Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew, chapter twenty-five, the parable of the 10 virgins.
In all of the hubbub about the end of the world that comes this time of year, we often miss one really fundamental reality: the end of the world isn’t doom and gloom and fear and disaster for you and I: It’s a party. Time and time again in the Bible the end times are called a Feast, or a Wedding Feast, or a Banquet or something to that effect. Now I don’t know about you, but every wedding reception or wedding banquet I’ve ever attended, well, they aren’t exactly dull affairs, with everyone clinking their glasses dutifully every seven and a half minutes for a pious peck on the cheek. A wedding is above a celebration that God has joined two people’s lives together as one. It is a cause of celebration and joy!
In our parable for this morning, the parable of the ten virgins, we have two basic ways we can look at the end of the world, for that is what this parable is about. It is about the kingdom of heaven, and the coming of the Son of God. Now, we can look at the end as getting your things together to go get a shot at the doctor’s office, or as getting ready for a wedding.
If the end of the world is going to the divine doctor’s office for a little heaven shot, then you really only have one goal: to get in and out as quickly as possible. You don’t want to linger. You don’t want to chit-chat about the weather. You want to get on with it and be done with it. The sooner the better.
If we look at the end times in this way, it is no wonder we dread the end of the world! Who wants that kind of divine pain? The answer is nobody. Nobody wants that. If heaven, and I would like to add going to church, if heaven is simply the divine inoculation program against sin, well, then there isn’t really a lot of joy in that, is there? Get in, get it done, get out. In this view, the kingdom of heaven is a divine tetanus shot against whatever it is that ails you. Necessary, but painful.
The problem, you see, is that is exactly how Satan wants you to view heaven. If Satan can convince you that heaven is just a big bore where God’s going to tell you to stick out your tongue and “this won’t hurt a bit,” well, then heaven doesn’t sound so appealing. You may forget that divine appointment. You may convince yourself you don’t want to go at all.
But that view of the kingdom of heaven is a lie. It isn’t a shot in the kiester; it is a party.
Now to be fair, if you are preparing for a wedding, there is more than a little bit of work that goes into the planning. Men usually try to duck out of as much of this work as possible, but it is there nonetheless. Clothes, food, seating charts, flowers, drinks, table settings, music, what kind of fru-fru goes on the end of the pews. You name it. It’s all there. If you have ever planned a wedding, or paid for one, you know that there’s lots that goes into it.
This is the same in many respects for us and the Last Day. Be ready, have your oil trimmed, wear the wedding garments of faith, all of these things are in place. But at the end of the day, the point isn’t the preparations. It isn’t the color of bridesmaids dresses or what kind of herring is served at the reception or whatever. The point is the wedding. The point is new life, given by God and bound up together in Him by the blessing of His Word. Everything else, as important as they are, everything else flows from the reality that this is a wedding, and it’s going to be awesome.
But it is easy, oh so easy, to turn something as joyful and wondrous as a wedding into, well, work. It is easy to slough it off and pretend that all of the preparations can happen at the last second. Can you imagine a wedding where the groom forgot to ask the girl if she wanted to marry him? Can you imagine waiting until the organ starts playing to pick out a wedding dress? Or the rings? Or the music?
Yet that is exactly what we can do when it comes to the end times. Jesus says be ready, not because he wants you to wince and this won’t hurt at all, like that shot from the doctor. No, Jesus says be ready because it is going to be FANTASTIC and you don’t want to miss this for anything! This is when you get to see your uncle Vino who always brings the best vintage. These is when aunt Thelma Louise tells you the rest of the family story, you know, the fun stuff that makes you laugh so hard you cry. This is the feast where all the work, and hardship, and trials of this life fade away into nothing. This is the feast where all of your hunger is taken away, your thirst is slaked for good, and everybody, everybody, is welcomed at the Table.
Now, sadly enough, some won’t come. Some can’t believe that God would throw such a wedding feast and invite everyone to the party. Some can’t stand the thought of letting go of their old garments, the sins which we all have, some can’t stand the thought of losing those, and so they turn away from the banquet. Some see the shot in the kiester and not the new life of the party. But you can’t fill their lamps with faith for them. You can’t make them believe. If they don’t want what God has to give, at the end of the day that is between them and God, not you.
I think this is why the Lord’s Supper is such a mystery for so many. All of this is going on every time we come to the Altar and Feast with Him and on Him. Every time we come here, this is the cake tasting party for the wedding. Every time we gather in this house, it is in preparation for this incredible, wonderful Last Day when the party to end all parties will take place. In many ways, this is the beginning of the party. It is, as we pray after communion sometimes, the foretaste of the feast to come.
Frankly, all too often we get so stuck on the sin and muck of our lives that we forget to look up and see what’s coming. It’s hard to look up. I know. The suffering and trials of this day are very real, and may be painful indeed. Jesus, the bridegroom, He knows your fears and hardships. He will fix you up so that you are ready for the wedding. He’s not going to leave you behind, stuck at home and lost when heaven and earth come together for the Banquet that has no end. Don’t be afraid.
Today we celebrate the coming of the bridegroom, even Jesus Christ our Lord. We celebrate His coming by receiving Him in His meal, where He is both host and guest. And make no mistake about it. The end is coming. With it will come angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and uncle Vino and Aunt Thelma Louise, all those crazy relatives you can’t believe you get to see again. In fact, they are here, now, in this foretaste of the party to come. And there will be others there, lots of others, more than anyone can number. You won’t know them right away, but you will love them all the same. They are part of the family, after all. As are each one of you.
So join the party! Rejoice and feast. The best is yet to come.
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.