God’s kingdom is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn’t show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep. (Matthew 25:1-5, The Message)
Part of Jesus’ seemingly wilful obscuring of his message and identity is expressed in the stories he tells. The parables are deceptively simple stories of contemporary everyday occurrences, the meanings of which are designed to be available only to those willing to hear them in the first place. We can become over-familiar with them now, but really they’re strange and divisive. The Tuesday of Holy Week is, for many parts of the Christian tradition, about readiness for what’s coming: death, judgement, the revelation of God’s kingdom. Jesus deals with this in two parables – the 10 virgins and the talents. The former deals with the idea of being ready for a bridegroom who could come to meet the bridal party at any time (as happened with weddings then); throughout the Bible the image of marriage is used to understand the relationship of God to his people. Coming as it does this week in the run-up to the bridegroom’s death, this makes for a strange kind of wedding, where you have to die in order to live, say no in order to say yes. You need to be ready.
French-Canadian group Arcade Fire are a strange bunch. They throw all sorts of invention and ideas at their music, evolving each time into something slightly different. This song – one of their best known – is taken from their first album (for our purposes, aptly titled Funeral) and finds their sound at its most accessible. As it should be as we anticipate a wedding, it’s a euphoric, almost ecstatic number; but involving a kind of death it’s also laced with an unnerving dis-ease and awareness that there’s a price to be paid.
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