With Him in the Marriage Feast

Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Date: Pentecost XXIII + 11/12/17

(After singing LSB 764 – When Aimless Violence Takes Those We Love:)

It seems that we are singing this hymn too often these days, these dark days, at the aimless violence in Las Vegas, then in New York, and now in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Though for otherwise misguided political reasons, California Representative Ted Lieu said about a moment of silence in the House of Representatives, “I can’t do this again; I’ve been to too many moments of silences. In just my short period in Congress, three of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred.” To a degree his grief expresses everyone’s, a cry of helplessness.

Still we gather here in the presence of the only One who can help and who has already given the answer and promise not of violence and death but of peace and life. Though these are grief-darkened days our Lord helps us to trust His grace:
for courage to endure,
To rest our souls in Your supporting love,
And find our hope within Your mercy sure. (LSB 764).

Today in the Parable of the Ten Virgins our Lord calls what we are presently going through a time of watching and watchfulness. Though punctuated by the evil evidence of our need for deliverance, that’s not what we’re watching. In the middle of it all we are given the promise and hope that our saving Lord will return to bring about the completion of our salvation from sin and violence and death.

To some extent to understand this parable you need to know the usual procedures of the ancient marriage rites of Jesus’ day. The image of our Lord’s gift of salvation is often compared to a heavenly wedding feast, Jesus the bridegroom of His bride the Church. This parable reflects how the bride’s attendants would wait for the groom’s arrival for the evening ceremony. When Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven will be like” this, He is speaking of that last day and His return. Until then we are to watch in an active waiting, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs were busy trimming their lamps of faith with the good oil of God’s Word when their last day came upon them unexpectedly. May God deliver us from such violence.

So how are we to be ever ready? Like the ten virgins we are to gather together to await our Lord’s arrival. We are given lamps and oil. The scriptures tell us what our lamp is when it says in Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). In the divine words of Psalm 36 we pray and confess, “in your light do we see light.” That is, a living faith that waits and hopes is the gift of God in us given through the means of His lamp, His Word—even as He is doing right now. And we are promised that as we faithfully gather around God’s Word and holy sacraments the Holy Spirit keeps the flame of faith and hope burning, shining and living. This is the place where God promises to be “for us.” To not be together in this place, therefore, is to cut ourselves off, to run out of oil, to become at best a dimly burning wick. In the words of Professor Peter Scaer of our Ft. Wayne seminary, “How might we prepare? For number one, two, and three on the list, I’d say, go to church, go to church, go to church….one where you actually confess your sins, and receive absolution. One that treasures Baptism, which is your wedding garment. One that proclaims Christ’s death by partaking of his Supper”[1]

Like the ten virgins waiting in the growing darkness, we often become drowsy and even may fall asleep under the weariness of returning doubts and fears or just of boredom when it seems like everything remains the same, nothing changes, and we care less and less.

It will be midnight says the Lord. At midnight a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” He then describes us, some as wise and others as foolish. The wise ones still have oil, that is, the spiritual fuel for faith. How did Luther identify it? “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your word.” We’ve seen and witnessed how the kingdom comes now, “when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word.” So we keep and treasure and learn by heart God’s Word. This is wisdom.

Those are foolish however who disdain the Word, who despise God’s Word by not hearing it, by staying away, by cutting themselves off from God’s promised place of rescue. Jesus said, “If you continue in my Word you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will liberate you.” That the Word has the power to keep us awake in saving faith is not in question. What is in question is the first part of that saying, “If you continue….”

How do we continue? How does our faith stay awake and watchful even when we sleep? We cannot borrow faith from others. It must be our possession, a faith that knows and has substance in its vision and grasp of the promises of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Where do you go for the forgiveness of sins and for saving faith? Not McDonald’s. Not Walgreens. Not the theater or (dare I say it?) not the golf course! Where do you go? “Go to church, go to church, go to church.”

And when must we go? Quoting from the prophet Isaiah St. Paul reminds us, “For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2; Is 49:8). We must go “today”! Why? “For you know neither the day nor the hour.” The day nor the hour of what? Of the return of the bridegroom, the consummation of our salvation, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom.

But then the door will be shut. The foolish tried to get into the marriage feast anyway, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But the Lord’s tragic answer: “I do not know you.”

Today the Lord, by His own command, was introduced to little Lochlan Keane. The Lord knows him! To all the baptized, even as you confess your weakness and need for the oil of His Word, today the Lord reminds you, “he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Is 43:1). So even when faith is weak, when you think, “The Lord has forgotten me,” His word comes to mind to lighten the flame of faith, saying, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Is 49:14-16).

So today we sing the midnight cry: “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” “With bridal care Yourselves prepare To meet the Bridegroom, who is near.” And even here and now “enter all The wedding hall To eat the Supper at Thy call” (LSB 516).

[1] Facebook post, Nov 6 at 1:58 pm.