Friday, May 10, 2013

Preparation for the Dark Night

Matthew 25:1-13  "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;  but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'  Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Weddings are moments of ritualized celebration in the life of a community. Once the negotiations between the families are complete, all that remains is to escort the bride to the groom’s home. This is done with singing and dancing, normally at night after the leave-taking at the bride’s home. The issue at stake in this parable is the preparation of the praise-singers. Some had paused to prepare for the event by procuring extra oil “just in case”. Some seem to have agreed to assist the wedding with little thought about the preparation they ought to make.  The rebuke in this parable of Jesus is for those who took on a commitment without counting the cost.  

As with all parables, there are many different interpretations for this parable. I am choosing to highlight just one thing: the challenge to count the cost of a commitment. All too often people drift into following a Christian way of life, with little thought about the commitment. The fact is – following the way of Jesus is costly. This is a life that asks us to renounce our own selfish nature, and to choose to allow the Spirit of God to shape us in new ways. We are to love the poor, and to care for the outcasts. We are to seek justice, practice mercy, and walk in the ways of peace. This life asks us to face “the dark night of the soul” with determination and courage. And such a life requires daily preparation to make it through.

Oil for our lamps is found in an ongoing life of prayer and reflection; it is refilled in fellowship with others who follow Jesus; and is nourished by trusting the Spirit of God when we think our last step is just that. I have had the privilege of sharing this week with the Order of Deacons in the British Methodist Church. This has been a time of renewing the oil in my lamp, and I am grateful.

Pray for Jean Stephensen (Airedale); Joan Stockley (Poole & Swanage); Sian Street (Leigh & Hindley); Terry Street (Nottingham)

Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning
Give me oil for my lamp I pray
Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning
Keep it burning till the light of day

Readings taken from the lectionary in the Prayer Book of the British Methodist Diaconal Order


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