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The time will come
When we'll realize what was and is and always will be
A friend of mine who is rector of a great church in Massachusetts has a tasteful pillow with an important message, “Jesus is coming! (Look busy)” He keeps it in the bishop’s chair at his church, except when the bishop visits. It faces the congregation when they come up to receive Holy Communion each week. As his Massachusetts parishioners say, my friend has a wicked sense of humor.
I thought of that pillow last Sunday when the parable of the ten bridesmaids was read in church – five were prepared for the bridegroom’s coming, with lamps that were trimmed and stocked with oil. But five were not prepared, so that when the bridegroom approached, they had to hurry off to get more oil. By the time they returned, it was too late. The prepared ones had entered the wedding hall, and the door was shut.
I’ve usually heard that parable interpreted as a warning about Jesus returning on the Last Day and the need to be prepared. But early Christian theologians, as well as mystical theologians through the ages and modern Jungian analysts see a much more obvious, inner meaning.
The New Testament and early Christians frequently used the image of a wedding to describe the Kingdom of God. Jesus was the bridegroom and the soul (or the church) was the bride. The marital union of Christ and the soul described the Kingdom, and the supreme realization of the Christian life was to awaken to its reality. “The Kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus said (Luke 17:21).
No wonder it was an ancient Christian teaching, that was echoed in classical literature, that knowing oneself is the key to knowing God. God is so thoroughly united to the human soul that to truly know and love oneself is to know and love the God who dwells in us, the One “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Jesus assured his disciples this way, “I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you,” (Jn 14:20). To be prepared with trimmed lamps full of oil is to bring the light of our conscious awareness to this most important inner reality, and the frequent stories about the Kingdom being like a wedding or wedding banquet are all pointing to this one truth:
We’re already married.
The hope of the Christian life, then, is to realize what is already true. Clergy, the sacraments, the church…none of these is there to give you something that you do not already have. The most important thing religion can do is to help awaken us to what already is. Our true life is hidden with Christ in God. We’re already married.
Maybe that’s why Jesus seems so exasperated with us at times, “This is a wicked and adulterous generation” (Mt 12:39 and16:4). We are already united or married to Christ, but we act as if we’re searching for another spouse. We’re attracted to lesser gods (reputation, possessions, power, wealth), and that just makes us look adulterous.
But despite his understandable exasperation, Christ just keeps coming back to us. “Behold,” he says, “I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And again, and again, and again…. Because we’re married, and Christ thinks we’re worth it.
So, the time will come when we’ll finally open the door. Or we’ll realize that Christ is the door (Jn 10:7). Or maybe we’ll discover that there’s never been a door, except an imaginary one of our own making. Many of us live as if it is up to us to make a good life for ourselves, which must be frustrating for the One to whom we are already married. But the time will come.
That’s why I love this poem by Derek Walcott, a poem that, for me, complements Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” The sentiment here is the opposite of the message on my friend’s pillow, and it’s worth sitting quietly with this poem. Read it out loud to yourself, slowly, with tenderness and kindness, imaging that perhaps the time has come:
Love After Love The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life. “Love After Love” by Derek Walcott, in Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (New York: Noonday Press, 1987), p. 328