Reading Ramblings – November 8, 2020

Date: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2020

Texts: Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Context: The final three Sundays of the Church year are all part of Ordinary Time, but traditionally they make up their own mini-liturgical season, culminating on the last Sunday of the Church year, known as Christ the King Sunday. These three Sundays focus on Jesus’ return, and provide a transitional period into Advent, which is an anticipation of Jesus’ return based on his Incarnation. God the Father fulfilled his promise to send the Messiah, therefore we trust his promise this Messiah will return. This dual focus on what all Christians are called to actively wait and look for and anticipate is particularly helpful and necessary when we are so easily distracted both by the mundanities of everyday life and the long elapsed period of time since Christ’s ascension.

Amos 5:18-24 – For those in Christ, we await our Lord’s return in joyful expectation. But for evil, the return of our Lord holds dark promise. Is there anywhere evil will be able to hide on that day? Any place where sin will not be pulled into the light and judged? God’s judgment will be final and absolute. And in light of this, his people here and now should be sources of justice and righteousness, an imperfect foretaste of the perfect justice and righteousness of God. Those in Christ need not fear that justice and righteousness for we have the mercy of Christ in faith, the forgiveness of God the Father in the propitiation of his Son, as St. Paul asserts in Romans 3:21-25. There is no place for fear in Christ, but rather an opportunity to reflect his grace and glory to those around us, allowing the Holy Spirit to create opportunities thereby for sharing our hope and peace in Christ, despite the uncertainty and disquiet of the rest of the world around us.

Psalm 70 – Our hope is in God the Father at all times and in all circumstances. We seek his continued sustenance and favor each day, while also keeping our eyes fixed on the horizon in anticipation of the glorious return of his Son and our Lord. We pray for his protection against those who would prey on us or take advantage of us, even as we affirm our God as a source of joy and comfort for those who trust in him. And we can and should pray for the return of our Lord. The refrain of the Church for centuries, Come Lord Jesus, Come! remains true today. We should pray for that return, trusting in the grace and mercy and peace of God to execute his righteous judgment perfectly and without error.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 – We didn’t get much of 1 Thessalonians because of the intervening celebrations of Reformation Sunday and All Saints Day, which is unfortunate as Paul has some very wise counsel on how to deal with people who seek to take advantage of the Body of Christ for their personal ease and comfort. But this passage is one of the most detailed we have about the events of the Last Day, the Day of our Lord’s return, and the condition of those who die before that Day. This is apparently an area of concern for the Thessalonians, prompting Paul (guided by the Holy Spirit) to provide this response.

Paul provides comfort for those who have already lost loved ones. Grief is natural but for the Christian grief is tempered with hope. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so all people will be raised from the dead, and those who died with faith in Jesus Christ will be raised to join him. Paul reiterates this is not speculation, but divine inspiration. Perhaps Paul also means to say that Jesus himself taught this – either to his disciples or directly to Paul as part of his conversion, but this is speculative. Paul speaks God’s Word not his own. The faithful dead will not miss out on Christ’s return. The Thessalonians undoubtedly understood the dead would be raised, but were perhaps worried this would occur after Christ’s return and they would miss out on his glorious arrival. Not the case. The dead in Christ will be brought to meet him in the air, just as the faithful living will be caught up with him as well. Our communion in Christ – which we remembered last Sunday on All Saints Day – will be experienced directly not first in judgment but in reunion with our Lord and one another. Nobody will miss out on anything! The celebration will begin in earnest with everyone at the party right on time – nobody will be late because of missed directions or even death itself! This should be our encouragement. Death is a hard thing – whether we are the one dying or whether we are burying a loved one. But death is only a temporary separation. It is not a final condition or state.

Matthew 25:1-13 – Our Lord is returning, and his instructions to us are to wait and be prepared. We could be foolish, assuming He is returning very soon and so no thought needs to be made for tomorrow or next week or next year. We might also be foolish to assume He won’t come in our lifetime, so we have time to live our lives the way we’d prefer to (or the way the world tellls us to) presuming we’ll have time to come to Jesus before we die. Both are foolish assumptions. Both are actually not waiting at all, an assumption there is no need to wait because either Jesus will return quickly or not at all.

The Christian life is properly one of waiting, and this means making provision for today and tomorrow without losing sight of the approaching horizon. Making our decisions today in light of what we believe could happen tomorrow. This parable leads us towards this understanding while itself being full of perplexities without explanation – there’s no bride in this parable and no clear understanding of what the oil in the lamps is supposed to stand for.

It likely might vary from person to person. The point of the parable is to be ready, and the fact that when Jesus does return, not everyone will be, including those we presume to be Christian and part of his Church. If the ten virgins represent God’s people, it’s a rather stunning assertion that half of them might not be ready when Christ returns, and therefore will miss out on an eternity of joy and bliss! It should serve as a call to self-examination for every member of the Church. Do I really believe all of this? Does my life reflect it? Am I indeed waiting for my Lord’s return, and is there a difference in how I live my life if I am? What tangible steps would indicate I am waiting for him?

The goal of such examination should not be despair and doubt, but rather a more confident clinging to the promises of Christ rather than the conventions of the world.

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