Last Sunday of the Church Year
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Be ready! Jesus is coming back. Though He has been delayed these many years for the sake of the elect, He is coming soon. We are to expect His return at any moment. To give up hope, to live as though only this short life mattered, or as though the wait would last forever, is to throw your lot in with the devil.
The ten virgins all look the same. In weakness, they all fell asleep. This is not a parable about good works. None of the virgins was perfect. The thing that separates them is wisdom. This is a parable about faith. The foolish virgins had burned up their oil, exhausted their faith. Somehow, during the wait, their oil had been consumed for something other than the coming Bridegroom. They figured if He was coming at all, they’d have time to make up for their sins. He came unexpectedly. They were shut out. They was no time for deathbed repentance. They were damned. The Bridegroom did not wink at their lack of preparedness. He did not respond, “Aw, shucks. Come on in.” Instead, He says: “Truly, I do not know you.” Be warned.
The wise virgins also were caught unawares. Neither had they kept the vigil without fail. Somehow, though, they still had oil. They trimmed their lamps and were welcomed into the bridal chamber. Somehow, during the wait, they managed to never completely forget what they were waiting for, what really mattered, who was coming. They still had oil.
And so we see what faith is. It is not the outward appearance of good works, such as being a virgin. It is not a perfect keeping of the Law. Rather, the wisdom of the virgins, that is, faith, is to remain ever aware that we are waiting, that this short life is not all that there is, that He who has bought us with His life is coming back.
There is danger in the waiting. Satan has his season. He has asked to sift you like wheat. Will your faith be consumed? At confirmation, full of zeal, we were bold to say: “Lord, I am ready to go with Thee, into prison and into death.” But before the night was over we fell asleep on the watch. We quit praying for it was too bothersome, too much of a hindrance for sin. Rudely roused from our slumber, we want to resort to violence, to take control, to cut off the ear of Malchus, and to make Jesus a more sensible, the non-dying kind, of Messiah. When things get bleak, when the pressure mounts, we deny Him hoping it will gain us the favorable opinions of men. Hear the cock crowing, O Christian! Repent. He turns His gentle gaze upon you. Repent, before it is too late, before the door is shut, before the night cometh when no man can work. Like St. Peter before you, repent and be welcomed back yet again into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, in the bondage of love to the Father, by the Word of the Son. Be welcomed back by grace.
Like Moses, refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Choose, rather, to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Esteem the reproach of Christ as being greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Embrace the promise. Faith that lives by and in Grace, faith that is not a flexing of the will but a submission to the Goodness of God, will not be consumed in the waiting. God intervenes for His children. He wakes them, rebukes them, and forgives them. He fills the oil flask with His Word.
Awake from your gloom. Hear the distant trumpet’s song. Step out of your self-pity and anxiety. Christ returns! Soon, He comes in glory for all the world to see, and to reveal to those who have derided and mocked you that contrary to all earthly wisdom and appearances, you are in fact a son, or a daughter, of God most high. This is how it is in the Kingdom of God: a lowly shepherd boy can kill giants and be king, Joshua can knock down fortified walls with trumpets, Mary can carry God around in her womb, and three days after He dies Lazarus can walk out of his grave. Without credentials, earthly honor or titles, without money or fame, you, O lowly and unlikely one, are God’s beloved.
While we wait, He wakes, fills us, and prepares us by coming here and now in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He joins us to Himself by entering into our fallen flesh with His crucified, risen, and ascended Flesh. His Body is absorbed into ours. His Blood courses through our veins. His innocence resides in our hearts. He is our King, rules in our lives, by the power of that flesh put to death by men but made alive by God. And we proclaim that death, that is the kind of death He died – substitutionary, in our place, the Innocent for the guilty – every time we eat and drink Him until He comes again.
Here is oil for your lamps, Food for your soul! Here He rallies the troops, encourages, nourishes, and strengthens for the watch. The Bridegroom comes now with forgiveness, with life and salvation, with strength for the day. Heaven is opened and He gently whispers into your ear, “Hang on. I have not forgotten you. I am not gone. I am with you always. Soon I shall return and complete what I began in you when you were named as Mine in Holy Baptism!”
Look, O Christian! His return is not so far off as it once was. You have fallen asleep, been less than faithful. But nonetheless, He loves you and bids you come into the bridal chamber by the Grace of His own merit, to bask in His forgiving presence and feast upon the very Bread of life! This is what we do while we wait. It is the only way to stay awake, to fend off the cold boredom of a long watch, to remember what He has done for us and who we now are.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen, Pastor
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana