The wedding has been arranged, the feast is set. It promises to be a party beyond compare in both scale and opulence. No one has ever seen anything like it before, and likely never will again. The bride is prepared. The bridesmaids, chosen and waiting. The Bridegroom could come at any moment. But He doesn’t. The girls wait and wait, and as the hours begin to go by their excitement turns to apprehension. Their apprehension to impatience. Their impatience to boredom. Their boredom to sleep.
And then the cry “Here He is! Here is the Bridegroom! Come out and meet Him!” But at that crucial moment, the moment it all begins, something is discovered to be very wrong. Not everyone is ready. Not everyone is truly prepared. And the unthinkable happens – some of the young maids are left out in the dark. Some who were invited to the party to end all parties miss their chance, lose their place.
How could such a thing happen? What went wrong? They all seemed alike on the surface. Ten young women all with the same invitation. Ten pretty maids dressed in their finest. Ten virgin girls with lamps lit and at the ready. Ten girls who wait together, who fall asleep together. But at the critical moment five are ready and head in and five are not, and are left out. The simple fact of the matter is that despite all appearances, some were prepared and some were not. Some were wise to bring enough oil to keep their flames burning. Some were foolish and let their lights go out for lack of fuel. (13) Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Watch. Be prepared. In all three readings for this morning, as different as they are, there is one common and underlying truth. The Lord IS coming. Therefore watch and prepare or you know neither the day nor the hour. This parable is for us. It is about us. The invitation has been sent, we have been chosen and are even now waiting. But somewhere along the line the excitement turns to apprehension, to impatience to boredom to apathy. The stark truth is that not everyone who goes to church will be ready when He comes. But Jesus dearly wants His Church fully supplied and fully prepared for the shout of His glorious coming. He wants us to be prepared at any hour – day or night. That’s why He gives us the warning.
Many people approach Christ with a minimum requirement attitude – what is the minimum amount of Christ that I need to avoid hell and enter heaven. The feeling is that once I have been exposed to the minimum required, my time would be better spent taking care of other business. You see it in those who say: “I’ve been baptized, so why do I need to go to church?” Or in others who say “I studied that in confirmation, so why do I need to go through it all again in Bible Study?” Or in those who say: “I know I’m forgiven, so I don’t need the Lord’s Supper.” There’s a lot of different ways of putting it – but it all reflects the same foolish attitude: “My lamp is burning. I don’t need extra oil now. I can always get it later.”
We get lazy, assume that since we once were “saved” that we don’t need to keep going to church services, or keep reading and hearing God’s Word, or keep confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness, or keep receiving the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith. And little by little over time those who question whether they should go to church or not simply don’t any more. Those who question the value of Bible Study find themselves 40 years removed from confirmation without a clue about what they learned, or how to make sense of the life that has fallen apart around them. Those who undervalue forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper wake up one day to find themselves a decent person who really doesn’t need forgiving at all. Little by little the lamps of faith and witness for Christ go out.
The wedding between Christ and His bride the Church, has been arranged. The great banquet feast of heaven is set. It will be a party beyond anything creation has ever seen. The bride is prepared, adorned with the gifts of her beloved – washed clean, made spotless. The bridesmaids, chosen and waiting. The Bridegroom could come at any moment. So are you ready? How can you be sure you are ready? Hear Jesus’ Word!
That Word is at the heart of God’s Kingdom. That Word is the wedding vow between Christ and his Bride. And thus it is a Word conveyed to us in so many rich and different forms: in the Studying of the Scriptures – yes, of course; but also in Hearing the Word read and preached regularly in our church services, by reading and praying it at home with your family every single day. That Word of promise is Eaten, along with the bread and the wine in Holy Communion. That Word is remembered and lived under daily by recalling that we are sealed by God’s gracious Word in faith, in Baptism.
53 God’s kingdom comes to us in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and secondly, in eternity, it comes through the final revelation [with the coming of Christ]. Now, we pray for both of these, that it may come to those who are not yet in it, and that it may come by daily growth here and in eternal life hereafter to us who have attained it. 54 All this is simply to say: “Dear Father, we pray Thee, give us thy Word, that the Gospel may be sincerely preached throughout the world and that it may be received by faith and may work and live in us … 55 You see that we are praying here not for a crust of bread or for a temporal, perishable blessing, but for an eternal, priceless treasure and everything that God himself possesses. It would be far too great for any human heart to dare to desire if God himself had not commanded us to ask for it. 56 But because he is God, he claims the honor of giving far more abundantly and liberally than anyone can comprehend — like an eternal, inexhaustible fountain which, the more it gushes forth and overflows, the more it continues to give. He desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him1
God is so tremendously rich in His mercy. The forgiveness and life that Jesus hung on the cross to win for the world, He gives out in not just one way, but many – in Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, in the Lord’s Supper, in the Word as it is preached and read, and studied and prayed. There is more forgiveness and life and salvation in that Word than you and I could ever imagine. More Jesus in His Means of Grace than we think we need. Enough forgiveness and life to keep our lamps burning until the Last Day. But it must be kept close by – right here at hand if it is to be of any use to us on that Day.
(10) and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast … Readiness cannot be achieved by a last minute adjustment. For then it is too late. Preparedness cannot be gained through another’s faith. One can be ready – be prepared – only by living a life of faith right now. We can only be ready for that Day our Lord returns by being where He is even now! That way, when Jesus returns there will be no surprises for those who are already living with Him and under Him in His rich gifts of the Word.
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (427). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.