Get Ready For A Celebration
GET READY FOR A CELEBRATION
Fabulous!!!!! That’s the only way to describe it. Of course, I am referring to the marriage of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor, George Clooney, and gorgeous International Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Alamuddin (sorry ladies someone was going to nab him sooner or later). On September 27, the beautiful couple exchanged traditional vows, wedding rings, and yes, a lengthy kiss. To quote a People.com article;
“And the place went wild.”
Cheers and applause filled the gilded hall at Italy’s historic Aman Canal Grande Venice as around 100 guests, many with tears in their eyes, celebrated the much-anticipated union of the Oscar winner and his barrister bride. “- Barrister, I learned is in fact not someone who serves you a latte, that is a barista, instead I learned the term means a type of Lawyer.
According to the People.com article Clooney whore a tux, “Created by Giorgio Armani as part of his Made to Measure collection, the black tuxedo in ultra-fine wool/cashmere was paired with a white shirt, black bow tie and oxfords in smooth, brushed black leather. (To finish off his look, Clooney wore customized cufflinks, a gift from his bride, with “George” inscribed in Arabic.)
Of course nothing could upstage the bride, stunning in a custom Oscar de la Renta French lace wedding gown, hand-embroidered with pearls and diamanté accents, featuring an off-the-shoulder neckline and a full circular train.” “George and Amal radiated love all night,” Alamuddin’s mother, Baria, tells PEOPLE. “The wedding was so unbelievably special, it was legendary. These three days – the friends, the families, the atmosphere, everything – will stay with me all the rest of my life.”
Let’s face it, everyone loves a good wedding. The world loves to detail every detail of this ultimate expression of love according to this world. Industries have risen up, reality shows have detailed the extravagance and the terrors of this one beautiful day.
But today’s scripture warns us that unless we keep watch, much of the world might miss out on the greatest wedding feast of all, the marriage supper of the lamb, when Christ returns to receive his Bride, beautiful without spot or blemish. Yet, today’s scripture is not rooted in our modern wedding industrial complex, but is instead rooted in the ancient middle east, and in Jewish marriage tradition. To better understand this parable of the Ten Virgins we first must understand the Jewish wedding ceremony at the time of Jesus and how this parable relates to that tradition.
Unlike our tradition today, the Jewish wedding ceremony did not consist of what we think of as a modern wedding ceremony in a synagogue or place of worship. Instead, there were three primary stages to an Ancient Hebrew wedding.
First, was the signing of the Ketubbah, or marriage contract. This is an actual contract that the couple would sign and was legally binding. They would be considered married under Jewish law but the marriage would not have been consummated. Many of these contracts could be signed by the parents when the children were a very young age.
Up to seven years later, comes the chuppah, or consummation. This is represented in modern Jewish weddings by a white canopy that the bride and groom stand under during the wedding service. The groom then raises a bride price, to provide an offering for the family’s daughter. We see this in Jacob working for Laban for seven years to obtain Rachel’s hand in marriage in the book of Genesis. Once the bride price is paid the groom will go and prepare the “chuppah” room for the wedding night, which is usually an add on to his Father’s house. Thus John 14:2 where Jesus tells 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” takes on a whole new depth and meaning when we understand that he is using the metaphor of a marriage ritual here. The Bridegroom then goes to the brides’ house to retrieve his bride and the wedding party. To notify the bride and her party of his approach the Bridegroom would sound a shofar, or rams horn. Thus, we come to understand how the bridal party in this parable knew of the approach of the bridegroom. The bridal party would often wait with the Bride with oil lamps, because sometimes the grooms’ party would be delayed because of negotiations over the Bridal price. The entire party would then return to the chuppah room that the groom had prepared, where the marriage is consummated. Finally, after the marriage is consummated a wedding feast would be held to celebrate the marriage. It is in this context that Jesus tells us about the coming messianic feast at the end of the age.
You know, being a pastor with a rather uncontrollable head of hair, I have to get my hair cut every two months or so. Last time I was in Richmond and got my hair cut, my barber, a nice Southern Christian woman, asked me if I thought all the wars, disasters, and Ebola, going on right now were signs of the end of days. I am not sure if your barber asks you about when the end of the world is going to happen, but apparently when you become a pastor this becomes a common question. I told her what I think this passage basically tells us. I don’t think we can know the day or the hour, so it is best to be ready in our hearts, to look forward to the Lord’s return every moment of our lives, to make sure our lamps don’t go dark in the dead of night.
And while judgment is obviously a theme in this parable, often with all our end times speculation we miss out on one of the main themes of this parable, and one of the main themes of the book of Revelation, that is worship and celebration.
Did you realize that worship and celebration are spiritual disciplines? Now when you hear the phrase spiritual disciplines you might automatically think of such disciplines as Bible Study and fasting. Images may rise in your mind of monks taking vows of poverty, praying repetitive prayers five times a day, and whipping themselves as an act of repentance. Spiritual Discipline doesn’t sound very fun. And it seems to go against the reformation teaching that we are saved by faith not by works.
But as Richard Foster points out in his classic book, “Celebration of Discipline,” grace does not exclude our effort, it excludes our merit.” As Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “ Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
And while we in the Reformed tradition may understand how to fear and tremble before an all mighty and Sovereign God do we know how to celebrate and worship before the same God? As Foster points out in Celebration of Discipline, “ A striking feature of worship in the Bible is that people gathered in what we could only call a “holy expectancy”. They believed that they would actually hear the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God. When Moses went into the Tabernacle, he knew he was entering into the presence of God. The same was true of the early Church. It was not surprising to them that the building in which they met shook with the power of God. It had before (Acts 2:2, 4:31). (Celebration of Discipline, pg 162)
My friends what do you expect to happen when you come to worship? Do you expect the same old same old? Do you expect to be touched by the Spirit? Do you expect to be changed? Or are you more like the bride’s maids in this parable. Are you bored in worship? Do you fall asleep? Do you come unprepared, not ready to say like Jacob, Lord unless you bless me today I am not leaving! Do you come ready for a celebration? As Foster puts it, “Celebration brings joy into life, and joy makes us strong. Scripture tells us that the joy of the LORD is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We cannot continue long in anything without it. Women endure childbirth because the joy of motherhood lies on the other side. Young married couples struggle through the first difficult years of adjustment because they value the assurance of a long life together. Parents hold steady through the teen years, knowing that their children will emerge on the other end human once again.” I would add that Jesus himself suffered the cross and its shame not because he relished pain, humiliation, and death, but because as Hebrews 12:2 tells he saw the joy set before him. That joy was the knowledge that because of his sacrifice he could be with you and me.
My friends I got to be honest with you. I am tired of religion. I am tired of duty without passion. I am tired of ritual without spirit. I am tired of idolatrous ideologies, judgmental people, and shame. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am reaching for something more. Something more than a higher power without a name. Something more than any extravagant wedding or earthly gain. As a single man I will admit it would be great to be married and you all should probably get to work helping me out with that. But during this time of my life, having left everything I have known, I am finding something in my heart crying out that I want to fall in love with Jesus again! I want to taste and see that the Lord is good and I want to find myself hidden in Christ, safe from who the world thinks I am and confident in who Christ knows I am. So often we think of the church as a social club, as something that makes us good citizens, or as a hospital for sinners. And in a way it is all these things. But at its heart the church is Christ’s Bride, and she will be , we will all be adorned with splendor and glory! As Revelation 22:17 declares, “The Spirit and the Bride say “come”. Let anyone who is thirsty come! Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.” Are you thirsty? Are you expecting? Are you expecting that maybe this Sunday might not be like the rest? That maybe we could enter what the celts called a “thin place” what the Old Testament calls the Shekinah or revealed glory of God. That maybe would could be touched and changed by his presence. That maybe people could walk through these doors, people who don’t know the Lord and they would say, I don’t know why but I feel like the atmosphere changed when I walked into this room? Are you ready? Are you expecting? Are you yearning for the bridegroom? Are your lamps full, even in the darkest of nights? Are you ready to say to this world, you can have all this world, but give me Jesus! Get ready, expect the unexpected, for a celebration is coming.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.