1 Thessalonians 4. 13 – 18
Matthew 25. 1 – 13
You might be wondering why, on Remembrance Sunday, the Church gives us this interesting (if slightly strange) parable about bridesmaids.
Indeed I’ve been pondering that myself, since I first saw the lectionary. There’s certainly some conflict in the reading, between the wise and foolish bridesmaids – and in an awkward coincidence, given some wars of recent times, the source of this conflict is a fight over who gets access to the oil…
But I’m a firm believer in our lectionary as a living document. We are given these readings, along with the rest of the worldwide Church, not because they’re necessarily the readings we want… but because they’re the readings we need to hear.
And I think that’s what’s happening today, too.
In our approach to Advent, we’re beginning a short series of parables about the coming kingdom. Jesus’ disciples ask him, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
In response, however, Jesus gives them three parables that caution them that there will be no signs. The kingdom will come without warning.
They can’t leave their spiritual preparation to the last minute – like the foolish bridesmaids, it will be too late when the kingdom comes and takes them by surprise. Nor can anyone else do their preparation for them – just as the wise bridesmaids are unable to share their oil with the foolish ones.
The final judgement cannot be foreseen. Readiness can only be achieved by living all the time in such a way that when the kingdom comes, it won’t be a disaster; but rather a time for joy, and for entering the great wedding feast of heaven.
So much for the Third Sunday before Advent. But what about Remembrance Sunday, 2023?
In the early Church, this reading was taken with others to suggest that the kingdom was coming soon: that Jesus would return, perhaps even in their own lifetime.
As time went on and this expectation started to fade, you see in the early writings a kind of grappling with what it means to live in this in-between time.
What happens is that the idea of the Christian life becomes one of encouragement – to keep awake, to keep preparing, to keep living in readiness for the shared life of the kingdom, despite all the pressure and enticement to live instead just for now, and just for me.
And that’s the encouragement I think we need to hear on Remembrance Sunday, today – to keep on remembering, despite all that is going on around us.
On this year’s observance, more than any other in my lifetime, it feels really difficult to focus on remembering the wars of the past, when the wars of the present are so immediate.
Another full-scale war in Europe, has been going on in Ukraine for nearly two years – though in fact the conflict began to escalate nearly a decade ago.
Just a month ago we witnessed the horror of the terrorist attack on Jewish families in Israel on the 7th of October, and the rise in anti-semitism in our country and the rest of the world since then. How easily we forget the catastrophe of the Holocaust, and how difficult the old prejudices are to eradicate.
It's so painful to watch the news each night, and to see the terrible suffering of innocent children in Gaza, and the awful destruction of indiscriminate bombing.
And these are just the wars we hear about. We continue to pray for the situation in Sudan – and at a recent clergy day, Bishop Nick told us that the Diocese of Leeds is one of only a few organisations actually able to get aid into that country.
How on earth can we keep remembering, in the midst of all this? What does it even mean for us to remember?
The encouragement today is to keep on remembering. Because Christian remembering is not just about calling to mind details of what happened in the past. That gets more and more difficult to do as the years go by.
Christians remember the sacrifices of the past and the present in the light of the resurrection future. The resurrection is God’s promise that he has so much more in store for us than the violence and suffering that blight the lives of so many.
Through the triumph of Christ on the cross, what is torn apart in death and destruction is not lost; it is put back together again – it is re-membered, in the new and eternal life of Easter.
The Cenotaph, the focus of remembrance in this country, was purposefully designed as a non-religious symbol. But that word, ‘cenotaph’, comes from two Greek words that mean ‘empty tomb.’ Christians cannot possibly remember death without remembering the new life that is promised at Easter.
We experience this every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Through remembering Christ’s death, and celebrating his resurrection, we ourselves are re-membered, put back together into a right relationship with God, and with one another.
We remember today, with all that’s going on around us, as a commitment to living that new life – not just in the life to come, but right now.
Our remembering is our way of being like the wise bridesmaids, and keeping ourselves in readiness for this new way of living. Our remembering causes us to strive for peace, and seek to relieve the suffering of others; and to do all we can to ensure the terrible mistakes of the past aren’t repeated again.
May that be our commitment, this Remembrance Sunday, and always. Amen.