Silly virgins, late grooms, and the end of time as we know it

This sermon was prepared for the United Theological College’s Wednesday Worship, November 8, 2018 (using the coming Sunday’s readings for Year A, Proper 27, Matthew 25:1-13)

Ten young women. I imagine them walking arm in arm—chatting—teasing one another—on their way to meet the bridegroom.

They all go prepared: bringing lamps (in case it gets dark). Because they all know they’ll have to wait.

But, five of them have the foresight to bring extra oil. I don’t know if you know this, but bridegrooms can get delayed.

I’ve heard this text countless time throughout my life, preached from a variety of angles. So, is this text about exclusion? Or “I told you so’s”? Is it about youthful stupidity? … I don’t think so.

I think it’s about ten equal women, with ten equal lamps, who ALL fall asleep. … But half wondered, and planned, in case there was a delay.

So, the kingdom of God is like …what? The women? The lamps? Or, the bridegroom. The bridegroom who hasn’t come yet, not when some were expecting him to. He’s delayed, and all have fallen asleep.

Le royaume des cieux est comme un marié qui ne sait pas … ni le jour, ni l’heure de sa venue.

How often, in the United Church, do we think about the end days? La fin des temps?

The Second Coming? La retour du Christ?

How often do we contemplate our own deaths? Notre mort?

Are we living as if we’re ready for the end of the world …or the end of our lives? As if we’re ready for Jesus’ return to earth …or our return to the dust?

Maybe? …when was the last time you thought about it? I know I find it easier to gloss over all of this. I also laugh at Christians who say they have it all figured out—they know exactly what’s going to happen. And what do I do? I avoid putting serious thought into what I believe about it all.

But, then it’s disconcerting coming face-to-face with a Biblical text that talks about it so directly. And, I can’t avoid thinking about it.

Je ne suis pas comfortable avec la discussion de la fin des jours, ou de celle de la seconde venue du Christ. C’est plus simple d’ignorer ce texte ou, de dire que l’auteur avait une conception metaphorique du retrour du Christ.

I suppose that all this makes me a “foolish virgin”? Not preparing myself for…whatever is to come.

Susan Hylen writes that “If we were to contemplate ourselves in relation to the end time, it might be easier to imagine ourselves as the slaves who work diligently while the master is away than as the bridesmaids whose primary job is to await the groom’s return. This is not necessarily something for which modern Christians should be chastised — after the passage of two millennia, we have grown accustomed to the master’s absence. It’s a long time to wait expectantly.”

Lucky us that the author of Matthew, ever an encourager, gives us a parable to raise our spirits. He doesn’t question whether we will fall asleep, he knows we have—all of us. Yet, he tells us about the wedding banquet that is coming—echoing the promises of the prophets, like Hosea.

And, when it happens—maybe the sky will part and Jesus will descend down. We could spend a lifetime guessing. What’s undeniable, even by lefty United Church theologians, is that the kinship of God stirring—we see the glimpses of new creation on its way.

Comment vivez-vous? Comme si Dieu l’Éternel etait en train de renverser ce monde? Comme si son royaume etait en train de se construire ici sur la terre?

How do we live: present here, and yet watchful?

In a culture that is not particularly big on waiting, how do we join with the two-millennia of other Jesus followers and…be? Be here, on earth, in this time and place; not too worldly and not too focused on things to come.

How do we prepare ourselves, for a kinship that’s revealing itself now and not yet? How do we confront our own finite-ness?

I suppose it could all start with asking ourselves these questions. But, I’d to see us start a little differently—so let’s start with a song. …

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