospel, we hear the familiar parable of the ten bridesmaids that are awaiting the bridegroom. They were not told when the bridegroom would appear and thus half of them prepared for an extended wait and the other half were left in the dark! Now, we could argue that the first half were not very Christ like in sharing their oil. We could also say that the unprepared half should have known better. When we start arguing about the specifics, about who is good or bad, smart or foolish, we do not find ourselves far from the arguments we see today in our politics. Regardless of for whom we voted, it is important to realize that we are not in this alone and the presence of God is with us in our waiting and in preparing for whatever may come. However, we are often unprepared for what may come next in life. Who, other than some of the scientists, would have predicted that our world would be upended by a pandemic this year?
One reason for Jesus sharing this parable is the issue of preparedness. Yes, one group of the bridesmaids were thinking ahead and had brought an extra flask of oil. The other group had just enough in their lamps, and it sounds like they probably went out shortly before the bridegroom arrived. Being caught short is not a great feeling and they have to run off to see if there is a merchant open at such a late hour. I am sure there was a 24/7 oil dealer then! Most likely, probably not. They thought of this at the last minute, when they could have checked in when they all arrived to ensure that everyone was prepared.
We can look at the oil as a metaphor. What is it that we need when we expect Jesus to come anytime? A lamp with oil? I do not believe that is a necessity. The oil that keeps our light going is our faith! Our faith helps shine a light to guide us and even for others to see as we wait for the time to come. The five bridesmaids that ran out of oil could have had a lack of faith that the bridegroom was ever going to show. In their waiting they all became drowsy and fell asleep. We can recall this happening in the garden when Jesus was praying shortly before his arrest. The three disciples that were with him got tired and fell asleep. They were not prepared for what was going to happen next.
When we find ourselves waiting, we get frustrated and bored. No wonder they fell asleep, right? It is not easy to wait because we want to be able to have answers right away. It is easy to get antsy in the waiting and try to force things to happen when we would have been better off if we were to wait and let the circumstance play itself out. We have become accustom to immediate gratification and waiting seems like cruel and unusual punishment! In the wise words of Tom Petty, in response to wondering when and if his dreams would come true, he sung:
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
Jesus is calling his disciples to be alert and awake in this parable. He wants us present to experience what is happening in our family and community. He wants us present, because he is present to guide our path and help shine a light for us to see where his Word may be guiding us next. The one thing of note in our parable is that the bridesmaids were not alone. Yes, some of them may have been stingy and others unprepared, but they were not alone. They were gathered together in a small community awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Whatever it is that we are awaiting, we do not have to do it alone. Whether, awaiting the news of a scholarship, the outcome of the latest CT scan, or waiting and wondering when struggles or suffering are going to be over, we can surround ourselves with friends, family, and community.
The same goes for awaiting the official outcome of a national election. I can guarantee you that there are members of this congregation that are happy with the projected outcome and there are members that are upset. It would be the same if the projected outcome were reversed. Yet, the important thing to remember is that we are a community. We are a family that supports one another through times of struggles and times of joy. In our waiting, we are encouraged to prepare.
What does this look like for the church? First, it is important to remember that regardless of who serves as president the next four years, we turn to Christ as our Lord and Savior, and Christ alone. Second, let us be reminded that we are all gathered as community through the waters of baptism where we were marked with the cross of Christ. In those waters, we are united, and nothing can separate us from the truth that we are siblings regardless if we agree on every issue or not. Third, in the waiting, some of the most important work is done. It gives us the opportunity to look inside ourselves and grow our relationship with God. We can only imagine what the disciples were doing in that upper room following Jesus’ death on the cross. I am sure there was a lot of prayer and self-examination taking place. Finally, we are called to live out the Word of God, especially from Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”
Wherever you find yourselves in this time of waiting, remember that you are not waiting alone. You are surrounded and loved by a community in Christ. You are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses that have died and gone on to eternal life. And no matter what comes of our waiting, we are still united in a community that is called to share the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ, through caring for one another with respect and love.