“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mat 25:1-13)
When it is just too late, you missed your ride, you missed your opportunity. Something was more important, something held you up. The door was closed. It has all happened to us at one time or another in life. Perhaps, we remember with a little regret. Jesus tells a story about five foolish virgins who come just too late to get into the party.
Weddings in Jesus day. It seems they could be rather fun parties to attend. Jesus often makes use of the imagery to describe his relationship with the church, the bride of Christ, whom he sanctifies through the washing of the water with the word. It was at a wedding that he chose to make his first miracle turning water into wine. Now, towards the end of his ministry he uses the same imagery to describe the last day.
The bridegroom comes, and those who are invited enter in to the party. But those who don’t come on time are locked out forever. And you hear of these ten who fall asleep. I suppose it isn’t that preposterous. Ten virgins asked to be what we would call bridesmaids. On the day of the wedding the husband would show up at his bride’s house, they would have a meal there, a feast with her family. It was more or less private, and then when all that ceremony was over, he would escort his wife to their new home. There would be a parade of sorts for all who were invited, and the bridesmaids would lead the way with their lamps. They would be posted somewhere to wait while he ate with the family. Evidently the Bridegroom got along with the in-laws well enough and delayed. The giddy girls waiting to celebrate dozed off, all together. Perhaps they figured it was best to get a little rest now so they could go the distance as it were, and wouldn’t have to leave the party early. Who knows?
The truth is it is a picture of us. We have all been invited to the wedding. We are all waiting for Jesus to come. By all I mean the whole world. Not just you in the church. Not just you with your oil flasks at hand, who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, the savior of the world. But that is just it. He is the savior of the world. His death on the cross, the blood he shed there for the forgiveness of sins? He shed that for you. He shed that for your neighbor too. He has invited the whole world then to the party, the feast of rich food and fine wine as Isaiah describes it. All have been invited. And none of us know when it is that Jesus, the bridegroom will come to escort his bride to his heavenly home. None of us know when it is going to be too late to be sanctified with the water and the word, too late to take the invitation seriously, too late to purchase the midnight oil for the party.
Without faith, you don’t get in, without faith that confesses Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus is the messiah, you don’t get in. That’s a relief to us, I suppose, those of us who already believe. But we might go about trying to wake up the foolish ones now. Baptize our children, raise them in the faith, and share it with our friends. None of us really know when the bridegroom comes. There is oil enough for sale right now though, with which to light your lamps. With which to tend to them and make them burn bright. There is the word, there are the sacraments that constantly feed the faith, that little flame of Christ dispelling the darkness of the world. It’s here, in the church where the gospel is preached, where the bride is sanctified in the washing of the water and the word, where Christ’s body and blood are given for you for the forgiveness of sins. Those sins that would pollute the oil, and gunk it up so that it does not burn. It’s here. To sustain you. And it is here now.
Too late comes. It comes with a motorcycle accident on the way home from work. It comes with a heart attack in the middle of the night. Too late comes with failed surgery. Too late comes with the sound of a trumpet and angels separating the wheat from the chaff. But salvation comes now. Salvation comes in the forgiveness of sins. Salvation comes with the sprinkling of clean water and God bestowing upon you the Holy Spirit who is called Holy because he makes you Holy and dresses you for the wedding, taking your heart of stone and giving you a heart of flesh, cleansing you from all your idols. Salvation comes now. It comes in the proclamation of the gospel Sunday after Sunday. Salvation comes in bread and wine blessed with the words of Christ to be his body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Salvation comes now in conversation with a friend and an invitation to a fortunate end, a death in Christ to be raised up to the newness of life. Yes, salvation comes in Christ his death for your sins, his resurrection for your justification.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.