Monday, November 9, 2020

Renewed Beginnings


Matthew 25:1-13

Proper 27 / Year A

A shout goes out, “The bridegroom is coming.  At last the long wait is over.  It is time for the party to begin.  Trim your lamps and come on inside.”  What a beautiful image for us to ponder as we celebrate on this first Sunday of in-person worship in thirty-seven weeks!  It has been an exhausting process, but I am so proud of how each and every one of us has made it through to this point in time.  Yes, we are back together, but we are nowhere near being out of the woods.  It feels like we are at that moment in the story when the bridesmaids awaken and begin to check on their supplies of lamp oil.  Do I have enough left in me to make it to end of this strange time?

Like most of Jesus’ parables, the one we hear today has some odd elements to it.  Why can’t the maidens with oil share with those who are out?  Why can’t two people share a lamp by walking side by side?  Where would you go in 1st century Palestine to purchase oil at midnight?  Why must the doors to the celebration be shut?  And perhaps most puzzling is the teaching Jesus associates with the story.  In what appears to be a cautionary tale about preparedness, Jesus warns, “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Keep awake?  Wait, all ten bridesmaids fell asleep.  If the point of the story is to remain watchful, even vigilant, why should any of the maidens gain entrance to the wedding banquet?  After all, all ten dozed off.  As I like to say, it is Jesus’ story and he gets to tell it any way he wants.

Here is some good news.  First, unlike the parable, you don’t have to have all the oil you need on you right now to make it through this pandemic.  Over the last eight months I have experienced days I refer to as “low tide.”  These were the times I felt overwhelmed by the immenseness of what we are facing; days when I acutely felt the loss of so many things; days when there was no oil left in my lamp.  But those days didn’t last long.  The tide came back in; the oil was replenished.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but once again we are on the journey together.  We can support each other and we can be together to receive God’s grace through word and sacrament.

More good news:  The Bridegroom is here… in this place… at this moment.  In-person worship is not going to be like what we experienced before all of this.  You must wear a mask.  You can’t sing.  You can’t pass the Peace.  Heck, you can’t even sit in your favorite pew.  Still, the Bridegroom is here, but you will have to be open and watchful to detect the presence of the Holy One. 

During the Sundays of what we are calling the Season of Covid-tide, I have sensed God present in new and powerful ways.  I sense it in the joy shared between the reader, the Altar Guild person, and the Vestry member as they connect for the first time in months.  I feel it in the colorful light streaming through our beautiful stained glass windows.  And I feel it very powerfully as I sit and listen to the organ.  No, we can’t sing, but I suspect we will find the Bridegroom speaking to us through the organ’s voice. 

I have learned something through the process of celebrating spiritual communion.  Yes, the words of the liturgy and the acts I perform are the same, but there is something absolutely essential about the process of administration.  Without the ability to give the elements to you, it felt a little bit like I was going through the motions.  I can’t wait to look each of you in the eye and say, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”

In today’s first reading we hear Joshua say to the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  His directive comes at a turning point in Israel’s history.  They have entered the Promised Land, banished their enemies, settled into their homes, and planted on their properties.  It is the dawn of a new day and an appropriate time to chart one’s course into the future.

While the election results are not yet certified, it appears the Republican Party can retain control of the Senate and has strengthen its minority position in the House, while a Democrat will occupy the White House.  If these results stand, it suggests to me we are going to have to come together, find places of unity, and work together on projects that will bring us together rather than drive us apart.  As one person said, in America there are no red states or blue states, only The United States.  If this truly is the dawn of a new day, each one of us will have to choose how we will engage it. 

Joshua gathers the people at Shechem, at the same spot he had gathered them years early in a ceremony where they agreed to the terms of the Covenant God offered to them.  Now they gather again to reaffirm their fidelity to this agreement with the Most High.  In fact, scholars believe the people of Israel gathered at Shechem every year hereafter for a covenant renewal ceremony.  We citizens of the United States have similar traditions and practices aimed at helping us remember who we are and what we value as a people.  On July 4 we celebrate our founding.  On the fourth Thursday in November we give thanks for our blessings.  And on the first Tuesday in November we participate in free, fair, and open elections.

Every four years we participate in a general election and vote for a president.  In so doing, we renew our commitment to the American dream and pledge to uphold every person’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  When Joshua calls on the people to make a choice, it is for each person a very personal response with tremendous public implications.  Each of us is in the same position today.  Each of us must choose how we are going to participate in our democracy and how we will respond to one another - particularly those people whose vision for our country is remarkably different from yours. 

A friend posted a rather poignant message yesterday: “You do not belong to a donkey nor do you belong to an elephant.  You belong to the Lamb!”  My hope and prayer is this is how we can be in relationship with one another here at St. Paul’s.  We are the Lamb’s.  We await the Bridegroom.  And we come together once again to worship and pray with one another in this beautiful and sacred space.  Trim your lamps.  The doors are open.