Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Last Sunday of the Church Year / Sunday of the Fulfillment (Trinity 27)


Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25


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

There are ten of them, for they represent the totality of humanity, all people that have ever lived and will ever live. And, they are virgins, for they have been made to be pure and holy, they have been redeemed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. They are destined for the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, because of the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of the Father, in the sacrifice of His Son,alone, apart from any worth, work, or merit of their own. That’s how the Parable of the Ten Virgins begins. Each and every figure in the parable is already in the kingdom of heaven, but not all will remain there.

For, the Parable of the Ten Virgins is a parable of judgment, not unlike the parables of the Wedding Feast, the Sheep and the Goats, and of the Talents. And, while its promise is that salvation has already been won for all, regardless of your goodness or badness or your deeds, a time is coming when the Lord will return, like a thief in the night, and those who have trusted in the Lord and watched and waited for His coming will be found in the courts of His kingdom. And, then, the doors will be shut, and, tragically, those who had it all but lost their vigilance and trust in the Lord while He was delayed will find themselves outside of His gates for all eternity. And, the Lord will say to them, “I never knew you,” for they never took the time to know Him.

The key to the parable of the Ten Virgins is the oil in their lamps. Five of the virgins took extra oil with them as they made their way to meet the bridegroom, a seemingly foolish thing to do for a daytime wedding feast, but our Lord calls them wise. Five of the virgins took only enough oil for the day, not planning for or anticipating the unexpected – our Lord calls them foolish. But, then, the unexpected happens, the bridegroom is delayed. Notice, however, that all ten of the virgins become drowsy and fall asleep; again, it is not because five are good and five are evil or because of their works that the Lord calls them wise or foolish, it is because of the oil that they have, or do not have, for the oil is faith and vigilant trust in the Lord. All ten of the Lord’s pure and holy virgins became drowsy and fell asleep. But, then, at midnight, the watchmen’s cry, “The Bridegroom comes, awake! Your lamps with gladness take!” “With bridal care yourselves prepare to meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” The virgins awake and prepare themselves in haste, trimming the wicks of their lamps which had been burning through the night. And, that is when five of the Lord’s pure and holy virgins realize that their lamps are going out and that they have no more oil.

Those foolish virgins are still virgins, that is, they are still forgiven sinners – that is the Lord’s doing alone, and that hasn’t changed. But, their faith in the Lord was not enough to last through the night of uncertainty before the Bridegroom’s arrival. They were prepared to receive the Lord in faith so long as He came to them according to their expectations and on their terms, but they did not trust in the Lord sufficiently to wait on Him in patience as He was delayed. So, when the Bridegroom comes, the foolish virgins are not there, but they are out in the world desperately searching for oil and finding none. When they finally return to the hall of the marriage feast, presumably still without oil, but pleading for mercy, they find the doors closed and the feast commencing without them. They knock and they knock and they cry out “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the Lord answers, “I do not know you.” And, this is the most horrible of unnecessary tragedies, for these foolish virgins were children of the kingdom, they had been made pure and holy in the blood of the Lamb – they had it all. But, they rejected the Lord by not trusting in Him completely. They were forgiven sinners, just like the wise virgins, heirs of the kingdom, but the tragic truth is that both heaven and hell are populated only with forgiven sinners.

This is a completely unnecessary tragedy, for, as St. Paul writes, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” You, children of God, are likewise redeemed in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ – and, that is a done deal – “It is finished.” That fact is not changed whether you are good or bad and it does not depend upon your works. But, you do need oil, you do need faith to receive this gift, faith which itself is a gift, faith in Christ – no matter what. How much faith is not really the issue, for faith is faith, and faith always receives the fullness of what God has done in Christ Jesus. But, faith comes from and is sustained by God alone. The foolish virgins could not produce oil on their own, they had to go and seek a merchant to buy it from, and, sadly, there were none to be found. For, faith cannot be created of your own will or choice, it cannot be borrowed or taken from another, and, it is only given by the Holy Spirit working through God’s holy Word and Sacraments. And, what does faith look like? What does faith do? Faith watches and waits in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord. Faith watches and waits throughout years and decades. Faith watches and waits through sickness, trial, suffering, and sorrow. Faith always watches and waits in hopeful expectation for the coming of the Lord trusting that He will come just as He has promised.

Further, as St. Paul exhorts you, faith works to “encourage one another and build one another up.” The faithful know that we are never alone, but that we are all in the same boat together, that is the ark of the Church, the body of Christ. We are all forgiven sinners, but that does not mean that we are always good and never do bad things – nevertheless, we remain God’s forgiven sinners, purchased in the perfect and holy blood of His Son. And, as forgiven sinners, we must always forgive those who have sinned against us. If others have hurt you or offended you in any way, you must forgive them as you have been forgiven by God without condition. To not forgive is to not have oil, to not have faith, and the Lord, the Bridegroom is coming, and those without the oil of faith will find themselves locked out of the wedding feast. Besides, what benefit is it to you to hold a grudge against one of Christ’s redeemed children? How does it benefit you to harbor anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, lovelessness, and cynicism? These are tools of Satan to divide, separate, and isolate you one from another and to weaken and snuff out your faith. Don’t let your pride be your downfall, for that was the downfall of your Enemy.

But, how do you keep your stock of oil full, your faith strong, vigilant, watching, and waiting? You do this, not by doing anything, but, by receiving. You do this by receiving the Lord’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation by being in His Word and by receiving His Holy Absolution and the Holy Body and Blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And, you maintain this faith by daily repentance and forgiveness and by a life of humility, grace, mercy, charity, peace, and forgiveness towards others – all others – your brothers and sisters in Christ and your neighbors everywhere else. For, the Lord will return at a day and hour you do not know; like a thief in the night, the cry will ring out that the Bridegroom has come. This need not be a threat, for you have already been judged righteous in Jesus Christ, you are virginally pure and holy in the sight of God through faith in Christ. So, again, Christ’s return need not be a threat – but it is a promise that you can trust, have faith in, and bet your life on.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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