It was the bride who was late, two
and a half hours late. When she finally arrived and made her way along
the sidewalk to the church, she seemed oblivious to the fact that her
guests had grown weary of waiting. Many were standing outside and made
no real effort to hurry into the sanctuary.
Children were running to and fro having turned the church yard into a playground. Fortunately the photographer was a family friend but perhaps not for much longer. The musician was able to leave after an hour and return and even then he had to wait another 30 minutes.
The groom did not appear angry or even upset. If anything I was expecting him to say at any moment, “She‟s always late.”
The Rev. John M. Buchanan is the Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois. “Few human events,” he noted, “are more weighted emotionally than weddings. Parents invest heavily – time, energy, creativity, resources, love, and hope – in the marriage for a beloved daughter or son. Because they are so loaded with emotional content, weddings are actually fragile events, with lots of potential for mishap, and even disaster.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2011, page 284)
In some ways it is surprising that Jesus would chose “this most human, emotionally loaded event as the context for the parable about the kingdom of God.” (Op cit.) He begins by saying: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this: (Matthew 25:1-13) „There was a bride who showed up two hours late for her wedding.‟”
You would be right to correct me and say, “Kahu that is not what the Bible says. The Bible says that the groom was late to his own wedding, not the bride.” True, but what bothers me about the groom in our reading this morning from The Gospel According to Matthew and what bothered me about the bride who was late to her own wedding was their lack of regard for others.
The groom seemed oblivious to his guests, especially the ten bridesmaids who waited and waited and waited for him. They grew so tired they fell asleep and when he finally arrived, five of the bridesmaids went out to find more oil for their lamps. When they returned they discovered that the groom had shut the door on them.
When they call out to him to open the door, he responds by saying, “I do not know you.” If I were one of the bridesmaids I probably would have a few choice words to say to him.
How is it that the groom is let off the hook so easily – as though it was okay for him to show up as late as he did and not offer any explanation? But the point of the story is less about finding fault in the groom than it is about recognizing the patience of the bridesmaids.
The early Christians to whom The Gospel According to Matthew was written were living in a difficult time. They had to face the reality that, in the midst of the persecution they were suffering, Jesus did not return as they expected. They waited but he was nowhere to be seen.
They were expected, like the bridesmaids waiting for the groom, to be ready when Jesus did return. Kahu Buchanan concluded, “The point is living expectantly and hopefully” in the face of despair. “Christian hope rests on trust that the God who created the world will continue to love the world with gentle providence, will continue the process of creation . . . and will redeem and save the world by coming into it with love and grace, in Jesus Christ.” (Ibid., page 286).
As we look about the world in which we now live we may feel like the first century Christians in our yearning for Jesus to return. We worry about the economy. We are troubled by the increase in the number of catastrophic storms, earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. We grow weary and uncertain about the future.
Like those who lived in the first century, many of us would welcome Jesus‟ return in our own day and time. But Jesus did not return in the first century and while we would like to believe he is due to arrive any day now, the truth is we do not know.
I have always been of the opinion that if Jesus were going to return because of all the natural disasters that plaque our world and our capacity as human beings to always be at war with one another, he is long, long overdue. All of this is to say whether or not he returns in our lifetime is not as important as how we live our lives in faithful service to God and to others now.
Kahu Buchanan said “the love of God will continue to appear in our lives in surprising and unexpected ways:
- Jesus Christ comes when Christian people live in hope and never give up.
- Jesus Christ comes when faithful disciples express love and compassion and work for justice.
- Jesus Christ comes when critically ill people know they are ultimately safe in God‟s love.
- Heaven breaks into earth when faithful women and men live in hope and give themselves to the work of the kingdom.” (Ibid., page 288)
Lindsay P. Armstrong is an Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He wrote: “ . . . the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids speaks a profound word to a fast-paced twenty-first- century populace it is (a) fresh reminder of the need to prepare for delay,” and in this case, “specifically the delayed kingdom of God.” Yet in some ways the kingdom of God is already here and in other ways it is yet to come.
Jesus may not walk into this sanctuary anytime soon but we ought to live our lives as though he were standing just outside the door ready to come in. As the season of Pentecost comes to an end next week and we move towards the season of Advent, we are mindful that it will be a time of waiting and preparing; a time of remembering and celebrating once more the birth of the Christ Child.
By the way for those of you who may be wondering about what happened to the bride who arrived two hours late for her wedding. They were married.
But I take no delight in having to tell you that within a year of their marriage, they were divorced. It would seem that she should have been better prepared. It is a lesson we would do well to heed.
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