Trinity 27 2013

Last Sunday of the Church Year
27th Sunday after Trinity
November 24, 2013 A+D
St. Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Bridegroom is coming. In a way, that seems to be bad news for our fallen flesh. The party is over. No more carousing. No more illicit pleasures. No more secrets or plots or strategies. And there is a part of us that mourns the loss of sin even as it fears the unknown. It is remarkably difficult to fully believe that what God has in store for us in heaven is actually better than this life or even more fun than our sins. It is hard to believe that if we are called home or the Lord returns that we won’t be missing out on something.

But, of course, it is actually worse than that because there is a real threat here. It could be that this life isn’t simply over, but that it is replaced with punishment, with eternal fire. Five virgins are shut out.

They were shut out because they gave up hope. They stopped believing – if they ever did – that the Bridegroom was coming. Whatever the oil is, whatever this parable is meant to convey, it must mean this: not everyone goes to heaven. Everyone living in this living death, everyone alive but afflicted by the fallen flesh, is caught by surprise, is sleeping, but some are not just surprised but are actually incredulous. They have made no preparation for the end. They have not repented. They do not believe. And there comes a time when it is too late, when the Gospel is no longer preached, when oil can’t be shared or found and the door is shut.

Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man comes. It is easy to be deluded into thinking that you can repent later. Later may never come. There is a point of no return, a time when you can’t go and get oil, when the doors will be shut forever. It is easy to think that if everyone is doing it, you can get away with it too. Five virgins fall asleep and are shut out. Repent. The Bridegroom is coming.

The foolish virgins said to the wise: “Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.” They did not say: “We are out of oil.” They had trimmed their lamps. Their lamps were low but they were burning. They had not brought any more oil. Their lamps were going out. They did not trust the cry that the Bridegroom was really coming. They thought they were in for more waiting. They had everything they needed to greet the Bridegroom and go in. Their lamps were burning even though they were low, but they refused to believe it was enough. They sought to prepare themselves to meet Him by their own means, they did not dare to meet Him in their foolishness, and as such they were damned.

Now look at the wise. They had brought oil but they had fallen asleep. Who knows how much oil they had left after the Bridegroom was delayed? The wise virgins look like unprepared and unworthy fools to the world. Did they burn through their spare oil while they slept? They might also be going out, but the wise are focused on the coming Bridegroom. Even though He has been long delayed, and maybe they’ve even been awakened before and disappointed, they still trust that He is coming. They believe the cry. They rise to meet Him with rejoicing despite their failure to keep watch. They do look not at their lamps. They look to Him and He keeps their lamps burning. For they trust that He is good, that He loves them, that He will bring them in.

To trust in Christ looks to the world like foolishness, but it is wisdom. Lamps and oil, whether  that means faith or good works, can’t save you. Christ saves you through faith and faith produces good works, but it is Christ who saves you. He saves you by His grace won through His self-sacrifice on the cross in your place and He forgives the sleepers and those who are afraid of death or love this life.

The end of all things looks to the world like chaos and terror, but for the Christian it is joy. Consider the case of Pastor Philip Nicolai. His family, friends, and parishioners in Westphalia were dying from the plague. Between July of 1597 and January of 1598, in about 6 months, Nicolai buried no less than 1,400 of his parishioners – 300 in the month of July alone. He could have fled the plague, but he didn’t. He stayed in order to comfort the survivors and to do his duty to the dead. He prayed and preached. He absolved and celebrated. And he laid Christians to rest with prayer and the Word of God. He gave witness to the hope that was in them. It is a story equal to the martyrs of the early church.

During that same time, Nicolai also wrote a book: The Mirror of Joy. It was about the joy that God gives to His people in Christ even in the midst of tragedy and sadness. The devil played a dirge, but Nicolai praised God and rejoiced. He also wrote three poems for that book, two of which he also set to music. The first we have in English as How Lovely Shines the Morning Star which is the great hymn of Epiphany. The other is the hymn of the day today: Wake, Awake! For Night is Flying.[1]

The welcome voice heard at midnight in Westphalia was the plague calling God’s people home. Today it might be cancer or a car accident or simply old age. May God, in His mercy, instill in us the same eagerness for our own last day. May we rest in His forgiveness and grace and be eager for the completion to come. For the Bridegroom is coming. One way or another, this world, its injustice, its pain, and our sin cannot last. The Bridegroom is coming. Rejoice.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] The two paragraphs about Nicolai were paraphrased from an article by Rev. William Weedon on the hymn Wake, Awake.

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