“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” is a favorite Gospel song of the cathedral children’s choir. The well-known text is taken from the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, found in the gospel of Matthew 25:1–13. Luke also makes reference to this verse in Chapter 12. The text has an unmistakable theme; be prepared for the Day of Judgment.
In the parable, the five virgins who are prepared and lamps remain burning, are rewarded by the bridegroom. Those who are unprepared are sadly dismissed. Interestingly, I have had children ask why those prepared did not share their oil. Perhaps the answer lies in what the oil represents. Could the oil be symbolic of a virtuous life? That being the case, we would agree a life well lived is not something one can give away. Virtues can be modeled and taught but a virtuous life takes daily cultivating.
Moreover, most of us have little experience with oil lamps and have given little thought to the actual meaning of the phrase “trimmed and burning.” Since the wick draws the oil up from the reservoir in which it is stored, it must be regularly trimmed to maintain a clean and bright flame. Conversely, a poorly trimmed wick will produce a flame that is smoky and dim.
We have many choices in life but none more consequential than this one. In keeping our “lamps trimmed and burning,” we are not only preparing to meet our Lord, but we are also shining brightly to a world so sadly enveloped in darkness.
As the year draws to a close, the Church encourages us to ponder the reality of the second coming of Christ, a reality we boldly proclaim each week as we pray the Creed. Jesus, fittingly the bridegroom, will come again to meet his bride, the Church. The question remains, will he find her awake?
Cathedral Choir Academy of Detroit