I grew up in a home that severely limited my creative outlet of language…I wasn’t allowed to curse, nor was I given the freedom to vent with words that hinted of the real four-letter curse words, the baby curse words like heck and shoot and darn. These were deemed unpolished and tainted by the very notion of adjacency, they contained at least two of the evil four letters. I don’t remember many lectures from Mom who was the language gatekeeper, but there was instilled in our vocabulary a governor which filtered the borderline words readily when Mom was in the room, and a little less severely when we were playing outside.
I was reminded of this last week by an email sent from my cousin Mark Davis, who in the midst of lecturing one of his children caught in the act of euphemistic common language, flashed back to moments in his childhood when his expressive euphemistic wings had been clipped by the keeper of holiness in our home. He wasn’t remembering this painfully as one remembers getting whacked like a pinata Jedi style with a wooden stick by a penguin like the Blues Brothers endured as they sat in grammar school unidesks. No, this was a grateful wistfulness with which Mark wrote about his Aunt Charlotte who taught her unruly children and nephews as we tested the airwaves of the profane.
At the end of the email, Mark, voted most likely to be the subject pinata of a Jedi styled nun wielding a stick, asked this question. What’s the meaning of Matthew 25: 1-13?
In Matthew 25, just before Jesus trial and crucifixion, he tells three stories, all of which relate to being ready. The first is a story about ten bridesmaids, five of whom are prepared with oil and five who are not. But they all have lamps and they all fall asleep and all awake to a groom coming down the street and as they prepare to enter the wedding party, the five without oil are turned away to go acquire more oil. Mark asks, “What does it mean to be ready?”, and “What does the oil represent?” Here’s the verse.
Matthew 25:11 “Later the others also came.‘Lord, Lord,’they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
We cousins and brothers replied with more questions, perhaps the oil is knowledge, maybe the oil is the Spirit of God or salvation, maybe it’s just olive oil? I have a good friend…he worships in a different church than me, and we have an ongoing discussion about church and faith and once I asked him why they enjoy the Lord’s Supper seasonally and he asked me why we observe it weekly. I thought I knew the answer and I quoted Acts 20:7, which never seemed to satisfy me totally, maybe my friend was correct to apply the ‘less is more’ principle.
So, what does it mean that I have or haven’t stored enough oil in my lamp?
A lamp in the ancient world provided light for celebrations, like wedding parties which often lasted into the evening hours. And so light was required and lamps or torches provided a certain amount of expendable light. This supply of light was extinguished once the olive oil was exhausted.
Civilization progressed from torches to lamps fueled by olive oil to street lamps burning whale oil and petroleum oil, from filament bulbs to fluorescent to halogen to led lights. Our world is lit with little thought about replacing an led bulb for ten thousand hours. Unthinkable to the ancient holder of the lamp who constantly stopped to replenish oil and trim the chard of the wick every fifteen minutes.
The Lord’s Supper, sometimes called Communion, is a place and time to leave behind the profane because there is room for nothing else. What we do around the table of communion is about the intersection of our earth-bound commonness and our Redeemer who says come, eat and drink with me in a place and moment of remarkable distinction from our humanity.
Here is an amazing thing…there is only one dispenser of grace in the entire universe…grace can’t be learned in education, acquired online at Amazon, fought for in athletic competition, earned at work, grace can’t mandated by government, doled out through welfare, grace isn’t passed along by human birthright…the only place we can fill our lamp is Christ’s body and in his Church and around a table.
I think perhaps God sees us running around like ants at a picnic marching in furiously paced to and fro lines of constant activity, we’re all doing the same thing, the human thing, our legs are churning, our arms are carrying, not speaking much about anything real, not concerned about running out of oil, marching one by one to our next morsel of food not bothering to check our fuel gauge… but we sit down in a room together and just for a moment…the profane touches the holy…earth intersects with heaven.. we remember how much our we are loved…and the oil gauge needle ticks up a notch.
And so a bit of flat bread reminds us of Christ’s body which has become our mission and we drink juice from a vine that reminds us of blood and our redemption and of grace. We put these into our mouths and we marvel at God rescuing us from our own perverse sense that we can save ourselves somehow at the pump of self-righteousness.
This earth is filled with so much heartache, brokenness, planes disappear from radar, we strive, we work, we go to weddings, we go to funerals…but this moment of overlap between the profane and the holy is one that God says we share, where our sodden wanderings touch the majestic and perhaps if we are still enough we’ll feel God coming along and touch us on the elbow and say “I hope you had a good week, it’s good to hear your voice, I love you…thanks for remembering me.”
And we eat and we drink and we are filled with the stuff of grace and our spirits are filled with the inspiration of a Savior who loved us with tenacious gentleness and amazing grace.
The word preached is grace born, the Lord’s Supper nourishes grace. Grace is like a lamp, which is apt to go out if not often fed with oil, and it’s not stored in LED lamps that burn for ten thousand hours, but sustained in the constant contact of an intimate God who lives and speaks and listens to us in fifteen minute bits of holiness. One day our lamps will never go out, but for now I’m reminded of the constancy of the fountain of restoration where I can go and set aside my ant hill of living and speak to the transcendent everlasting who lights the world with ten thousand LED lights on a thousand hills. And I choose one hill among the thousand to set my fifteen minute lamp next to those eternal lights and marvel at the brilliance.
Bernard of Clairvaux said, ‘When my spiritual strength begins to fail, I know a remedy, I will go to the table of the Lord; there will I drink and recover my decayed strength.’ There is a difference between dead stones and living plants. The wicked, who are stones, receive no spiritual increase; but the godly, who are plants of righteousness, being watered with Christ’s blood, grow more fruitful in grace.