Sermon for Remembrance Sunday
By The Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
Our Hope is in God
The Gospel passage opens with the words, ‘At that time…’ Jesus has just been discussing with the crowds and His disciples about the end times, the signs of the end of the age and underlined that the day and the hour is unknown
Part of the message of today’s reading is just that, be prepared because we don’t know when the Jesus as Messiah will return
As with much of the gospel of Matthew, this story is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition, in particular the tradition of contrasting wisdom and folly
The writer of Proverbs treats wisdom and folly as two women and describes them calling out to me going by and offering them their respective lifestyles
In today’s passage each of the women are replaced by five virgins, five foolish ones and five wise ones
The foolish ones have no oil for their lamps and their lamps go out. The wise ones have oil, trim their wicks light their lamps and go to the wedding banquet with the bridegroom. When the others return it is too late and the door to the reception is firmly closed.
The message is clear. Jesus is emphasising the need to be prepared, to be ready for uncertain times, be wise, think ahead, and make your preparations now.
But is it just that? Is Jesus just talking about the end times, the time when the Messiah will return or is there more to the passage?
Jesus has already referred to Himself as the bridegroom when John’s disciples come to Him and ask Him about fasting. He says that the disciples should not fast while the bridegroom is with them because sooner or later He will be taken away from them and then they will fast
In the previous parable He’s just told a story about the kingdom of God being like a king preparing a banquet, a wedding feast, for his son
The very mention of a bridegroom arriving (in the middle of the night – remember Christmas and the images of a night time birth we have) points again to Jesus’ Messiahship, which is the theme which has run through many of the previous chapters of the gospel
So this parable is clearly not just about the end times, it was about the here and now for the listeners. Jesus, had come as Messiah to His people, the people of Israel.
It was the people of Israel who are divided into those who are wise and those who are foolish, those who are prepared and receptive to His coming and those who were not.
The parable in therefore not just Jesus’ teaching to the believers and the church that will evolve from them, it is a challenge to the people of Israel who are hearing the words for the first time
All are to be prepared so that they will recognise the Messiah and He will recognise them
A message for today that we are to continue to be diligent in paying attention to God’s work so that we are not unprepared when the moment arises for us to represent and recognise Him
For the foolish virgins, better preparation would have led to a different outcome. Had Israel recognised the Messiah there would have been different outcomes
What Jesus was urging the Israelites to do was look back at God’s dealings with His people, to pay heed to what the prophets had foretold so that they could be prepared for the Messiah to come
Looking back, it would seem, is an essential part of preparation. Without fully taking into account the past we cannot fully be prepared for the future
As we look to our hope in the future of the Messiah to come we need to look back on our past as a basis for that future. Sometimes it seems that our past, our Christian life is not so sure or certain, so it’s not surprising that our hope for the future is sometimes not as sure as it could be
Jesus’ message to us is the same as it was to Israel, ‘Be prepared’. As we go through our daily lives we are to be open to the prompting and guiding of God so that can experience life in all its fullness and be confident of the hope we have in Christ. The more we experience God in our lives today, the more we are sure and certain of the eternal future He has in store for each one of us
In a Christian context, Henri Nouwen wrote, ’When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for a new future can never be full…’
On Remembrance Sunday we look back. Look back to the many conflicts that have troubles the world since the wars and remember with gratitude not only those who gave their lives but those who came back maimed and injured, many of them scarred for life so that the world could be a better place and that those that followed would have a more peaceful future
If our gratitude to them is only partial, our hope for that new future they dreamed of can never be full. That is why it is important to remember them with gratitude today.
Their suffering, hardship and sacrifice is also a salutary reminder that the world’s hope is not in the men and women of the world but in God alone.
It is because of the sacrifice of Christ, His suffering, death and resurrection that we have a hope in the eternal future. As Paul says in Romans, if God is for us, who can be against us?
Micah, in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was one of the earliest Old Testament prophets, contemporary with Amos and Hosea in the Northern Kingdom of Israel living in the 8th century BCE. His message was for the capital cities of both Kingdoms, Samaria in the north and Jerusalem in the south. Judah and Israel are infected with the same sins. God’s judgement would therefore fall on both Samaria and Jerusalem.
But our Old Testament reading, in the second half of Micah, opens expressing fresh hope. A hope that despite the invasion of Assyria and the exile in Babylon and all that will happen to the Jews (over the centuries to follow) there will be a New Jerusalem where there will be peace and the resources of the world shall be shared.
That is the hope in which we share. A hope which is not based on human decisions and interventions, or on governments and organisations, but on God. It is a heavenly hope, a hope which we have in God through Christ.
Today we look back and remember, and it’s important to do so. We reflect on the events that have brought us and this world to where it is today. But we also look forward. We reflect on those things which have touched our own personal and spiritual lives to bring us to where we are today, so that we are both challenged and prepared for the future in which we have a sure and certain hope in an eternal kingdom through the Christ who died for us.