April 17, 2011
Matthew 25: 1-13
Customarily, this Sunday starts with the story of the joyful celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week before he was arrested, interrogated and brutally killed. We usually read the “Triumphal Entry” story, and then the story of his Passion – which is the old language for his suffering. This year your Worship Committee made an executive decision about what to read and preach today. We will be rehearsing the events of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and friends, and the event of his arrest and trial and torture and death during the week on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday this week. So we found another text from the time of Jesus’ preaching during the last week of his life on which to meditate today.
So today we hear the story of the “Ten Bridesmaids.” Jesus has been talking about the wars and rumors of wars, the destruction of the temple, the messiahs who will lead people astray with false hopes, about famines and earthquakes and persecutions. These are but the birth pangs of the final days, he tells them. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his word and his promises will never pass away. So he is assuring them that even though everything they want to trust will disappoint them, and even though what seems most secure will melt away, they must trust that God’s word and God’s promises have actually already begun to come true in Jesus, God-with-us.
“Be ready!” is his watch-word. Harold Camping, the chairman of Christian Radio Network claims that the Rapture begins on May 21, this year, and that five months later on October 21, will be Judgment Day, the end of this world. I hope he’s right, actually. I want to be there when it happens. I want to see Jesus coming in the clouds and separating the sheep from the goats, as Matthew’s Gospel describes. But I want to live every day in a way that would tell everyone I know God’s love and live the life of joy and compassion that shows that my heart belongs to God, so I’m ready anytime that my world ends. That’s the message of the Ten Bridesmaids’ story. “Be ready!” Jesus says, because no one knows when the day or hour is coming when everything will end and you will be called to account.
I have sat at plenty of besides of those preparing to meet Jesus at the end of a long, rich life. They are ready to meet Jesus, they feel that they have ‘fought the good fight,’ they trust that God is waiting for them with loving, open arms, and that though they are sad to leave their loved ones behind, they welcome the joy that awaits them. It is hard to let them go, but everyone is ready when death finally comes. It is the sudden death of someone dear that shocks and frightens us. Especially when it is someone young. How could it be? How could this happen? If there is anything to be learned by the sudden end of a life that is near and dear to us, I think it is that even in the midst of life, we are always face to face with death. As soon as we are born, we begin the journey toward age and death.
The message is, “Don’t waste one precious minute of the time you have.” Love now, reconcile now, invite now, repent now, accept forgiveness now.
Jesus is on his way to his brutal death as we meet him today. He knows the celebration which surrounds him is fleeting, and that as the days go on and the tensions mount around his confrontation with the church of his day, that he will not survive in this earthly life. He goes forward, telling the stories that prepare his followers for their own fear, betrayal, and despair. He knows that only he has the key to life for all. He knows that his suffering and death are only the birth pangs of the sweet life that bursts from the tomb to give us life forever.
I invite you to travel with us this week through the stories of the end of Jesus’ life to prepare yourself for the joy that comes in the morning of Easter. Come with us to share the last meal on Thursday night, and let Jesus wash your feet through your pastor’s hands. Let healing prayers ease your heavy heart. Come Friday night to hear the dreadful story again to remember what suffering God was willing to bear to break the chains of evil for you. Come on Saturday to hear the ancient salvation stories, the earliest sagas of God’s outstretched hands of mercy to save God’s people, and share in the Wedding Banquet of Easter, opening the door to your own salvation story among God’s people here. Come Sunday to celebrate the joy to the world that we first sang about at Jesus’ birth, that comes to fruition for us at his new birth from the grave to life with us forever.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.