1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18, Matthew 25: 1-13
November 11, 2018 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
God has given us each life…and we can imagine the time our heart took its first beat. The time we took our first breath of air. And life unfolded. Life is so very, very precious…And we all ~ in various ways ~ live. Yet, as we consider this, there is perhaps no greater tragedy than to die without first having lived. To have received that precious life from God as a gift and to have not torn the wrapping paper off and to have lived. We, of course, all live. We all experience different components of life during our earthly existence. We open our eyes; we breathe; our heart beats; we eat; we sleep. But, this morning we consider, if we actually live during the time we have been given? Do we actually seize the moments of our life and live them? Do we allow ourselves to deeply experience joy and pain, love and sadness, ecstasy and despair? Do we live our lives?
The gospel lection for Remembrance Sunday this year is the parable of the wise and the foolish maidens. This parable serves as an introduction to the three apocalyptic parables in Matthew’s 25th chapter; teachings about end times that point us towards the kingdom of God’s reign. As we begin to explore these scriptures, its context must be first addressed – the biblical context as well as ours.
In the Biblical context, these parables are strategically placed right before Jesus’ Passion narrative. These are Matthew’s lenses through which he wants us to view the Passion story. A community which will be experiencing a tragic end time in the death and resurrection of Christ. A community which will need to interpret how to live after the fallout of God’s power becoming so very close, how they will live in the midst of the anticipation of God’s power redefining the very reality of life. The Thessalonians passage is on the other side of the resurrection. Written shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the followers in the house church in Thessalonica await the promised second coming of Christ. They consider what the resurrection means to their living and what fate is assured for those who have died.
Our context, however, is a very different one from the biblical. We experience this passage on Remembrance Sunday, 2018. On a Sunday when we place a poppy on our heart; on a Sunday when we both honour and remember veterans’ sacrifices; on a Sunday when we think of fields named Flanders; on a Sunday when we remember a time overrun by separation and hatred; on a Sunday when we think of families losing loved ones; on a day that is 100 years after the end of World War One. We listen to this passage as we think of the meaning of life ending tragically at the hands of war.
The gospel call is clear and direct. It is a call to readiness as we remember war and as we yearn for peace. Jesus says: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Some of the bridesmaids were ready. They had planned ahead – they had purchased all the oil needed for their lamps. Some were not ready – they had no oil for their lamps. So, they had gone into town to buy oil to fill their lamps and missed the bridegroom’s arrival. In apocalyptic Jewish literature, we remember that imagery of the cosmic marriage between the bride – Israel and the groom – Yahweh/ God would occur at the end. This marriage was a deeply hopeful time for a people who yearned to be freed from the bondage and slavery of the past. They yearned to walk in harmony with their Creator. And the message is a call to readiness. “Keep awake…”. Stay ready…
On a day of Remembrance, the marriage metaphor highlights our dream of the uniting of all peoples in harmony. Just like a couple uniting into a loving partnership, it is God’s vision of deep peace for the uniting of different peoples based on principles of respect, dignity and the sacredness of each human life. The context is different from the biblical, yet the teaching is the same. Jesus says: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” In the parable, it seems quite simple. Stock up your supplies. Light your lamp. And wait. Yet, the question on Remembrance Day is, how does one “keep awake”, as we actively await the coming of peace? How do we “keep awake” - wait for the bride and groom to arrive and take vows uniting a world in peace today?
The answer to this question is found, I think, in our approach to living life. It is found in how we LIVE our very lives. It gets back to our opening consideration: there is nothing more tragic than a person who went through their life without actually living and embracing their life. Did our life make a difference? Was there much contrast between the time spent in life versus the time following our death? Did our life make a difference? Theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “In the depth of our anxiety of having to die is the anxiety of being eternally forgotten”. What I think Tillich gets at here is the question of whether our life mattered/ whether it made a difference/ whether it touched others. Living in readiness is not an easy thing to define as it is so deeply personal. It is about LIVING each day as if it actually mattered. It is about living the very tenents of our faith each day: living love, compassion, understanding; living patience, forgiveness, peace. Living in readiness means living under the authority of very one who took life and redefined it, the one who took death it transformed into life everlasting.
On Remembrance Sunday, we think of our soldiers and their families: who sacrificed and gave so much, people who made the ultimate sacrifice, families who lost loved ones. We find a clear example of this gospel text being lived out. These are people whose life made a profound difference upon others. These are people who truly LIVED. We remember people whose passionate lives will ripple through generations to come.
For the follower of Christ, there is no other alternative in how we are called to live. In the Thessalonians passage, we are reassured that those who live in Christ are those who are raised in Christ. And living in Christ requires readiness. It requires us to pray and study and live the teachings that we have in our faith. Living in Christ is a constant readiness to live our faith each day that we are blessed to enjoy.
Sadly, we know that as this message is crucial to our world, it is being heard and lived by less and less of us. It is saddening to all of us when we hear that Remembrance Day is a time with declining meaning and interest in our culture. As we scan culture and listen to people, we find that many now consider Remembrance Day just another bonus day off work; merely a chance to ‘get a few extra things done’; or simply a chance to sleep in. Confronted with these realities, we are all reminded of the importance of the scripture message – to LIVE in readiness. To embrace the fullness of life. To actively embrace peace. Those before us whom we remember helped ensure the life that we enjoy today. And now the torch is being passed on to each of us. As John McRae put it, in his poem Flanders’ Fields: “To you from failing hands we throw, the torch; be yours to hold it high”.
On Remembrance Sunday, we receive the call to not just remember but to embrace life and to truly, deeply…LIVE. To live in readiness. To live boldly; to live faithfully; to live as people of remembrance, to live as people of God. May it be so.