Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“Pity the Bride…Is the Groom Coming or Not?”
at Bach Vespers (J.S. Bach’s BWV 140 Wachet Auf)
November 12, 2017
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park
Please forgive my arrogance, but I actually do believe I can improve on Jesus’ parable about the ten bridesmaids. The tension could be dramatically heightened if the focus were placed on the bride and not the ten bridesmaids. Honestly, who do you think was more jittery awaiting the groom’s belated arrival, the bridesmaids or the bride-to-be?
You know as well as I that the bride was the panicky one. Come on, what did the bridesmaids care? For them, the weekend wedding festivities were like one big Chi Omega sorority homecoming party. The bridesmaids were decked out in silky green dresses, chic six-inch heels, and exquisite hairdos, and had already drunk way too many flutes of mimosas. While they would never admit it publicly, they were going to have lots of fun whether the groom showed up or not. For better or worse, they would have a story to tell for a lifetime. Why would the bridesmaids be nervous?
But pity the poor bride. She pranced back and forth in the bridal room, tears making her dazzling makeup job look like a runny Rorschach ink blot test. She hysterically asked the rabbi, not once but three times, “Has this ever happened to you before? Tell me the truth, rabbi, has it?”
All the while the organist was playing—ten minutes, twenty-two minutes, forty-six minutes.
The ushers were wondering where their pal was but they were chuckling under their breath.
The poor grandparents, this was their worst nightmare for their precious “little princess” as they nervously peeked at their watches.
And the guests were whispering, “He’s from too classy a family not to show, don’t you think?”
The identical thing happened to the early Christians. They had placed their hopes on Jesus’ countless promises to come again. Nevertheless, one year led to the next. Fifty, sixty, seventy years after he died and rose and still no Jesus.
It was not just them. The organist has been playing preludial music now, awaiting the bridegroom’s entrance, for two thousand years. We cry out like the petrified bride, “Come, Lord Jesus, come, where in the world are you?”
That’s where the bridesmaids earned their beautiful bouquets and lodging in the elegant rooms of the manor house. Their job, when the groom still hadn’t shown up, was to keep their lamps trimmed and burning so the bride’s spirits would not fade into the darkness. While only five of the ten bridesmaids had enough oil left in their lamps when the groom finally did arrive, the truth is that all ten became drowsy and fell asleep. Waiting is tough, especially when expectations are running high.
Have you ever had to wait, really wait, sometimes against all sensible hope? Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, writes, “All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope.”
And yet you all know how hard it is to hope deep into the night, singing all the while. Much of the world has given up hope. We continue to send our sons and daughters off to ferocious foreign wars; God’s planet is wheezing; homeless folks line our streets; and the guns, oh the guns—have we already lost track of the last mass murder at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas? Will it ever end? Better said, will Christ come again to save us from the wretched mess we have made?
If God calls us to do anything tonight, it is to encourage one another to keep hoping that Christ will keep his promises and come again. We do all manner of hopeful things while we wait. We forgive one another when forgiving seems well-nigh impossible. We raise our voices a little louder when the poor are trampled by the oblivious rich and the arrogant powerful. And we make music, yes, we make music, when far too many have hung their harps in the willows and forgotten the beloved songs of Zion.
Do you remember those old-fashioned weddings when the pastor asked, “If anyone can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace”? That’s when it was good to have the bridesmaids dressed and ready. If Uncle Ernie or Aunt Hildegard made a peep, the sisters of Chi Omega would shoot a wicked glance their way or even pounce! They were all about hope…PERIOD.
That’s why we are here this evening. Let us resume the breathtakingly beautiful music-making, in the darkness, with our lamps trimmed and burning. Let us help each other hope that the groom, Christ our Lord, will come again and that peace will prevail for us and for this groaning world.