November 8, 2020

Deacon Jim Homily
Are you prepared?

Good morning.  “It is tempting to avoid thinking about the mystery of death and dying; as this may call to mind losses we have experienced, as well as the thought of our own mortality.  And yet, the readings for today remind us that we are called to face the reality of death with hope, wisely recognizing the longing within us to be in God’s holy presence and the necessity of making ourselves ready for this unavoidable future.”  At Home With the Word

       “Today’s second reading from 1 Thessalonians suggests that Paul and many Christians expected the imminent return of the risen Christ.  When members of the community died before this event, others worried about what would happen to the deceased.  Paul reassures these mourners that their beloved dead are with the Lord who will bring them back when he returns.

       Paul uses apocalyptic imagery, “the voice of an archangel…the trumpet of God coming down from heaven,” to convey symbolically the divine plan.  In contrast to the more familiar idea that the dead “go up” to heaven to be with the Lord, in this passage the Lord comes down from heaven.  During this descent, the dead and those still living will be caught up together “in the clouds.”  They will meet the Lord “in the air,” a term which scholars think refers to the earth’s atmosphere.  It must be ‘kept in mind’ that Paul is not talking about a physical place.  He speaks comparably about a reality that, because it is divine, is beyond complete human understanding – namely, the reality that somehow all believers will one day always be together with the Risen Lord.

       The death of their brothers and sisters provides an opportunity for Christians to display their certain hope to those around them.  Though they naturally experience deep sadness when a loved one dies, and cannot help but grieve, Paul does not want them to mourn like unbelievers, who do not expect to see their loved ones again.  For believers, the dead are merely “sleeping” for a short time.  Like the living who wake up each day, they will rise when Christ returns, and all will live together.

       The comfort that the baptized have to offer each other is more than ‘insincere talk about religion or morals’ or even profound formulas.  It is their deep conviction that the bond they share with and in Christ is so strong that death cannot separate them.  Since Christ died and rose, there is – in him – a seamlessness between the physical and spiritual worlds which allows the dead to remain somehow connected with the living.”  Workbook for Lectors

       In today’s Gospel parable we hear about virgins being prepared to meet the bridegroom.  “Wedding customs in ancient Palestine required extra vigilance and preparation for everyone involved.  Some near eastern villages still follow this custom.  The bride and groom did not go away for their honeymoon, but celebrated for a whole week with their family and friends.  It was the custom for the groom, along with his friends, to come at his discretion and get his bride and bring her to their new home.  

They would take the longest route possible so that many people along the way could join in the wedding procession.  Once they arrived and closed the doors, no one else could be admitted.  If the groom decided to come and bring his bride at night, then lights were required by necessity to guide the travelers through the dark and narrow streets.  No one was allowed on the village streets at night without a lamp!

To show up for a wedding party without proper attire and travel arrangements is like trying to get into a special event today that requires a prearranged permit or reservation.”  Laudate Reflection

“This parable includes Jesus’ “end-time (eschatological) discourse,” which is especially focused on ‘final judgment’.  It compares the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins that go to meet the bridegroom and what happens as he approaches.  The women’s fates display the two, possible eternal destinies that await Jesus’ disciples: they will either be with him or not.

       The virgin’s mission is to welcome the bridegroom with lamps lit.  Since there is no scheduled time for his arrival, the wise ones bring flasks of extra oil but the foolish ones do not.  The bridegroom is long delayed (like Jesus’ return).  All the virgins fall asleep and awake in the middle of the night hearing the cry that the bridegroom is coming.

       The foolish virgins see that their lamps are going out and presume that the wise will share their oil.  At first glance, the refusal of the wise to do so seems uncharitable and unchristian.  But the oil, in this passage, represents something that cannot be shared: each person must provide it for himself or herself.

       While the foolish virgins go off to purchase oil, the bridegroom comes and the wise go into the wedding feast with him.  The detail, “Then the door was locked” has a haunting finality.  Too late, the foolish virgins arrive and say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!”  Just as earlier they expected their fellow virgins to ‘bail them out due to poor planning’; now they expect the Lord to ignore their negligence and let them in.  Imagine their shock when they hear his voice behind that door saying, “I do not know you.”

       “Know” here means to recognize someone from having experiences with them.  In other words, Jesus is saying to the foolish virgins, “we never did anything together.”  He made this point earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, saying that those who merely profess to be his disciple, those who say “Lord, Lord” but are not doing the father’s will, shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

       Matthew adds a warning at the end of today’s parable that exhorts Jesus’ disciples to stay awake because the Lord could return at any moment.  “Staying awake” or “watching” according to Matthew does not mean to wait passively for ‘the second coming’ (Parousia); it entails action.  Disciples must be about the work that Jesus wants to be doing in them.  This parable warns that there will come a time when it’s “too late” to do anything.  Those who claim to be his disciples could, like the foolish virgins, find themselves standing outside for all eternity, watching the light from their lamps – lamps lit too late – bounce off that door that will never open again.”  Workbook for Lectors.

       “Jesus is coming again.  This can be a hard fact to focus on and, even a scary thought for some.  So instead of being apprehensive about a His final coming, consider this: Jesus comes every day.   In our prayer time.  In the Eucharist.  In unexpected ways that catch us by surprise.  As we deepen our relationship with him, we grow confident that his Second Coming is to be welcomed, and this fact becomes a welcome reality with no fears.

We might now have pain, sickness, or weariness from observing the restrictions of a global pandemic or from some other health challenge.  It will not always be this way.  One day our body will be whole and shining with God’s glory.  This fact is a ray of hope, to keep us from going off into despair.

These facts will keep us on the right path.  Let’s remind ourselves of them daily.  Recall them when we find ourselves preoccupied with “earthly things” like finances, possessions, or health.  Proclaim them to ourselves when heaven seems far away or our needs loom large.  In our prayers, we should thank the Lord and rejoice in these facts, perhaps choosing a different one each day.  Remember that Jesus always walks beside us.  This is the way to stay on course and stand firm in the Lord.”  Word Among Us

There are only two more Sundays before we start the season of Advent – so it’s no wonder the Church chose this end-time Gospel message today, about being prepared to meet Jesus.  We should be preparing all the time, but as we approach the season of Advent (of preparation for the birth of Jesus) we’re reminded that we should always be prepared – because we know not the day, nor hour of our Savior Jesus Christ’s return.  Amen.

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