Proper 32 A
Matthew 25: 1-13
St. Luke’s Church
9 November, 2008
Preached by Stuart Pike
Here at St. Luke’s we have a tradition of reserving the Sunday before November the 11th to be Remembrance Sunday, when we take the time to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice and gave their lives to defend their families and the people of their country during a time of war. During this service, we welcome the colour party of the Legion who will help us remember and honour those of our Church who gave their lives in the two world wars. [We are honoured to have the colour party of the Royal Canadian Legion here to lead us in and out and to dip their colours at the last post.]
It is also the tradition of St. Luke’s to use the readings which are appointed for the Sunday rather than choosing special readings for Remembrance Sunday. So it is that it is my job to make some kind of sense out of the readings and somehow relate them to our theme of remembrance.
And so today we have the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Five of them were vigilant and took extra oil for their lamps, and five of them were foolish and just didn’t bother. I remember the first time that I had to preach on this Gospel text. I hadn’t been in my first parish for that long. Every tuesday I would meet with the Archdeacon of Gaspé who had the neighbouring parish and with his wife who had the next parish and we would sit down and look at the readings for the Sunday; we would discuss them and would choose suitable hymns for our services. When we came to today’s Gospel lesson, the Archdeacon looked at me and asked, “Well, what would you rather do, Stay awake with the wise bridesmaids, or sleep with the foolish ones?!”
Somehow, I have never thought the same way about this text since!
To be fair to the essence of the story, though, it’s about vigilance and it’s also about light in the darkness. Both of these things relate to our theme of Remembrance today.
When I consider those who fought in those wars in what seems so long ago, I remember that they didn’t just fight in some obscure battle which has no relation to me. Indeed, they fought for the future of their country, and that future includes me. That future includes this land in which we live, and the freedoms which we enjoy, and which we too often take for granted.
Both of my grandfathers fought in the wars and I am deeply conscious of the fact that, had it not been for all the others who fought with them, both near at hand, and in some other front thousands of miles away, my grandfathers might not have survived the war, and I might not be here speaking to you today. Others gave their lives that my family could live.
Back to the bridesmaids: perhaps it would help to know something of the bridal tradition at the time of Jesus in his society. At that time weddings took place at night and the bridegroom and his friends would usually set out after sundown to get the Bride from her family home. The Bride and her bridesmaids would await the coming of the groom. Once the bridegroom arrived the bridesmaids would join the group and would go to the bridegroom’s family where the wedding and the party would occur. They would carry lamps to light their path.
In this Parable, the groom was delayed and arrived very late. The foolish bridesmaids would have been out trying to buy more oil when the bridegroom arrived and so when they finally arrive to the wedding, the party would already have started and they were locked outdoors!
The moral of the story is to be prepared, because we do not know the day nor the hour when our Lord will return. This story would have been told in an early Church which might have originally thought that Jesus would return at any moment. This story was to remind the early Christians that, no matter how long it might take for Jesus to return, they could not let down their guard, but had to keep their faith until the end. They lived in a time of persecution, and it might have been tempting for them to simply give up and go with the prevailing culture of their time. Matthew’s Gospel sends out the clear message that, even in the midst of great darkness, the Church is to keep the flame of their faith burning and to hold fast to the principles of their faith. In the analogy, the lamp-oil stands for the actions of the faithful. It is in sticking to the precepts of their faith, by their actions, that the faithful are ensuring that they have sufficient oil for their lamps.
It was in the midst of great darkness that many men and women fought, and some died, to keep to the principles that they and their country believed in. Were they always thinking in such lofty terms? Was everything which they did perfect? - No. These were real flesh and blood people who had the same list of hopes and fears, courage and insecurities which we have today; yet when the moment came, they chose to act: to join up, to leave their families and their loved ones because they knew at some level that a darkness was spreading in our world, and that darkness had to be stopped.
When I try to think of what it must have felt like back then, I realize that there would have been a great temptation to simply do nothing. I could have told myself that it wasn’t really my problem. I could have looked the other way. I could have convinced myself that the darkness was simply a unavoidable part of reality, and that I really couldn’t do anything to stop it. When I think of their decisions to serve, I wonder how I would have responded. I like to think that I would have had the courage that they had.
Would I have been fearless? Were they fearless? - No. Of course not. Courage doesn’t mean being without fear. Courage is about what you do with your fear. Courage often means being in situations which are extremely fear-full; yet, it is about acting despite your fears. That is what the people we remember today did. Courage is about keeping the flame lit, despite what might otherwise seem to be an overwhelming darkness.
There are really two sides to remembrance. One has to do with remembering the people and their deeds, but the other has to do with keeping faith with them and their deeds. Remembrance is only significant if we continue to strive for the principles for which they died. As Lt. Col. John McRae’s poem goes, “To you, from failing hands, we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.”
In this, the same week when we received Justice John Gomery’s first report on the sponsorship scandal, it might seem to us that corruption and darkness are simply the way of the world; yet, we need to ask ourselves: what are the principles that we want to live for today, and for which so many died?
Let us truly remember today, and in so doing may we resolve to keep our lamps burning to shine out in the darkness and ultimately, to defeat it. Let us remember that what awaits us is the wedding feast at which we will join those who have shone in the darkness before us and have been a light for our path. Amen.