“The kingdom of heaven,” this parable tells us, “is like bridesmaids.”
Set aside for a moment all you have heard about Christ as bridegroom and think instead about the bridegroom at the last wedding you were at where one of the people getting married was a guy. What was he like?
Even if he was a famous or wealthy man, as he awaited the moment of his union with his beloved he was most likely feeling similar things to what every other man who has ever stood at an altar waiting to get hitched feels. He probably harbored hopes, fears, longings and expectations common to all grooms.
On the other hand, no matter how unremarkable or ordinary he was, he was elevated above all others for the duration of the ceremony. Dressed in his finest, adored by all, he was the center of attention, star of the show. Our weddings are like that; they lift us up while at the same time connecting us to everyone else who has ever gone before us into a sacred ritual of union.
Imagine him now. Dressed in his finery, incredibly vulnerable, the bridegroom looks out across the room. His eyes search out one person – his beloved. He sees his wedding party too, though, and is relieved and grateful that they have come to honor him. He feels loved, cared for, and supported by them.
What if a few don’t make it by the time the wedding begins? It’s a let down. The wedding party is diminished and both the groom and his beloved are hurt. A distance is created that the delinquents will need to remedy if they are to remain friends with the couple. What happened? How could they have possibly failed to arrive prepared and on time?
A bridesmaid is a witness and a helper. She comes to the moment of the bridegroom’s triumph to participate in the ritual, to aid in the process of making the event memorable, and to be a supportive representative of the bridegroom’s friends and relatives. She has to be there, prepared and on time. If she isn’t, she causes a let down. And she misses the party.
A bridesmaid has a lot in common with a midwife. Both stand at the gateway of rich new beginnings and cheer the process on, helping where they can. Both set themselves and their needs aside for a time to focus on the holy event unfolding and to lend aid where they can. It is an honor for them to be there. Both are witnesses to wonder.
I would like to be the bridesmaid in the mystical union between God and God’s beloveds. How do I witness and celebrate the moment when they know God loves them and reach out to their Creator with joy. When God comes to someone as a bride, I would like to be aware enough to gasp in wonder and to cheer. I would like, in what I say and do, to witness the event, to support them and celebrate.
And where someone I meet is unaware that God is yearning for a relationship with them, I would like to be one of the midwives, in whatever way I can, of their relationship with the Holy One. I would like to stand at the gateway of love and hold open that door.
The oil that I need, that replenishes my flame, is my own relationship with God. Prayer, thanksgiving and wonder nourish the little lamp that I bring to the wedding banquet. I would like to keep that oil near to hand.
At the threshold of the kingdom of heaven I wait. Soon the bridegroom will come. It could be anyone. I pray that I have the presence of mind to be ready.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Oil Lamp