Thought for the week - 12 November 2023
The whole month of November is given to remembering the dead, but more than that, because as Christians, we can pray for the dead as well, knowing that by doing so we are uniting ourselves to them through God, who knows life and death intimately and through whom, therefore, we find our hope and our love. Today especially we remember those who have died in the horror of War. Someone like me stood here and blessed those who went off to fight and said, ‘we will never forget you’, so we never forget them – if the Church cannot keep her promises, what hope is there for anyone else? We also remember the harshness of war, and we may remember the kindness of our loved ones as well as their failings. Remembrance does not mean glossing over everything but remembering with a clear mind and good heart. There will be a whole load of emotions in our minds now because War is something which is closer to us than it has been at any time since 1945, indeed it would be optimistic to say the least to think that we are not already at war – or that at the very least, people are not at war with us.
The wise virgins in our gospel reading today are expert at remembering, and at being recollected, prepared for every possible outcome, having prudently tended their lamps and conserved their oil, ready to receive the bridegroom. They may not seem like particularly pleasant individuals and they have much to learn, but they end up in the right place in which to learn it – even if they maybe could have had the kindness of heart to assist their less judicious (or maybe les pernickety) colleagues who had used their oil. Or maybe there was not a need to send them all to the shops, when surely only one had to go and the rest could have shared, seeing the bridegroom coming. In fact, the whole thing slightly has a whiff of unreality about it – where is the bride? Why is the Groom walking about in the middle of the night? What, in fact, is going on here? It is a very unconvincing wedding! And it makes us wonder that if we are sometimes forgetful, should we be afraid?
The message of the Gospel today may be seen as being about readiness, because if we are ready, wee will be in the hall with the bridegroom and that, I assume, is where we want to be – so we can ignore the part about forgetfulness and the associated anxiety that may cause us. We should be wise and not foolish, included and not excluded, warm and inside, not cold and outside, feasting, not shopping!
But, I am sorry to say, I don’t think this is the point that is made here, and maybe it would lead to a little smugness and we would go back to those strange days when people would count how many prayers they said in order to see how many days they got off purgatory, without looking out of their windows and asking how to build the Kingdom among the people who are outside. It is a task incumbent on every Christian who occupies a safe space to open heir door to those who are outside- so why are these so-called foolish virgins locked out? To answer that question, we must ask ‘why, then, are they foolish’.
We will soon agree, I hope, that running out of oil when the person you have been waiting for is hours and hours late and arrives alone and in a way which is completely unexpected. Only the rich could afford to have their lamps still lit – like us, the poor will look at their EDF online account and think of ways to keep those worrying lines down the screen, not up. I suggest that they are foolish because when they see the Lord coming, they run away to the shops in order to have things how they think they should be. He has called them as they are, and He wants them there as they are, waiting to come in and to encounter His love and therefore to become more like Him. Those who do not know the love of God cannot teach the faith – and counting prayers and being first in church does not make us any better than the workman who was hired at the eleventh hour. They are foolish like Martha was foolish – because they are obsessing with worldly things when the Son of Man is approaching them. We do not have to be perfect, just ready, and happy to come running to Him when he comes, whether we are rich or poor, naked or clothed, young or old, well or sick just be yourself, because He calls you as you are.
Having a house fit for the king is not the issue, just as running out of oil is not the problem. Even if you are not ready, even if you are empty-handed, your home impoverished and your heart bereft of anything at all, don’t hide, don’t run off, scurrying about to make amends. You are loved just as you are. When the king comes, just open the door as you are right now, and stand there, face to face. Give what you have, offer your simple presence, your empty hands, your expectant heart. That’s enough. Let the king have a seat in your humble home; let the bridegroom dance with all of us; let the feasting begin, ready or not.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”