Break the Night with Color
I will never forget my first Fourth of July here in Williamsburg. The day was cloudy and rainy, and we weren’t sure if the fireworks would be canceled. But right before dusk, the rain went away, and the show was still on. As our feet just arrived on Duke of Gloucester Street we heard a loud bang from past the Governor’s Palace, and the first red white and blue explosion glittered across the night sky.
As mesmerizing as those fireworks were, it was what came next that really stood out to me. After the grand finale of fireworks, we thought it was over. The lights and sounds were gone, and because of the clouds, the streets became dark. Slowly, we started stumbling back to our car, making our way through the crowd, when someone from behind us said, “They’re coming. They’re coming. Make way.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. But as I looked behind me, the crowd was moving off the street and began lining the sidewalk, waiting for something or someone to come through.
We quickly joined with them, wanting to make sure we didn’t get trampled by whatever it was. And then we heard it. Drums beating. Fifes playing. Voices shouting for freedom. The Fife and Drum Core were making their way toward us. And leading the way were these bright torches. Just a minute or two before, we couldn’t see more than a few feet away. But as the torches passed, you could see faces a block away, people from all over – Wiliamsburg, Richmond, Hampton, and Norfolk – all of them who came to celebrate together. And as the torches passed, they spread, lighting the lamps and other torches perched along each street.
The band was incredible that night, but it was the torches I will remember. They took a dark cloudy night and filled it with color. In those flames, there was sense of excitement, of hope, of freedom. For just a moment, you felt like you were back in time, truly seeing the joy of people who were expecting a new and better way of life. The torches were a sign that this night is special, this world is hopeful, and you are not in it alone.
In our passage for today, Jesus has a parable about ten people waiting for a bridegroom to come in the middle of the night. And the text tells us that they are all holding lamps. Now, every time I have read this, I have always imagined something small, like the genie lamp in Aladdin. But the Greek word used here – lampas – most commonly refers to big, bright torches. Those people waiting for the bridegroom weren’t waiting with small, little lights. They were ready with great big torches, ready to brighten up the night sky.
And that makes sense. Because the bridegroom was coming to them in the middle of the night. It was dark. It was dangerous. It can be hard to find a way. And these lamps or torches were the sure sign that you have made it. We are ready to welcome you. This is going to be a great celebration. These torches were the sign that something wonderful was going to happen. They were what turned an ordinary, dark night into something joyful, hopeful, and new.
That may be why Jesus cares so much about them in this parable. Because these bridesmaids aren’t just a small part of the ceremony. By lighting and keeping these torches lit, they shine a light letting everyone know where to go. Here is the celebration Here is the wedding feast. They point the way for all from darkness into light, from the old life into the new.
As we read this parable, we often place ourselves as one of these bridesmaids, waiting and hoping and looking for Christ’s coming again. And I admit, I often read this passage with a sense of fear – will I be ready/will I be inside/how do I stock up on enough oil? But when I read this passage with fear, I think I am missing some of the major points of the story. This is a celebration – a big party. It’s a wedding feast – two of my favorite things rolled into one – weddings and food! This parable reminds us that Jesus loves to party and celebrate and eat together and have fun. A lot of his parables are about that.
But it also tells us that not only are we invited, but that we have a part to play in this celebration. We get to be torchbearers. We get to tell people there is a great party going on. In a word that can be very dark and isolating and fearsome, we get to shine a bright light and say, “Here you are welcome. Here you are not alone. Here is hope and joy and community.”
Sadly, over these past couple of months, torches have become associated with white supremacy, hate, bigotry, and the false worship of skin color. While those torches may burn brightly for a moment they will burn out. There is no true oil, no lasting light with racism and hate.
The lamps and oil Jesus speaks about in this parable are not fueled by fear, but by love. By welcome. By knowing the power of grace and the gifts of the Spirit. We are called to carry the light not because Jesus wants to limit who will be in, but because Jesus wants more and more people to be at the party. Where there is darkness, Jesus calls us to be light.
As you go out this week, remember that you carry that torch. Remember that you have the gifts of the Spirit inside you. You have something good and wonderful to share with the world, a story people need to hear. God loves us so much that God’s own Son came into the world to save us, free us, redeem us, and enter into everlasting life. That is the light you shine. And it will never, ever burn out. Amen.