Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 20, 2016
St. Matthew 25:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable is a warning. It is possible to lose the faith, to give up hope, to march out with lamp burning in the light of day, with bold confirmation vows ringing in your ears, but to give in to weariness when the Bridegroom is delayed. Not everyone who has the outward markings of Christianity, that is, not everyone who goes to church, who lives a mostly decent life, who comes from a Christian family, goes to heaven. Some lose their faith. They stop expecting the Bridegroom.
The five foolish virgins aren’t those who were confirmed in 8th grade and then immediately quit coming to Church. They are those who stuck it out, who served on committees, who pitched in on pot-lucks, and used their offering envelopes. But the Bridegoom was delayed, and while they all failed to watch, they all fell asleep, five gave up hope that he would ever come.
The wise virgins are not paragons of Christian virtue. They also fell asleep. They were told to stay awake and to watch, but they failed. They didn’t watch. They slept and had to be aroused.
But despite their sin, the wise virgins still expected the Bridegroom to come. They had more than the outward trappings of Christianity. They also had faith. They had oil.
Now notice this: there was no one there with lamp and oil who wasn’t a virgin. That is to say there weren’t any there who didn’t have the outward trappings of Christianity. There was no one who was secretly a Christian to everyone’s surprise. The point of this parable is not that you can be spiritual but not religious or that you can be faithful apart from organized religion. This parable expects the outward trappings, good works, and membership in a religious institution. What matters is faith, not good works. When the Bridegroom comes what you need is the faith that receives the forgiveness of sins and not a stack of trophies, but there is no faith without good works. It is possible to hear the Word of God and reject it. It is possible to have only the outward trappings, but it is not possible to not hear the Word of God, to not be in the assembly on Sunday morning, and to believe it.
This parable isn’t warning us against acting like a Christian or looking like a Christian even though all Christians fail. This parable is well aware of the wise virgins sleeping. It doesn’t call them hypocrites. They aren’t hypocrites because even in their failure they have hope, faith. They are waiting for the Bridegroom.
So don’t read here that good works don’t matter, that we don’t have come to church or serve on committees or give of ourselves. It is simply warning us that those things aren’t enough. It wants us to dare to examine our lives, even our faith, and see if we’ve been sleeping. It wants to arouse us, to stir us up. It wants to make us uncomfortable.
It wants to do that because it wants us to repent. We have fallen asleep and acted selfishly. If we examine our faith, we must repent. We have not believed as we should. We have pushed what we know is right to the back of our minds, pretended that God wasn’t watching or wouldn’t care, so that we could enjoy our sins or pretend to not notice. We have dangled our fingers in shark infested waters. We have neglected our prayers. We have allowed ourselves to become cynics and thought ourselves realists and we have not served our neighbors. We have been told to watch, but none of us has watched as he should. Repent, be aware, for no one know the hour when the Son of Man will return and we don’t want to be caught in sin.
We should also notice that the Lord washes away the sins of the wise virgins as though they never fell asleep. He holds nothing against them. He died to save them, for their sins, so their sins aren’t going to stop Him.
We should note also that the faith which saved the virgins was the dimpliest part of the lamp and also the most obvious part. It was the oil. They could have poured the oil on a stick and burned it. They didn’t need sophisticated, learned faith. They didn’t need deep thoughts and profundities. They didn’t need impressive sincerity or insight. They just needed oil. They just needed to believe that despite the delay the Bridegroom was coming, that He keeps His promises.
This is why the hymn, “Wake, Awake” is so exuberant. The parable is a warning but the hymn can’t wait. “Wake, Awake” is a call to repentance that fills the believers with joy. The cry “repent” is welcomed by those who have fallen into sin and want to be rescued. The Bridegroom doesn’t come in terror but in mercy and He comes to bring us into the bridal chamber. First He declares us to be virgins, to be pure, holy and innocent that He might bring us to the destiny of virgins. For we aren’t simply bridesmaids at this wedding. He is the groom. We are the bride. He joins us to Himself in the Holy Communion by mystic union, His flesh entering into us. And in that sacred act He joins us also to the Father and the Spirit.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.