“Lord, open to us.” With the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, our Lord prepares his disciples for “the delay”—that seemingly long period of time between his first advent, his passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and his promised return as victorious Lord of all. Some 2,000 years later we easily forget the lively expectation of the Lord’s return in which the first disciples lived from day to day. So lively was that expectation that at First Church of Thessalonica, when fellow Christians began to die before the Lord’s return, they were puzzled and troubled and began to grieve like men who have no hope. Some even began to spin their own, homemade theology, beginning to think that Jesus must not have meant that he would really come again “as they had seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11), but meant only some sort of “spiritual,” invisible coming again. Hence the burden of St. Paul’s letter reassuring them of our Lord’s visible return. Like them, and on this day when we remember the faithful departed from our own parish and family, we are to comfort ourselves and encourage one another with the word of the Apostle, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” [1 Thess. 4:14 (ESV)]. They are with the Lord because in faith, in this life they had said, “Lord, open to us,” and he did.
Lord, open to us. This parable warns that there are wise and foolish followers of Christ. Who are the wise? The first persons so called in the New Testament are the wise men from the east who were drawn by the star to visit the newborn King of the Jews in Bethlehem. That star along with the prophesy of Micah were the Word of God that drew them. The oil, the fuel of hope, the lamp giving light to our feet is the Word of God. Later, Jesus said to his disciples, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” [Matthew 7:24 (ESV)]. St. Paul reassured the young pastor Timothy, recalling “how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” [2 Tim. 3:15 (ESV)]. The Word of God is the oil, the fuel of the light that brings the wisdom of faith, which is what makes ever ready for the Lord’s return.
Through the years the lamp of faith in God’s Word at times dimmed, faded and flickered and the Church became drowsy amid the ether of human inventions and traditions that obscured the pure Gospel. 426 years ago, on November 20, the light of the Gospel awakened many with the publication of The Book of Concord, as those confessors were made bold to confess the Truth in the face of all darkness. Since then similar cycles between drowsy devotion and spiritual awakening have come and gone. Once again today it appears, while some have given up on the oil and the lamp of God’s means of grace, many others are rediscovering the energy of confessing the Word of God in its truth and purity.
“Lord, open to us.” We hear these words in the parable only from the mouths of the “foolish” when it was too late. We are bidden, therefore, to say these words now, today, while the supply of the Word is available. “Lord, open to us.” These are the words of sincere and regular confession and absolution. They are the words of the liturgy that teach us how to approach God as our loving Father who has mercy; joining in angelic chorus in praise to God; asking for what we really need as revealed in His Word. He opens the doors of his mercy and grace when we are washed in Holy Baptism, as His Holy Word is read and heard and sung and preached into our ears, and when we approach the gates of His presence and receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, for life and salvation. In all these ways we daily say, “Lord, open to us,” and he does.
“Lord, open to us.” Sometimes, of course, those words are pressed through teeth clenched with frustration, grief, fear or even anger. Sometimes the doors seem closed. Or maybe we may think the doors of God’s mercy are open only to those who are worthy, who are “good enough” to deserve his invitation. Not so. The invitation is to all, the good and the bad, whoever they may be, because the invitation is based not on our own supposed worthiness, but in the worthiness alone of the Lamb who was slain for the life of the world. God so loved, and loves, the world in spite of our sin and rebellion. God so loves you regardless of how far you have fallen away from him! As long as the doors of God’s mercy and grace are open, the invitation stands. He provides the wedding garment and clothes you with Christ’s righteousness.
Nevertheless, there is coming a day when the doors will be shut, locked and barred. Then the foolish, having too lately awakened, will say, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But He will answer, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
“Lord, open to us.” “I do not know you.” Devastating words. The question is not as much “do you know the Lord” as it is “does the Lord know you?” To those who are wise, who have made the Word of God their wisdom and light, will be spoken those gracious words, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
“Lord, open to us.” For now we can petition God with those words in the confidence that He opens the gates of his mercy. “Lord, open to us” is the repentant prayer of faith in the One who came to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. “Lord, open to us” is the repeated prayer fueled by the oil of the Word of God, the life of repentance and faith. “Lord, open to us.” “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” of His final coming [Matthew 24:13 (ESV)]. But you do know that this day and this hour the doors of His mercy are open. So today we end another year of God’s grace with the joyful and expectant prayer, “Lord, open to us.”
Today our Father calls us, His Holy Spirit waits;
His blessed angels gather Around the heav’nly gates.
No question will be asked us How often we have come;
Although we oft have wandered, It is our Father’s home.
O all-embracing Mercy, O ever-open Door,
What should we do without Thee When heart and eye run o’er?
When all things seem against us, To drive us to despair,
We know one gate is open, One ear will hear our prayer. [TLH 279:3-4]