In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
We have come to the close of another Church Year, another year of grace. Once again we have recounted what God has done for us in Our Lord Jesus Christ. For us He took on flesh, was born in a manger, lived, died, rose, and ascended. We have learned what this means for us as Christians, as those who follow in His steps. And now as we close this Church Year we rejoice in His promise to come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, to raise our bodies perfected and incorruptible, to usher us and all the faithful into the life of the world to come.
As joyous as that may seem, we aren’t all that comfortable talking about the end. It makes us nervous. We don’t know when it’s coming or if we’ll be ready. We wonder how we’ll be judged. Are we a sheep or a goat? A wise virgin or a foolish one? As much as we want to avoid thoughts of the final judgment, our society gets pretty hung up on figuring out when the Last Day will be. We can’t forget what happened just three years ago when the Mayan calendar ran out in 2012. We know well all the people who say that God has revealed the date to them, or they have counted out every seventeenth letter of the Bible and have used that to determine the date. But 2012 is in the history books and so is every claimed date of Christ’s return.
Why is it we’re so concerned about knowing the date? It is because our sinful nature wants to know how long we can procrastinate. We want to know how long we can live in sin before we need to straighten up and fly right. We want to steal, speak ill of our neighbors, intentionally skip church and ignore prayer and devotional reading of Scripture, live in sexual immorality, and covet all we want right up to the minute before Christ returns. Then we’ll repent and be just fine, right?
Not exactly. Today’s Gospel tells us what happens to those people; they are referred to as the five foolish virgins. They did not have faith. They wanted to call themselves Christians when it was convenient, but the rest of the time wanted to live as it pleased them. Willful sin drives away the Holy Spirit. So when they needed to have faith, needed to be in a state of grace, they were found wanting. They could not predict the hour the bridegroom would come, and they were caught unaware. Neither can we. We do not know when our own death will come, or when the Last Day will come. Repent. Do not assume tomorrow will come and you can repent then. Do not assume the next minute will come. Be sober; be vigilant, lest you find a locked door and hear harsh words: “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
So how do you look like the five wise virgins? Is it something you have to do? No. You can’t do it. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” Remember: even the wise virgins fell asleep, that is, they sinned. The difference is the attitude. What isn’t explained here, but is in the rest of Scripture, is that those who are counted worthy to enter the Kingdom hate the sin they commit and long to leave it behind. They repent of their sin and are forgiven for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of Jesus Christ. They pore over Holy Scripture, not to try to guess at the day or hour of Christ’s return, but to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it and to receive the life that it gives. They remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, coming to the Divine Service to receive all that Christ comes to give. They help their neighbors, speak well of them, and strive to do every other good work that God asks of His children.
But most of all the five wise virgins rejoice in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And by that same grace and mercy you are counted as wise. You are a recipient of the greatest gift of all! You are being refashioned, re-formed, recreated for the new heaven and new earth. Sin, sickness, and death will be no more, and what’s even better is that these “former shall not be remembered or come to mind.” There will be no “voice of weeping,” nor “voice of crying.” This is what awaits you, and all those with faith in Christ, at the close of this age.
For you, the redeemed of Christ, death does not mark the end of life. Nor does the judgment and destruction of this world mean the end of existence. Quite the contrary! When sin and death have come to a close, then you truly begin to live! And so for you, for the Christian, death is not something to fear, nor is Christ’s return. That is why the Church cries out, why some of Scripture’s last Words are “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” This is not a source of dread for you who are in Christ. You know that “whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him,” for “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So while the world around us may worry about the end, God tells us not to worry. Just the opposite. That’s why today’s Epistle, and this same Epistle to the Thessalonians, ends with the admonition, “Comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” God doesn’t want us to build bomb shelters or prepare for outlandish doomsday scenarios or to do other things that take our focus of the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in Holy Scripture. He doesn’t want us to become depressed or anxious over the end, but to encourage one another and edify one another. But even when we don’t do that, thanks be to God that He forgives us and presents us with ample opportunity to do just that. And thanks be to God that He teaches us by these Ten Virgins how to await His coming—with preparation instead of panic, with joy at His coming rather than fear at being unprepared.
And in living in readiness, hearing His Word and partaking of His Sacraments, in devoting ourselves to prayer and praise, in giving thanks and enjoying the Lord’s goodness, in repenting and receiving His forgiveness, you realize that you have nothing to fear about any end, be it the end of your life or the end of the world. For you, the redeemed and dearly loved child of God, knows that those ends are good because they take you to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So as we wait those ends, we pray with the Church of all times and places: Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).