Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
All Saints Day, and the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
The lectionary reading leads us to the grassy slopes of the Mount of Olives where Jesus is sitting. As his disciples gather around him, we are also invited to stay. They come with a question: “Tell us, . . . . what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 36) Like children we also ask, “Are we there yet?”
But Jesus gives us no “When” answer, other to say that no one knows. Rather, he says: “Keep awake!” and “Be ready!” Hence our journey is to marked by readiness.
As we wonder what kind of daily alert system could be helpful, Jesus begins telling us a story; a story about the kingdom heaven being like getting ready for a wedding. (Matthew 2:1-13) Now we are awake. Weddings today are big events. All kinds of preparations need to be made. All those who are part of the event get ready for the special day. So it is in this kingdom parable. There are ten bridesmaids who are getting ready to leave and greet the arrival of the bridegroom –as he comes to meet his bride. Since the festivities will last long into the night, each of the ten takes a lamp with her. However, five of the bridesmaids overlook their need for extra oil. The bridegroom’s arrival is delayed, and as the bridesmaids wait, daytime slips into evening, and on into the night. Tired, they all fall asleep. But, suddenly at midnight, a shout awakens them: “Look, here he is! Come to meet him!”
The ten women shake themselves awake, get up, and tend their lamps. But the five without oil find themselves standing in the dark, their lamps dim and flickering out.
This requires a trip to the dealer in order to purchase more oil. But while they are gone the bridegroom arrives, and the bridesmaids and others who are ready go with him into the wedding banquet. And the door is shut.
Later, when the five other bridesmaids arrive, and ask that the bridegroom open the door to them, he replies: “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”
As in other parable stories, we are left a bit stunned, wondering quite what Jesus is trying to tell us. Why would the bridegroom refuse entry to these bridesmaids who made a last-minute run to an oil dealer, at midnight no less? What do oil and lamps staying lit have to do with being ready for Jesus’ return? What about that oil keeps us awake?
There is a deeper lesson here. Jesus’ parables are always designed to direct our attention beyond the story to a spiritual meaning, a kingdom-of-heaven dimension.
First, we cannot stay awake and be ready on our own. We need help. This help comes from the Helper – the Holy Spirit – who is often symbolized by oil. The Holy Spirit indwells us, awakens us, reminds us when we forget who we are in this world – as we work and wait until the end of this present age. It is the Holy Spirit who joins to our spirit and who births us into being children of God – even now as we live in this world. (I John 3:1-3) It is this new birth which brings us into the family of God – and which awakens us to who we are, and to the times in which we live.
This is where the lectionary readings across the church year becomes helpful. Like a great circular calendar/clock, the readings serve as a kind of labyrinth path as we make our pilgrimage through time, always knowing that the Jesus event (past, present, and his return at the end of the age) is at the center – and that all other biblical narrative and content circle around and point to this center. Over the centuries countless faithful pilgrims have walked this same pathway – and have found help and sustenance for their journey. This week – on All Saints Day – we remember them. It is this same cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) who surround and cheer us on as we walk the same journey.
We, along with them, remember, over and over again. We stay awake.
As we read the scriptures – in private, in Sunday School, in youth groups, in bible studies, in worship – the Holy Spirit continues to open our eyes, to shed light on what we hear and see. The Holy Spirit serves as a lamp for our path.
Holy Spirit, come, shine your light – within us, around us.
Be our light and our guide
As we serve Jesus now
As we wait for Jesus’ return
Keep us awake.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
All Saints Day, and Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost:
- 10/31 Monday: Matthew 25:1-13
- 11/1 Tuesday: Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3
- 11/2 Wednesday: Psalm 78:1-7
- 11/3 Thursday: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
- 11/4 Friday: Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25
- 11/5 Saturday: Matthew 25:1-6
- 11/6 Sunday: Matthew 25:7-13