My family is in the middle of planning a wedding. Let me tell you, there are endless discussions and preparations for the event. Caterers? Dresses for brides maids? Guest lists? It goes on and on and on. And all of it is part of “watching” – for watching here means by looking forward to and preparing for the glad event.
What our family is doing now on a small scale the Holy Spirit summons the whole Church to do on a much bigger scale. For there’s a joyful event coming in the future of this world. Oh, lots of folks don’t believe it any more. It just sounds too good to be true: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox.... They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” To many it sounds like a fairy tale and nothing more. But we know it’s NOT a fairy tale, and that it’s even better than any human words can make it sound.
Isaiah in the first reading was expressing very clearly that God’s original plan for this creation will NOT be side-tracked forever. God made this world to be a place of security and peace, where there was no death and so no fear, where humanity reigned over God’s world as His vice-regent. Where human beings could walk through the darkness of the night without any anxiety about anything. We’ve made it something else, something dark and terrible. We’ve turned this beautiful world God gave us into a horrible hunting ground and cosmic cemetery, where death reigns. But the Prophet Isaiah announces to us today that God’s work with this world isn’t done until He has created it anew – a new heavens and a new earth where joy fills all in all because the source of sadness and grief – death itself and sin – will be banished forever. Who could not look forward to that?
How to describe the joy of that future? Our Lord uses the image of a wedding. He speaks of His Church camping out in this age, waiting with joy for that moment to break when He will return in the clouds of glory and lead His people home and there will be light and laughter, dancing and singing, celebration and feasting forever. A new age where love is all in all.
And of all this joy, our Lord dares to speak during Holy Week. Hours before He will taste the fullness of the darkness of this world – bearing our sin in His own flesh on the cross, and dying the death that we brought into this age. But He knows that it is by doing so that He will bring forgiveness to destroy sin and life unending to destroy death. In His resurrection, the new age already has begun. In Him there is a human being who is forever beyond the reach of death, and whose tears have turned to joy.
But He also warns of the perilous danger of NOT “watching” for that day – that is, of not preparing for the long wait. The five foolish virgins think they can make it through to that day with what they already have in their lamps. Not so. They need the extra reserves of oil. They need what God constantly supplies through preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of the Supper. That’s where you get the “oil” – the Holy Spirit Himself– who will see you safely through to that joyous day by sustaining in you a living faith in Jesus Christ.
Those who think: “Well, I believe, I’m a Christian. I don’t need the Church” make the horrible mistake of trying to get by with a limited supply of oil. It won’t work. You are a cracked vessel, everyone of you. Me too. But thanks be to God that the Church’s jars are filled to the full and cannot run dry. Her supply flows from the Blessed Trinity into the vessels of grace that He has prepared. You will never exhaust the oil that God has placed into your Baptism, into hearing the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, into the absolution spoken over you, and into the life-giving Eucharist. Here is grace abundant, full, free. “My cup overflows!” says the Psalmist and indeed it does.
And here’s a point that you cannot miss today. The Blessed Trinity WANTS everyone of you to be at that glorious feast, to share in the new world where death will be gone and tears a thing of the past. He wants YOU there. It was in that utter confidence that St. Paul could write to the Thessalonians and to us: “For God has NOT destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”
Do you grasp that? God has NOT appointed a single one of you for wrath. He wants each and every one of you to receive the salvation that He appointed for you in Jesus Christ. The foolish virgins are foolish above all in spurning the gift of God; they try to get by with “enough.” It’s the old “What’s the least I have to do to be a Christian” mentality. Lord, have mercy on us for ever asking such a stupid question. “Lord, I want your salvation, but not much of it; wouldn’t want to get fanatical, you know.”
People loved by God, people, BE fanatics! Camp out by the rich vessels of grace, the means of grace, in the Holy Church! After all, if you’re watching for something, you ache and long for the joy of the day to arrive, and you want to make sure that when it does arrive you are there to enjoy it. That’s what this Sunday is all about:
“Zion hears the watchmen singing,
and all her heart with joy is springing,
she wakes, she rises from her gloom.
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
the strong in grace, in truth victorious;
her star is risen, her light is come.
Now come, Thou blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son.
We enter all the wedding hall
to eat the Supper at His call.”
Amen! Let’s go!