A WEDDING STORY
Matthew 25: 1-13
So many wedding customs have changed or been altered or neutralized over time that yesterday’s traditions don’t always apply to today’s weddings. Sure some brides still plan to carry “something old, something new, something borrowed, or something blue” to their wedding, but original meanings of dress colors and of bridal veils have largely been discarded. Jesus, in his day, new exactly how Jewish weddings were carried out and we’ll hear about those in a minute. But just as an example, listen to what was written in the book called The Amish Wedding by Stephen Scott in the section called “The Wedding Season:”
Farm work, religious beliefs, logistics, and tradition all play a role in limiting wedding dates for the Lancaster Amish. It is inconvenient to hold weddings before the last of the harvest work is completed. After Christmas, severe weather can make travel difficult. A full day is needed to prepare for a wedding, and making these arrangements on a Sunday would be considered sacrilegious. That leaves out Monday. Many weddings are held on a Tuesday; but Wednesday is out because people in a Tuesday wedding would be cleaning up from the previous day and those preparing for a Wednesday wedding could not attend on Tuesday. Thursday is a good day, but a wedding could not be held on a Saturday because there could be no clean up on Sunday. As for Friday, weddings simply have never been held on that day. [Good Books, PA, p. 9]
Isn’t it interesting how customs change and have gotten started! For example, it is also said that the custom of using a string of XXXXs for kisses when ending a letter came from one of three understandings:
- From universal illiteracy, in that many people who could not read or write signed their name with an “X.”
- From the sign of St. Andrew, St. Peter’s brother, and the patron saint of Scotland, who is said to have been crucified on an X shaped cross. A kiss with an X was thus a pledge in the name of St. Andrew.
- The X is the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the name of Christ the Lord. (That research was discovered by author Tad Taluja and recorded in his book, Curious Customs. Harmony Books, New York, 40)
So friends, I tell you today that Christians over the centuries, who have longed for the return of their Lord, would cry out “Here Comes the Bridegroom, not “here comes the bride!” And “here comes the bride,” is a song title falsely attached to the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s “Lohengrin.” As my Princeton preaching professor explained in his book: That march “was never intended for use in a religious ceremony. The so-called Bridal Chorus, from Wagner’s Lohengrin … occurs in the opera after the wedding in an atmosphere of distrust and hatred that ended in death and separation.” The groom dies and the bride weeps, all to the chorus with the ironic words, “faithful and true.” [Presbyterian Worship, 1980, John Knox Press. P. 85]
Customs have been distorted from their original intended use in many areas of life. So, then, it should not surprise us that the Jewish wedding guests of Jesus’ day would likely not have cried out “Here comes the bride!” but rather, “Here comes the groom!” Well before a wedding, the father of the groom would speak to the father of the young woman whom the groom’s father had chosen for his son. The two fathers would negotiate the bride price, which the father of the groom would pay to the father of the bride for the privilege of having his daughter’s hand for his son. It would be a high price. The bride would them go about selecting her bridesmaids and preparing to wait; and to wait; and to wait. They would need to be ready, and there would need to be enough oil for their lamps so as not to disappoint the groom and his entourage on his return. When would they return? Who knew? They had to wait while the prospective groom and his father talked to him about his readiness to be a husband, a provider, and perhaps later, a father. The father of the groom trained his son in the ways of marriage while they worked together to build a room on the father’s house where the new couple would live. Only when the father decided his son was ready would he release him to return and get his bride, day or night! If the bridesmaids were not prepared to go at that time, they would be left behind! So the parable is not about waiting like statues with lamps burning for his return; it’s about wise planning and being alert and ready for his arrival so oil supplies were there and at least one lamp was left burning to light the lamps of the others.
Why all this talk about weddings? Because Jesus’ parable seems like that’s what it’s about, but it’s about more. You’ve heard of the church being called “the bride of Christ” before? Last week, for example, we sang “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; She is his new creation by water and the word. From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride.” Did you hear it? The church—the company of the faithful—has traditionally been referred to as “The Bride of Christ” so that a parable like this will describe more than wedding customs. It describes how the groom—Jesus—will return for his bride—the church—at a time unknown by anyone except his Father. And when he returns, he will take his bride to the room he and his father prepared on the father’s house. It’s described in John 14. The father will have paid the bride price, and we will live with Jesus in heaven.
So, when will Jesus come again? Paul attempted to comfort the Thessalonians about meeting the Lord in the air, but that was said to a group of people who wondered what would happen to their dead and buried relatives if they died before the time of Jesus’ resurrection. The parable Jesus told us gives us better insights about “the Day.” (The Day of the Lord.) I’ve been getting another wave of literature in my mailbox and on my desk sent by well-meaning people, telling me that their careful and scholarly unpacking of Scripture has revealed the time Christ will come again, and it is soon! But here’s the point; they don’t know. You don’t know; I don’t know; only the Father knows when his son will return! But is it a warning, or a reminder, to be ready because Jesus will return at an unexpected hour? Yes. And we should heed that news carefully. Until then, we prepare our lamps and keep them at the ready by:
- Reading God’s Word and being in constant prayer;
- Spreading the word that Jesus came to earth and he will come again to judge both the living (the quick) and the dead, according to the Nicene Creed and according to 2 Timothy 4:1.
- Confessing Jesus as Lord and finding the peace of God that passes all understanding.
So how long will you live? How long will I live? God only knows! We are urged to live each day as if we can see the light of Christ returning for us! When that happens, the faithful and true Church—the bride of Christ—longs to hear the voice of an angel, calling down to us from the Holy City, exclaiming, “Here comes the groom!”
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 12, 2017