I have a confession to make: I have sincerely prayed “Amen! Come Lord Jesus.” And I don’t mean “come Lord Jesus” in a “I hope I have a meaningful communion experience” way or “I hope I meet Jesus in the face of the poor today” way. No… I mean that I have prayed that statement from scripture with the hope that Jesus would come down on the clouds right then and there. I mean that I have prayed that statement sincerely hoping for a full-on apocalypse.
And yes… I am still a faithful Lutheran.
You see… the commentary, coming from certain Lutheran corners of the internet, on our gospel lesson for Sunday is making me a little irritable. Mathew 25:1-13 reads like this:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 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, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
I was hoping for good dialogue on what it means to wait, be prepared, and keep awake. What I keep finding instead is comments about how hard this passage is. Our friends at workingpreacher.org spend a lot of time in their podcast talking about how difficult this passage is. David Lose, however, takes the cake when he writes:
I mean, who is still waiting eagerly, anxiously for Jesus’ imminent return? Well, pretty much only those folks who predict it on billboards and at whom we typically poke fun.
Sorry David, but I eagerly await Jesus’ return and I don’t have a single billboard. In fact, there have been points in my life when eagerly awaiting Jesus return has been the only thing that has kept me going to the next day.
Look, we talk about the presence of the risen Christ that is amidst ourselves and our work for justice (language that is really popular in the ELCA right now), but sometimes that just isn’t enough for me. In all the pain that a community has to offer, saying that God is present in our struggle for justice doesn’t quite give me enough strength to meet the next challenge.
And that is where this reading for Sunday comes in. I don’t hear this as a story of judgment, as a hard story, but as a fundamentally hopeful story. This gospel reading is a story for a community that sincerely thinks Jesus Christ is late in coming and boy have I thought that before. I have that thought every time I have to watch a person bury their loved one all by themselves. I have that thought every time I get frustrated, and every time I get depressed.
And the good news of the whole passage is when Jesus says “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” That is a complete permission from Jesus to hope his return as soon as possible. Amidst depression and stress that statement is permission to anxiously expect Christ’s imminent return.
I don’t usually do commentary on the Lectionary readings because I actually think the folks at workingpreacher.org do a great job. However, to all you preachers and listeners I have this to say: don’t just skip over this text because it seems hard. There are many good reasons not to preach this text (even I probably wont because it doesn’t speak to where my congregation is at right now), but don’t let one of those reasons be that Jesus Christ’s return is hard and confusing because this is the story for all those who think that the bridegroom is late in coming.
On another note, I have a blog to recommend to you all: whoiskatieluther.wordpress.com
This is a blog about what it means to be the significant other of a clergy person. It is really heartfelt, honest, and good.
In the interest of full disclosure it is written by my fiancee