Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)
Chapter 25"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Verse 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Verse 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; Verse 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Verse 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. Verse 6But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Verse 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. Verse 8The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' Verse 9But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' Verse 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Verse 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' Verse 12But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Verse 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Reading this familiar parable of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel created an earworm for me that won’t go away. It’s the African American Spiritual, “Keep your lamps, trimmed and burning.” This song may have been used by the Underground Railroad to conceal secret codes or messages. In this context, a fleeing slave has to maintain vigilance and watch for a conductor. At the same time, the song also has a haunting insistence that urges us to be prepared for Christ’s return. My wife, in her last few months of life, was vigilant and awake to God’s movement in her life. For her, Jesus’ return was imminent and she had her lamp oil standing by while keeping the lamp burning, prepared for the future God had in store for her. May it be so for all of us, being ready and watchful while, in the meantime, doing the work of the kingdom.
Dear God, who holds our future in your hands, keep us ever watchful for your movement in the world. Amen.