Sunday, 9 November 2008

Ten "Bridesmaids"

Today's Gospel reading was the story of the ten bridesmaids / young women / virgins (depending on your translation). This is perhaps an unlikely reading for remembrance Sunday so I suspect many churches went for something else.

I was at a group in the week at which the reading was discussed. Our conversation focussed on the apparent injustice and competitiveness reflected in the story. Most people felt sympathy for the "foolish" bridesmaids who had run out of oil - and suspected the motives of the "wise" who were unwilling to share. One person even suggested that that the bridegroom intended to choose one of the ten to be his bride. If this were true, the story would become a kind of first-century X-factor ("Jerusalem's got Talent") in which the bridesmaids were competing to win a life of domestic bliss/servitude (delete as appropriate). It would be in each bridesmaid's interest to get the others "evicted" and the winner would be the one left standing at the end...

While these reflections are great fun, I suspect this is really a story about waiting - and what you do while you're waiting.

If you're an actor you learn your lines while you wait for the play to start. If you're a sportsman you exercise. A marathon runner wouldn't get very far if he spent his time on a sofa watching TV. Waiting is not a passive activity, but something that you do as you prepare for the thing you long for.

In this parable the bridesmaids had the duty of lighting the way so that the bridegroom would know where to come - and could arrive with an appropriate greeting. The Bridesmaids therefore needed to keep their lamps burning so that the bridegroom would be able to see his way. If they had shared their oil this would have been unwise - since the lamps would have run out more quickly. The bridesmaids had a job to do and the "wise" bridesmaids made sure they were able to do it.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War.
Wars and conflicts are still taking place today.
What are we waiting for?

If we are waiting for peace, then the question is how?
Are we waiting passively - hoping that things will be all right?
Have we given up waiting and gone off to do something else?
Are we waiting "unwisely" allowing resources to be burned up because we don't want to share them?

Or are we waiting actively?
- preparing for peace rather than gearing up for war
- building relationships rather than nurturing suspicion
- reaching out rather than building walls

Today is the 90th year during which we have stood and remembered.
It will not be the last -
What are we waiting for?

(The painting above is by James B. Janknegt. See for more of his work)

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