Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Given the world events of recent weeks, it would surprise me very little if this week is the week that Jesus would return. The signs are here, there, and everywhere. Signs in the sky above. Signs on the earth below. Wars and rumors of wars.
But the Bridegroom delays. There are yet guests for the eternal wedding feast who need to hear the invitation. If the chaos of these gray and latter days say anything to you, O Christian, it’s this: Wake up! Keep watch! Christ is coming soon.
In the earliest days of the Church, there was a general expectation that Christ would return soon. Like, really soon. But days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into years. Years turned into decades. Now we’re almost two millennia beyond Christ’s ascension and promise to His disciples that they would see Him return in the same way they saw Him depart. Jesus includes this parable and St. Matthew records it for us so that we would be prepared to wait for His return.
The parable that closes out the Church year teaches that you can be prepared for the last days, but still be unprepared for the Last Day. To the outside observer, all ten of the young women are ready and waiting for the nuptial festivities to begin, but half of them have a fatal flaw. All are prepared for the feast, but five aren’t prepared to wait. Then the reign of the heavens will be compared to ten virgins who, taking their own lamps, went to a meeting of the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five sensible. For the foolish, although they had taken their lamps, did not take oil with them.
The complicating incident in this short story is that the bridegroom is delayed. Severely delayed. Such that the virgins all fell asleep. Now, the women’s drowsiness isn’t what makes them foolish; all ten become tired and fall asleep. The virgins’ sleep is almost universally seen by the venerable interpreters of the Church as pointing to the sleep of death. In Scripture, the death of the body is most often called sleep, as Jesus said of the little girl in last week’s Gospel—“death” is eternal death, separation from God. The death of the body is no more than an extended sleep because there is a morning that will come when the sleeper will awake and rise from death.
The foolishness of the first five virgins is that they thought they had the bridegroom figured out. They had him timed. Similarly, any attempt to try to time Jesus is utter foolishness. But despite the absolutely clear testimony of Scripture, and Jesus’ own words, But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, neither do the angels in heaven, neither does the Son, but only the Father alone (Mt 24:36), there are still people who insist on making predictions of His return. This year it was the “Four Blood Moons,” and the Shemitah (a Jewish sabbatical year from the Old Testament), before that it was the Mayan calendar, before that it was 9/11, before that it was Y2K, before that it was any number of other predictions. In another year or so there will be more, and more, and more. Look! Here Jesus is! Look! There He is! But every one of them has looked the fool when their prophesies have unraveled the day after Jesus was supposed to have returned.
The charismatic wackos always gain a following for a time, but don’t be deceived by them. If even the Son—who is omniscient—does not allow Himself to know the day or the hour, then no mortal man can claim to know God’s timing.
The truth is, you can’t anticipate Christ’s return. And because of this, outward preparations do no good to make you ready to meet the Bridegroom. Whether it’s a doomsday prepper bunker stocked with a year’s worth of provisions, or a crusade for social justice in the world, or your own moral rehabilitation program, these external preparations all end in the same place. Buried in the ground. Death is the great equalizer. Because the bridegroom was delayed, they all grew drowsy and were sleeping. Wise and foolish alike fall asleep, not because of their wisdom or foolishness, but because of the Bridegroom’s delay. Christ expects more than external preparations and outward perfection (which you can’t achieve at any rate). Temporal preparations will do you no good. You need a preparation that will endure the dark night and the sleep of death.
This parable is not just to tell you about wisdom, but to give you wisdom. It’s not just to warn you to be prepared, but to prepare you for Christ’s return. Because the enduring preparation that makes you ready for Christ’s return—whether it’s this week or in another thousand years—is faith and the forgiveness of sins. It’s confessing with the Church of every age, From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead, whether you’re the quick or the dead.
Be Prepared for an Unexpected Return of Christ
by remaining in the forgiveness of Christ.
The hidden preparation that isn’t evident at first glance is revealed upon the Bridegroom’s return. But at midnight a cry has come, “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to his meeting.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the sensible, “Give us from your oil, because our lamps are extinguished.” But the sensible answered, saying, “Since there is certainly not enough for us and you, go rather to those selling and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were prepared went in with him into the wedding and the door was shut. Likewise, faith that is hidden now will be revealed in the resurrection.
When Christ returns, it’s not just the righteous who will be raised, but all flesh. I believe..the resurrection of the body, is faith that because Christ is risen, every person who has ever lived will be raised. That’s the power of Christ’s victory over death. All people will be roused from the sleep of bodily death—Jesus says in the fifth chapter of St. John that the hour is coming when all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come forth.
The preparation that prepares you to enter the eternal wedding feast of Christ is faith. It’s the hidden wisdom that gives access to the kingdom of the heavens. Christ is coming, but the faith that makes you ready for His return is faith that He has already come in the flesh to betroth Himself to the Church by giving Himself up to death on the cross. He chose His Bride by a washing Her with water and the Word and presenting Her as the most beautiful Bride. That is the mystery of Christ’s kingodm—not only are you a guest, you are the guest of honor, the one to whom Christ has promised Himself. And not even death shall part you.
This parable is meant to give us Christians a long-term view of things. No matter how the world rages around us, not matter how depraved and corrupt and deviant the world becomes, no matter how foolish so-called Christians demonstrate themselves to be, we know Christ’s end game. I believe…from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead…I believe…the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. This faith is what prepares you to endure the long night and await Christ’s return.
This parable comes with a denouement that offers a very comforting promise. Later, the remaining virgins also came, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us!” But he answered and said, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Watch, therefore, because you do not know the day or the hour. At first it sounds to be a harsh rejection. But not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord!” is worthy of the kingdom.
But the promise that is for you is that your Lord does know you. He can’t forget you because He has you engraved on the palms of His hands. The scars of His crucifixion are His constant reminder of His eternal promise to you, etched in His own flesh and blood. You also receive that flesh and blood in a vorspiese, a foretaste of the feast that is to come in the Holy Supper. A bit of bread and a sip of wine forgive your sins and whet your appetite for the eternal wedding feast of Christ.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard