Gospel Matthew 25:1-13
A story about the five foolish and five wise bridesmaids. It is a story about choices and their consequences, and challenges us to examine how we live.
“Keep awake therefore,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Tucked behind the kitchen door of a parish church is a plaque commemorating the life of a young man called William. An only child, he died in Italy in 1918 at the age of twenty-one. He had been on active service since his seventeenth birthday. The plaque is easily missed. It has never been moved, but the configuration of the church building has changed, with a kitchen integrated into the porch. So there it is, looking down on all the cups and saucers as they pile up in the sink. It is only the elderly members of the church who can remember how the building looked before – and there is no one who remembers William. We can only imagine the love and grief that gathered in his parents’ hearts and led them to commission the plaque. They wanted him to be remembered.
We have to remember. That’s what this day is for. To remember is to re-member: to bring the past into the present. And we have to do this, because if we don’t, people who have been too young to see world war will have no knowledge of what can happen. They will not understand the value of the life and the freedom that they have.
The Kohima epitaph is carved on the memorial of the Second British Division in the cemetery of Kohima in northern India. It reads: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.” The reading of names, happening in hundreds of places today, and the telling of their stories, is important.
The Gospel we are given for today is about being ready. It tells of ten bridesmaids – young women, who have the whole of the rest of their lives ahead of them. They have oil lamps to keep alight when the bridegroom arrives. And although they are initially ready, as time goes by half of them become ill equipped and run out of oil. When the moment comes for them to stand up and welcome the bridegroom, their lamps go out. They ask the others for help, but are refused. So they run off to the shops to buy more oil, but they are too late. When the bridegroom arrives, they are nowhere to be found, but have gone to buy what they think they need.
Perhaps, though, the one they really need is the bridegroom himself. If they were to stay put and confess their lack, perhaps they could put their hand in his and walk in his light. But they have missed him. One of the things this parable shows us is that, when we know we don’t have what we need for salvation – when we know we’re not ready to meet Christ – then, rather than running off in some other direction, we could swallow our pride and come to him. Christ has all we need. He took all our unreadiness to the cross, and made it possible for us to step into a new life.
Keep awake,” says Jesus. “Keep awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.” It is as true for us now as it was for the bridesmaids, and as it was for William in 1918. And we will never have enough oil. We cannot do this waiting, this readiness, through our own strength. If this parable says anything to us, it says that how we live, and what we do, and who we are with – and where we are looking – are important. And this time of year says that too.
So how can we honour those who, like William, gave their lives for others? And how can we honour his parents, who placed a plaque so that others would remember? Most of all, we can do it by how we live: by living well; by loving one another, putting others first, making peace where peace is in our power to make. But there is a deeper question for today as well – how can we truly be ready to meet Christ? Perhaps today calls us to hold out our burnt-out lamps, and own up to our lack of oil, and trust ourselves to the God who, in infinite mercy, calls us, always and everywhere, to life in all its fullness.
Let us bring our prayers and the contents of our hearts before our gracious God, knowing that God cares and loves so much more than we do, and knows every detail of our concerns.
We pray for every family that has been broken by war, and every heart that has been broken by loss. May each receive the strength and comfort that they need.
We pray for the leaders of the nations, that they may be guided by wisdom and courage. May their leadership enable justice and righteousness to flow like rivers into the darkest parts of the world.
We pray for nations that still hurt from the wounds of history. May they learn the language of peace and reconciliation rather than vengeance and retaliation.
We pray for all those who risk their lives for the protection or rescue of others.
We pray for all those whose lives we remember today. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Accept these prayers, gracious God, and use us to shape a kinder and more Christ-like world. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Introduction to the Peace
Let justice and righteousness roll down like waters and peace flow among us like a river. The peace of the Lord . . .
May the God the Father shelter you.
May God the Son walk with you through the days of your life.
And may God the Holy Spirit breathe peace on you.
And the blessing of God almighty . . .