The Last Sunday of the Church Year
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
While people were saying, “Peace and security,” swift and sudden destruction came upon them. It came long ago in the form of a worldwide flood. And how many escaped? How many were delivered? Only eight souls—those of Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives.
The rest did not believe Noah’s preaching. They did not believe that destruction was coming upon the world. They ate and drank, they married and were given in marriage. Like the foolish virgins in the parable today, they did not prepare themselves for God’s judgment.
It was not for any lack of grace on God’s part. He opened up for them a way of escape, a way of deliverance. God so loved the world that he gave it a preacher named Noah, and an Ark of safety. He even told Noah how long it would be until the day of this flood. So Noah built his ark. And when the time came for the rains to fall and the flood to engulf the earth, the door to the Ark was sealed, and the people who remained outside perished.
No doubt there were many on that day who knocked and clawed at the door of the Ark, saying, “Noah, Noah, open to us.” And had there been a parable written about that day, the response would likely have been, “Truly, truly I say to you, I do not know you.” As for Noah and his family, like the wise maidens in the parable today, they were safe inside this ark. By God’s grace they were rescued from death.
Today we are reminded that the Lord is coming again. Once more He will visit the earth in judgment. As we confess in the Creed: “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” As it was in the days of the flood, so will it be in those days.
Paul writes: “While people are saying ‘There is peace and security,’ sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” And because the Lord has not revealed to us the day nor the hour of his final Advent, we must be ready and watchful so that we are prepared when he comes.
This is the point of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Christ’s return in glory is likened to that of a Bridegroom who comes to claim his bride. The imagery employed is that of a grand Jewish wedding, which differs considerably from engagements and weddings of our day. Groom and bride have been betrothed by the parents. This has made them man and wife. After the Jewish betrothal a certain time, usually not a very long time, was allowed to elapse, and then on a certain evening the groom, accompanied by his friends, proceeded in a festive procession from his own or his father’s house to the home of his bride to bring her and her maiden companions to the groom’s home for the consummation of the marriage with its days of wedding festivities. This homebringing was not connected with a marriage ceremony. The husband merely took his wife unto himself.
Thus on the Last Day, the picture our Lord paints for us is one where the heavenly Bridegroom takes his bride, the true church, to his heavenly home, consummating the wedding feast of the Lamb who was slain but lives, bringing to completion what He accomplished by His cross, resurrection, ascension, fulfilling His promise that he will come again to take us to himself.
This explains the action of the ten virgins who took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. These were friends of the bride who went out from their homes with the necessary lamps, not to the bride’s home, but to a place that was conveniently near. When the groom brought the bride out of her home, these virgins came forward and joined the procession with their lighted lamps and had their part in the feasting and the joy of the wedding in the groom’s house.
The number ten is not accidental but symbolical. It denotes completeness. These ten virgins represent all the followers of Christ during all the ages. All of those who are part of the church on earth will be made like these ten virgins when the Christ, the church’s bridegroom, returns.
Notice the similarities of these ten. Outwardly they look the same—they were all virgins, they all had lamps, they all fell asleep. This sleeping pictures the security and assurance with which the virgins awaited the bridegroom’s coming; they all felt that they were perfectly ready, that they could add nothing more to their preparation. In the case of the wise virgins this security was justified, but in the case of the foolish it was not.
For they were all the same, save one thing. Five were wise; they had oil so that they could light their lamps and join the joyful procession and celebration of the bridegroom and his bride. But five were foolish; for they had brought no oil with which to light their lamps, they could not light their lamps. They could not join the procession. The time for buying oil had passed. Now was the time for using it. And this illustrates the point of the parable: Be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom. Be ready. Have oil with which to light your lamps. For you know neither the day nor the hour. And despite that fact, you do know that He is coming nevertheless.
So oil is the key. Lamps without oil are the outward forms of the Christian life that are without the substance of that life; lamps together with oil are the forms the Christian life vitalized by the substance of that life. And so the grace of God poured out through His preached Word and the Sacraments are the oil, faith and the works that proceed from faith are the flames enlivened by the oil, and the lamps are the outward forms of Christianity. We are to have all three. We are to be ready with lamps, oil, and flames, so that when the Bridegroom comes, we may follow him into the joyous celebration of his wedding feast.
And then the midnight cry is heard, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The wise go into the wedding hall with the bridegroom. But the foolish are not ready, and so they are left outside of the wedding banquet.
So will it be on that day. “Watch, therefore, for you no neither the day nor the hour,” says the Lord. The Parable is a sober reminder of this important point: the time of grace will come to an end. The judgment will come when we do not expect it. And those who were watchful, those who “prepared with bridal care” to meet their heavenly Bridegroom, will go with him into the eternal wedding feast.
Those who were foolish, those who brought no oil with which to light their lamps, who squandered the time of Grace with sloth and delayed repentance, those who did not make use of God’s Word and Sacraments or heed it, will be lost eternally, in that place “where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The thing is: God does not want any to perish in this final judgment. He would like all to be saved and come to a knowledge of His Son. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that they might turn from their evil way and live.
And so the Lord has once again offered a way of escape. He has opened up a way of salvation, a way of escape from the Judgment that is to come. God so loved the world that he gave His only- begotten Son, that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life. He gave His Son into death to bear the burden of our sins and to receive in his own flesh the penalty that they deserved.
And having risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, Christ, our greater Noah, has built himself an Ark, a holy Church. He is the door of that ark. He is the one through whom all who would be saved must enter. He has sent out his preachers to gather as many as would come into this holy ark of the Church, so that when He returns, when the day comes, we will be safe.
Outside of this holy Ark, there is no salvation. God has given only one way of deliverance, only one way of safety. And those who say, “I’m just fine without the Church, without the Word, without the Sacrament” do not know that they are digging their own grave. Those who say, “Tomorrow I will watch. Today I shall live!” are like those foolish virgins who had no oil to light their lamps.
But wise is the one who hears and believes! Wise is the one who hearkens to the Word of Christ! Wise are you if you diligently seek the grace of God and the forgiveness of your sins from the called servant of Christ. Wise are you if you keep watch, and stay close to the holy ark of the Church.
We are in the time of grace, time to be prepared for his return. Thus the bridegroom groom delays. But while he delays, it is easy for apathy to take hold. That there is always tomorrow. Apathy is the great sin of our time. It’s twin is boredom. And both are begotten of sloth. The world calls sloth tolerance, making it a virtue, so that we don’t think of it as a sin, allowing us to place the blame on someone else. But hell calls it what it is: indifference, apathy, boredom, and despair. Sloth is the sin that believes nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would really die for. And its creed is one short word, spoken often and by everyone. And that word is “Whatever!?!” It sums up the indifference, the lack of interest, enthusiasm, care and concern of our time. It is the sin of the empty heart, the empty mind, and the empty soul. It is indifference toward the things of God, boredom with God’s Word and gifts, apathy toward his grace and his coming. It is the sin that keeps us going through the motions like zombies, the living dead, or virgins waiting for the bridegroom with lamps without oil or flames.
Sloth deceives us into thinking that the bridegroom’s delay translates into time for us to be prepared tomorrow. Sloth gives us a false sense of security so that we despise God’s word today promising repentance and a renewal of heart, mind, and soul tomorrow. God’s Word warns us about this. Do not be deceived. Behold, now is the day of salvation. Therefore, work out your salvation in fear and trembling. Work while it is day, for when the night comes no one can work. Be ready. Be prepared. And watch. Buy oil while you can. Fill your lamps to the brim, while there is still time. And encourage one another with these things and toward these things. For you know neither the day nor the hour. Amen.