Contemplating Jesus

THE BRIDEGROOM

Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

Rembrandt: Head of Christ (c.1648-56)

Jesus frequently described the kingdom of heaven as a wedding banquet.  He advised on the right etiquette: – to not sit in places of honour in case you get asked to move: better to take the humblest place and be invited forward (Luke 14: 7-11)).   In Matthew 22:2-14 he tells the story of the king’s invited wedding guests all making excuses for their non-attendance due to previous  — and seemingly more important —  personal commitments.

Jesus would have been familiar with the spousal sentiments of scripture – particularly in Isaiah 62, where the land of Zion is referred to as a bride being “married to God.”   As  Jesus publicly announced his identity and ministry using scripture from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth, the same chapter can also shed light on Jesus’  particular mystical anointing  (61.10).

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

The readying for the spousal celebration is a common theme in Jesus’ teachings.  In fact he refers to himself as “the bridegroom” and his disciples as wedding guests in Matthew 9:14-16 where he acknowledges fasting to be only applicable after he has been taken away from them.

But perhaps the most compelling of nuptial narratives is the parable of the ten bridesmaids, who, with their lamps, set out to meet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). Unsuspecting his delay, the five foolish bridesmaids were unprepared.  Everyone slept while they waited for his arrival and were roused at midnight by a shout.  Here he was!   Jesus tells us the five wise bridesmaids trimmed their lamps with the extra oil they had brought along, while the foolish bridesmaids, with dimming lamps, asked the wise for a top up.  Aware that they only had enough for themselves, the wise told them to go and get their own from the dealer.    While the unprepared rushed off to do so, those who were prepared entered the wedding banquet, and the door  was shut behind them.  When the others arrived later, and cried to be let in, the bridegroom declared he didn’t know them.  Jesus’ crowning instruction was to “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

There are two messages embedded in the bridesmaid story.  The first is when having received the honour of being chosen to diligently “have herself completely in hand”  ** confidently walking the path to unity with God, reverently readying for the coming celestial celebration, be it in this life or the next.  The second message relates to Jesus’ choice of oil and lamps as metaphors for spiritual preparation, particularly because of their practical associations within Hebrew history.

To venerate the sacred presence of the Ark, “the lamp of God” was lit just as church sacristy lamps are to this day. (Ref:  1 Samuel 3:3). However, the lamp calls a disciple to more than worship; it symbolizes divine love, light and unity about which David expressed in his Song of Thanksgiving :-

“With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure……
For you deliver a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down,
It is you who light my lamp;
the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.”
(Psalm l8:25-28)

Jesus expects his chosen to be ready.  Filled with the light of his presence, they have the clarity to go where needed and rest when required, knowing to stay on the path and not to be distracted by the confusion caused by others’ spiritual negligence.  His chosen are eager, peaceful and pragmatic as they prepare for sacred union.  The inner chambers of their hearts are searched by “the lamp of the Lord”  (Proverbs 20:27) “for the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”  (Proverbs 6:23). Only she who has undergone divine scrutiny becomes “more precious than jewels.”  (Proverbs 31:10) and she “rises while it is still night and provides food for her household……..Her lamp does not go out at night.” (Proverbs 31:15 & 18). Her soul mirrors the grandeur of the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which has “no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Rev 21:23).

The last pages of the Christian bible recount the coming “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”  as a time of exultant rejoicing because “his bride has made herself ready:  for her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”  (Rev 19:7-8).

** Edith Stein in “The Science of the Cross”  p. 160.

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