Sermon for 9 November 2008
1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
Another Sunday, another confusing parable. But just for today, I’m not going to get hung up on confusing bits.
Instead, I want to focus on just one detail. The parable tells us that
at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”… And…the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet.
The normal practice in the ancient world was that when a special or powerful visitor came to a town, the people of that place would come out beyond the boundary of that town to meet their guest. They would then turn back, and escort the VIP to their place.
So in their wedding customs, the bridegroom would come from his own place, and the bridesmaids—some coy, some giggling, some envious—would come out to meet him, and bring him inside. The presence of the bridegroom transforms the gathering, and the feasting could begin!
At weddings today, this kinda happens, but it’s the bride’s presence that transforms the gathering. When the time has come, and once the groom is settled at the front of the church, I go out to greet the bride. She is the important person who must be met.
Once she is greeted, with her entourage, I turn around. She, of course, keeps going in the same direction, and her presence transforms the entire gathering. It’s very strange for us to think of the groom’s presence being in any way transforming; he is merely the entree to the feast.
It’s wonderful that our reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian Christians has a similar picture. Here, it’s Jesus who is coming, pictured as descending from heaven. As a VIP, he has to be met.
Well, everyone wants to greet him. His coming is so exciting, so all-transforming, that even the dead can’t keep still! They are caught up into the air to meet him as he comes down, just as the living are!
What happens next? Well, if a VIP comes to town, everyone turns around and brings the VIP in.
So when everyone greets Jesus at his coming, what happens?—we turn around, and he keeps going in the direction he was heading. He comes to earth. His presence transforms the whole earth.