Sunday the 12th of November 2017
During this season of the year leading up to Advent, you will find that the readings that we have each Sunday are focused on the end of time; more particularly, on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the advantages of having a lectionary that leads us to hearing and thinking about this, because I suspect that for many of us it is not something that we think of too often in the midst of our daily lives. But it is important for us to realize that the expectation of Jesus’ return is very important to how we live out our lives as his followers.
The lives of us as Jesus’ disciples are to be shaped by knowledge of his return. Now there is much that we do not know when it comes to Jesus coming back; this includes the exact time when he returns. We are clearly told that the day and the hour is not known to us. This fact that we do not know, makes being ready for Jesus’ return more important.
The Gospel for today from Matthew 25 is all about just this: being ready or being prepared. The last verse of this reading says: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” In this, Jesus points us as his followers to be watchful, and it contrasts the foolish bridesmaids who were unprepared.
But what does it mean for us to be watchful and prepared? Certainly, we take from this parable that we should continually be alert and ready for Jesus to come back, having this in our minds often. There is no doubt we need to take this seriously. But one of the things that is perhaps overlooked in this parable is its focus on the delayed return of the expected one. There is a sense that in this parable Jesus does not simply call for right action in his absence, but rather that he calls for a recognition that he may be delayed.
I don’t know about you, but I am someone who does not like delays. I find waiting for things hard because I am so often impatient. It is not just me, but it is our society as well. We live in “I want it now world”. We perhaps don’t deal with delays very well. We don’t like to have to wait.
We need to realize that it is hard for us as Jesus’ disciples to be anything like the bridesmaids, wise or foolish, because perhaps we have stopped waiting. We give little thought to Christ’s return, let alone what we should do to prepare for it. If we were to contemplate ourselves in relation to the end time, it might be easier for us to identify ourselves as the slaves who work diligently while the master is away than as the bridesmaids whose primary job is to await the groom’s return. After two thousand years, it’s a long time to wait expectantly. It is so easy for us to become so complacent, to move on and stop anticipating his return.
Perhaps in this way we are tempted to be like the foolish bridesmaids, and live life complacently; live life knowing that Jesus will come back, but not actually living like it could take a while.
But the wise bridesmaids in this parable were the ones who prepared for the groom’s return, but they also prepared for his delay. Perhaps there lies the lesson in this for you and me as Jesus’ disciples here. We need to prepare for his delay as much as we do for his return. If the groom was coming quickly there would be nothing wrong with taking one’s lamp full of oil to meet him. But the wise disciple packs a supply of oil, knowing that the wait may be unpredictable. In other words, we prepare ourselves for the long haul.
We prepare ourselves knowing that his promise is that he will return and that when he returns, the wedding banquet will begin. The language of a wedding banquet is one that is to give us hope. The image of a wedding where the Lord is the bride groom and the church is the bride is right throughout scripture. So the image of a wedding banquet is one in which we are with the Lord in celebration. The prophet Isaiah says this: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (Isaiah 61:10-11). When the wedding banquet begins the prophet sees a restored Israel, where human unfaithfulness and sinfulness has faded away, and is replaced by righteousness and praise.
The book of Revelation describes it this way: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).
The bridesmaids in this parable await not only the groom, but also the removal of pain and suffering. The wedding feast symbolizes the beginning of a new life, where God’s grace justice and mercy abound in love; the realization of all the hopes of Israel and all his children are fulfilled. The wedding banquet is a time of celebration and joy.
The hope that you and I have because of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us is that we too will enter into this celebration through him, when the day of the Lord comes. This is the hope that we hang onto as we walk through our daily life with all its complexities and challenges it has for us. But this hope is not something that is just in our head; this is the hope that we also prepare for in our daily living, as we continue to trust Jesus and hold onto him as we journey with him.
For us to act like the wise bridesmaids in this parable, is to stand true to and affirm our faith in the coming of Jesus Christ. Doing so demonstrates our trust in his promise, but also that our God is a God of grace, forgiveness, justice, mercy and hope. As we wait for his return, we wait by continuing to live out our Christian life, following our Lord as he teaches us, holding onto his promise and the vision of what is to come.
The wise bridesmaids keep the vision of Jesus’ return, and all that it stands for, alive through their faithful and patient waiting in the midst of delay. By preparing for the day, the timing of which no-one knows but God, they proclaim that God’s promises are true. They act out their hope for that day when God will establish justice and righteousness and peace.
As we live in this world where waiting is so difficult, I encourage you to hold onto Jesus and the hope that we have through him. I encourage you as you wait to continue to grow through his Word, to continue to grow together with other Christians around you. I encourage you to keep persisting in patience and in faith, as you keep trusting Jesus and his promise that he will return and that he will take you to the wedding banquet with him.