Dear brothers and sisters,
we have come to the end of the church year. This year has been much different than other years for all of us, for the country and pretty much for everybody. Usually, other years, as the comfortable Westerners, we tend to have this naïve and rather optimistic attitude to the flow of the time of a year. On the New Year´s Eve we say by-by to the old year and welcome to the new one. Or, as the saying goes, “something ends and something new begins”, not a big deal, right? We change years and experiences like socks. After all, at the New Year´s Eve party, alcohol drowns everything, and the show goes on.
Not so much this year! Probably for the first time in 70 years, we face a real and everyday uncertainty and gloom that touches our loved ones, ourselves and our livelihoods. Suddenly, time is not an opportunity to be enjoyed, but a serious business that matters and that holds unknown or fearful things for us. For the first time in our lives, we sense the thickness of time when we are enclosed at home, we see the destruction that goes hand in hand time when our favorite shops and restaurants go out of business and when time destroys our well-being and livelihood and we fearfully look into the uncertainty of time and our own lives and lives of our loved ones. Just try to empathize with our ancestors who lived through plagues.
Time and its perception have changed. Time has become fearful, serious and very meaningful. Time has become heavy and, suddenly, it does matter how we approach and spent it.
The same heaviness of time is present in our text of Holy Scripture today. Remember, the Parable of the Ten Virgins follows the Lord´s discourse with His disciples after leaving the temple and sitting on the Mount of Olives. There He predicted the end of the world and He called on us to be ready. The disciples asked Jesus: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3). Christ replied: “Watch out…” (Mt. 24:4) Do you sense the thickness, the heaviness, the seriousness of time?! The disciples are eager, they are hanging on Lord´s lips for Him to remove and cast out the uncertainty and unbearable heaviness of time. Like us this year when we ask: When will this whole thing and its uncertainty and suffering be over?! What a different perception of time than we used to enjoy with the lightness of being.
Time does matter and time is in the center of the Parable. The very time, the moment, of Lord´s kingdom advent will be like the ten virgins. In other words, it is not a fairy tale or a “nice story.” It is a very serious business and has consequences of who will and will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Time does matter and there is coming the moment that will matter eternally. The virgins´ task and mission is to meet and accompany the bridegroom, He is the purpose of their going out, He is the one who will give the wedding banquet. But the virgins must wait, and they do not know how long. Time is uncertain here. So, some of them fall asleep and their lamps go out. Again: How long, how much longer?! And then suddenly – the moment of time does matter and changes everything! Some of the virgins watched out, were ready to meet the bridegroom and entered the banquet, and some did not, they missed the moment and were left outside.
Why? Why the distinction? Were the first virgins “better” that the later ones? At this question, we encounter the law. We do not know much about the wedding rules and habits of that time. The Parable story seems to make clear just the following. The virgins were to meet the bridegroom, they were to meet Him and keep watch and were supposed to be ready to welcome and accompany Him on His way. Clearly, the virgins had certain responsibilities and there were certain rules how to discharge these. Concerning the distinction that lies in the missing oil, we can be tempted to see in it certain works that earned the bridegroom´s favor. But as virgins sent to meet the bridegroom, they all were to meet Him, they all were to accompany the bridegroom and dine with Him. The oil just provided for their lamps the light on their way and obviously, it was easy to provide it since they could go and buy it during the night. Something else seems to be in focus here. It is the heaviness of the moment and the virgins´ readiness for meeting the bridegroom. And in this respect, all the virgins were short of being worthy in a vigilant waiting for and expecting the bridegroom. All of them became drowsy and fell asleep. (Mt. 25:5). In this respect, we should keep in mind the warning words of the apostle Paul to the Church in Rome that we read for the Reformation Sunday: „Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin…. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…“ (Romans 3:19, 20, 22, 23).
Rather, we should turn our attention from the works of the virgins to the great joy and hope of the Parable narrative. Wedding used to be one of the greatest joys in man´s life. The Parable talks about a Bridegroom who is coming to meet His bride whom He loves and wants to take as His beloved wife. There is no question, the bridegroom is Christ Himself and the beloved bride is His Church. Just this alone is a reason for our joy and comfort: We are not left alone, we are loved by our Lord and He is coming to meet us and to celebrate the wedding feast with us.
We too are now living in a time of midnight darkness and we too are sometime overwhelmed by the never ending difficulties of our time and like all of the virgins, we are weary and falling asleep into lethargy, panic fear or depression. But we too can hear the voice of comfort and joy of the Gospel: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” (Mt. 25:6) So, come to hear the good news of the cross of Christ by which He brought to you the forgiveness of sins and salvation by His broken body and shed blood. In the deep midnight dark, in the valley of death and tears, in this world filled with devils, hear the Gospel: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” and hear the wonderful invitation of the Lord of lords and King of kings on the cross: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28).