Signpost for Sunday 9 November 2014, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.
If you have had a dedicated Girl Guide in the family, particularly one with a love of camps, you will know what it means to “be prepared”. By nature I was that way inclined in my younger days, but now such things as making lists and keeping a safety pin in my handbag are simply too much trouble.
The story of the five wise and five foolish virgins (bridesmaids) has rather more depth than that. The parable is not just about the very end of time, the great and terrible day for which the world and church still wait, but also Jesus’ challenge to the Israel of his day – he was amongst them, they refused him, and in the end they crucified him, and accordingly they shut themselves out from the Kingdom.
The Bridegroom is, of course, Jesus. The oil is faith, or love, or compassion, or an amalgam of the Christian virtues. The bridesmaids are Wisdom and Folly described in Proverbs 8 and 9 (and, as far as Wisdom is concerned, in the “Related” first reading in today’s lectionary, Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16). The Bride does not feature in the parable, but we all know she is the Church.
The people who heard the parable from Jesus’ mouth would immediately have cottoned on because he deals with the wedding customs and rituals of the day. I gather they are the same today in some parts of the East. Nowadays, in our culture, there is no uncertainty as to when the bridegroom will arrive. At Christ Church we have a booking for November 2015 and an enquiry for November 2016, and we can be sure the bridegroom will turn up at least half an hour before the bride. Still lots of preparation required, which seems to me rather different from preparedness, but at least one knows when one can safely sleep. Nevertheless we get the message. And what has become plain to me is that neither an individual, nor the Church, can borrow or lend the oil – not from each other, nor from those who have gone before. Only the here and now, continued, faithful, preparedness will do.
It is interesting to research the readings for these Signpost articles. My mind strays in a turmoil of thoughts and I am amazed at the discipline of those who are committed to writing a sermon each week. I should be interested to learn other people’s thoughts on the “Rapture” described in the Thessalonians reading.