Skip to content

Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, and Taylor Swift Fans: Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Two years and eleven months ago someone expressed interest in acquiring a cross to hang in their home. I thought this was a great idea and said that I could definitely help. I logged into the website of a nearby church supply store and ordered a Celtic cross. The matter occasionally cropped up in my consciousness, but it mostly fell off my radar. But it all came back to me, when that cross finally arrived… just about two or three weeks ago!

Whether we’re talking about the dentist or doctor’s office, an airplane arrival or departure (or the bus or the train), 40 years wandering in the desert, or that Seinfeld episode in the Chinese restaurant, we all know something about waiting.

A recent Globe and Mail article described young Taylor Swift fans pre-registering and waiting for tickets for December (2024!), lighting candles, and “manifesting” — basically praying for tickets to materialize. Part of me is glad that the gospels were written two thousand years ago, and they use the more general symbolic language of ‘the wedding banquet’ when talking about God’s coming, rather than — as we might have today — the trendy but ultimately dated “Taylor Swift concert” as a synonym for God’s Kingdom.

This is our second ‘wedding banquet’ parable that we’ve had in the last few weeks, and both of them we might find a little troubling. The first one, if you were here, was about the host who’s displeased with the poor attendance. So displeased that he bombs the homes of the people who didn’t show up. (It’s a problematic metaphor for God.)

And then today, things are a bit more subtle. But I can’t help but feel sorry for the five foolish bridesmaids who weren’t in the habit of carrying extra oil around in their pockets. (Or the foolish Taylor Swift fans who didn’t think to pre-register for the presale of tickets. Or the foolish drivers who don’t keep a jerry can full of gasoline in their trunk all the time.)

The parable has an unsettling ending: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you,” says the groom (whom we probably symbolically associate with Jesus). It doesn’t quite stack up nicely with the earlier part of the very same Gospel book: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Or just a few chapters before this one, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

But that’s not what the supposedly “wise” bridesmaids do. They rub it in the faces of the foolish ones. And we might wonder what we’re to do with all this.

In a different situation St. Paul is writing to a group that is nervous about this heavenly wedding banquet that, to their surprise, hasn’t happened yet. They’re looking at their watches, and getting older and older. Some — maybe several of them — have died. And there’s this panic: are the ones who’ve died going to miss the bridegroom, when he comes in the night?

No, Paul writes. He seeks to comfort them: ‘Even so, through Jesus, who died, Jesus can and will go to those who’ve died.’ And those “who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.” So whether we die or whether we live, we are the Lord’s. No one’s left out. God can work with us.

So if Paul can be so encouraging, what are we to make about the wise bridesmaids who are so ‘judgey’ and the bridegroom who shuts the door and puts his fingers in his ears?

Or more generally, what are we to do, when we purport to uphold a faith that is all about grace: God’s abundant and unearned love and mercy that, we claim, just scoops us up and embraces us, no matter how wise or how foolish we are? What might we do when we find our minds — as they often do — getting all judgey, saying “that pereson needs to try harder,” or “you need to believe more,” or “it’s their fault for falling asleep.”

Preacher and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, someone who’s really big on God’s unearned love and mercy, warns against this sort of judginess and the judginess of the wise bridesmaids in the parable. She says that maybe instead of fixating on the bridesmaids, we should turn out attention to the groom who comes in the middle of the night. (That’s Jesus.) “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” a character in the story says. So presumably they were able to see the bridegroom. He must have had his own light source that he brought with him. That’s what Nadia points us to. She says “[T]he foolish bridesmaids weren’t foolish because they didn’t bring back up oil, they were foolish because instead of trusting that the light of Christ was enough to shine the way, they wasted all that time and energy and money trying to get their own because someone shamed them into thinking they could never approach the Lord with their lack.” *

And concerning the stern bridegroom who says “I don’t know you,” she suggests this is because “they hadn’t come to him in their need and lack and want. But Jesus knows us not by our independence from him, Jesus knows us by our need of him, for which we should never be ashamed.” *

So take comfort in this parable, even if at first listen it might seem anything but encouraging. Parables are supposed to shake us up; do something to us; awaken us to some truth. The truth is that in a world of judgey bridesmaids and mean girls, whether our lamps are full or whether they’re empty, the counsel is to show up: to be there with arms open for Jesus, the bridegroom who wants to celebrate with us. If you find your lamp empty, the worst thing to do is try and fix it yourself. You’ll risk stumbling in the night, and missing the banquet entirely. We don’t know when Jesus will show up in our lives, but he does, in all sorts of ways. And what he wants is us — what he wants is you. And being honest rather than afraid or ashamed of those lacks, or gaps, or cracks is the first step in opening the door to him.

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter