The Lamps of Holy Tuesday

Palm Sunday is about recognizing the time of our visitation–seeing God’s presence as it really is and not how we want it to be. Fig Monday is about not being deceived by the outward appearance of things, and Holy Tuesday is all about watchfulness and readiness.

The parable of the ten virgins and other parables about kings and servants point toward not knowing the time or day of the Lord’s return. In the case of the ten virgins–five of whom are prudent and keep oil in their lamps and five who are foolish and do not–the allusion is to the ancient Hebrew wedding customs in which after betrothal, the groom would return to his father’s house to prepare a room, a mansion, for his bride to come and live with him as part of his father’s estate.

The wait for the bride and her family could last up to two years, never knowing when the groom would return. But when he did, it was traditionally in the middle of the night. His groomsmen would blow shofar [ram’s horns] to tell of his coming, and the bridesmaids–all as young as 13 or 14 as would be the bride–would light lamps and run out to light his way to the bride’s home. The father of the bride would ceremonially turn his face as the groom came to steal his daughter out of the house and lift her up to carry her to her wedding and new home.


Living Now, Prepared for Then

Bride and bridesmaids must always be prepared and ready with their lamps, but at the same time, always living their lives as if each day were the last they may spend together as friends and family–because that very night may be the night of the groom’s return. Though today these parables are usually taken to be set in the context of the last days and judgment into heaven, Jews of Jesus’ day would have understood them to mean living here and now with both a breathless anticipation of new life at any moment and a heightened awareness of just how precious each relationship really is right herenow. This readiness is what it feels like to enter and live in Kingdom–living life immersed in continual relationship, but ready and watchful for the moment we are snatched away to a new life we can barely imagine.

The trick is to embrace both at the same time without compromising either: fully present to what is seen, fully aware of what is not–that’s what Kingdom is all about.

Matt 24:42-51Matt 25:1-30Mark 13:33-37Luke 21:34-36

We hope these readings and short comments help prepare you this week for Resurrection Day next Sunday. If you’d like to dig even further, here is a daily devotional for Holy Week with some really nice elements.

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