The context of the story of the bridesmaids waiting for the coming of the bridegroom is a provocative image for these first three days of Holy Week which is why the church uses them. The setting is the bridal chamber. There is an erotic tone to these days of intense intimacy.
It is the hug before your beloved goes to war. t is the hug of a mother for a child going off to see the world. It is the hug of a child for their dying mother. It is the hug of a friend who must let go of the friendship. It is the hug of a lover sending her man off to war. It is the hug of a brother or sister on the doorstep as the radio eludes to war with Russia. It is the hug of a teenager sending her dad to the twin towers one morning. It is the message left on a message machine from the twin towers two hours later.
How many of your friends would you willingly die for? How many of your relationships would inspire you to willingly submit to torture and death? As much as we like to clean it up and dress it up in lace or silks, this relationship in which we find ourselves with Jesus is an intimate one if we let it be so.
The work of a couple in the bridal chamber is intimate work. Done well, there is exposure, mutual acceptance, exploration, trial and error, risk, vulnerability, touch, taste, smell, laughter, embarrassment, fulfillment. Bodies do some amazing, embarrassing, hilarious, magical and confusing things. Bodies even do some things which seem to stop the planet form spinning,or briefly speed it up.
The animal kingdom, so say the scientists, is a place of present moment. Animals seem not to think much in future or past. Humans, on the other hand, have the capacity to imagine. We close our eyes and the eighty year old widow can summon her bridal night. She can imagine the event (even if it needs, perhaps, some embellishment.) We can use our imaginations to wonder about the future, re-write the past, or even create a new world or experience. But I wonder why God allowed imagination. Science tells us it serves the purpose of problem solving.
What of the problem of being separated from our lover? What if our imagination was a gift so that we could imagine Jesus? What if the rules and regulations the church has developed could be shattered in one fell swoop with our imaginations welcoming Jesus today as bridegroom – the One who comes for us – the One who will not leave us behind – the one who desires union with us?
This icon, The Bridegroom or O Nymphios in Greek, is an icon of intimacy; and so are these three days. Miss that and you have turned the rest of the week from purple to tan. These three days are the mystic’s delight. They are days of longing, willing exposure and the divine assurance of commitment. And we all have a mini-mystic inside us. Monks and clergy will sometimes posture exclusivity where little or none exists. Mysticism is the gift of any and all who choose to go that far deep into the dark intimacy of proximity with Jesus – a proximity which is the entire point of the incarnation. The mystic is willing to kiss not an icon, but an abdomen.
In spiritual direction, I often coach the use of imagination and it often ends in tears – for both of us. Today you might sit with this image from the O Nymphios icon. What would it be like to get close to the Bridegroom? What if Jesus were not way up there past the steps, past the choir, past the railing, past the priest, past the little metal box in the little metal safe? What if the controls were dropped? What if even cloth were drawn back to expose the vulnerability of the divine gut? No cloth, no bones even. Just soft gut. The soft gut of a Savior who exposes it to be punched by guards and kissed by Brides.
We do not realize how much we want the Bridegroom to come to the chamber and be with us. And when we do think on it, we feel scandalized by a sexually repressed society of which the church is a product if not a designer. Nor do we realize how painful it is to have Jesus removed to the cross once we have allowed ourselves to get that close- that intimate. Or we self-anesthetize the event by being busy today… “Not tonight dear, I have a headache.” Jesus comes to us as the Bridegroom. What is your response? Can you stay with the tension in the bridal chamber? Can you look at the abdomen and welcome God as flesh? Can you let that change your life? Not less sinning. Less posturing.