December 8: Wedding Rehearsing or Wedding Crashing?

MATTHEW 25:1–13

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’

“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’

“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’
“But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.”

Consider This

I’ve officiated dozens of weddings, and almost all of them share a common practice: the wedding rehearsal. Everyone gathers the night before the ceremony to do a run-through. Everyone practices when they will walk in, where they will stand, how the ceremony will flow, and how they’ll process out. The rehearsal makes sure that when the real wedding arrives, everyone is prepared.

Weddings play a big part in the salvation story. This whole thing started with a wedding in a garden that didn’t end well. Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding, turning water into wine as a sign of what was to happen on the cross.

And then there is this very Advent line Jesus drops to his disciples:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2–3 NIV)

This is wedding language. In the ancient Middle East, after a couple was engaged, the custom was for the groom to return to his father’s home, which was known as the “four-­bedroom house.” There, his father and he would build another four-bedroom house attached to the father’s. There would be add-ons and add-ons until two to three generations of families were living around the father’s house.

When it was time for the wedding, the groom and his entourage would proceed to the bride’s home, and together they would return to the father’s house, get married, celebrate with a big wedding feast in the father’s dining room, then party for days.

This is where today’s text comes in. The bridesmaids don’t know when the groom is coming back for the procession to the father’s house. And we see with the oil lamps that all of them were waiting in anticipation for his return to happen, but only half were prepared for when it might happen.

The bridesmaids who had extra oil in their lamps had prepared and were ready, even though they fell asleep. The ones who woke up with nothing were waiting and anticipating the wedding would happen at any moment, but got caught unprepared.

Then they foolishly depended on the resources of the others who were ready. It’s as if their pre-wedding posture was, “I don’t need enough oil because I’m with people who already have enough. I’m good if I hang out with them.”
And know this: Jesus’ story is an in-house critique. He’s not talking about the lost here; he’s warning those who have answered the question, “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”

Many of us are like the foolish bridesmaids: instead of owning our role in getting prepared, we outsource our readi­ness, as if simply being associated with the right people at the right time will get us in. As one good friend said, we want Jesus to come back and rescue us, and we’ve got our confirmation class certificate, tithe statement, and recipes from the church potluck ready to show and say, “I’m ready!”

There’s an urgent difference between anticipating and preparing; between waiting and being ready for Jesus to return.

Like any good wedding ceremony, there’s a rehearsal. We get prepared by rehearsing now what it will be like when we’re in his father’s house. That rehearsal starts with the meal when we gather in worship and celebrate the Lord’s Supper . . . the one Jesus said he wouldn’t eat with us until he returned and we eat it together in his father’s kingdom.

This meal is the heart of our Advent mission, and at the heart of the meal is a prayer. And at the heart of the prayer, we pray that the bread and wine would “become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we might be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.”

This meal prepares us for our Advent mission, as we wait to hear the angels say:

“The time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Rev. 19:7–9)

Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!