There is a tradition of writing about Wisdom which can be found in the Bible, and across the Ancient Near East. Wisdom Literature seeks to explore the perennial questions of who God is and how humanity should live. The term ‘wisdom’ means much more than knowledge. It refers to how knowledge is used with judgement, something which comes with maturity and experience, and leads to our flourishing. In our first reading this morning we see Wisdom personified as a beautiful woman . If we love Wisdom, then we will recognise her easily. It stands to reason. Wisdom is an attractive quality.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought. (Wisdom 6:15-16)
To be wise is to be freed from care or anxiety. Nothing in life or death can trouble us because we have fixed our thoughts on Wisdom. Such wisdom comes from God, it is divine, and not human. In fixing our minds on Wisdom, we have fixed them upon God, the source of all wisdom, or as a prayer in the Prayerbook puts it:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, which knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking: We beseech thee to have compassion on our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Our second reading, from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, deals directly with questions of death and resurrection. Clearly some people have died, and there are members of the church community who are worried by this, so Paul is trying to allay their fears. He encourages them:
‘that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep’. (1Thess 4:13-14)
This is our hope as Christians. Because Jesus died and rose again, and we share in His Resurrection, we know that our earthly life is not all that there is, that something greater awaits us. Paul has hope for the future, which is why our passage ends:
‘Therefore encourage one another with these words’ (1 Thess 4:18)
Paul speaks of the future and Christ’s Second Coming to encourage the Church, to give it hope, and to remind us that God keeps His promises. We can have hope, because its source is God. Our ultimate aim is to be with God forever. Through what Christ has done we can have this hope. And on this Remembrance Sunday , we remember and give thanks for those who have gone before us and we encourage each other as a community.
In today’s Gospel Jesus continues His teaching about the Kingdom. Normally He says that, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven IS like…’ whereas in this passage He says, ‘the Kingdom of Heaven will be like…’ Jesus is teaching about the future, a future reality which will come to be, rather than something which is already the case. This future reality is His return. Christians believe that Jesus will come again to judge the world.
The parable pictures this as the return of the bridegroom. The problem is that half of the virgins were not prepared and did not have spare oil to keep their lamps lit. The bridegroom has been delayed and the virgins have become drowsy, and have fallen asleep. When the bridegroom eventually arrives half of them are not ready, and have to go to buy oil. They therefore miss meeting the Bridegroom and so are shut out of the marriage feast. This may sound harsh, but Jesus tells the parable to warn us to be prepared, to be vigilant.
The point of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, is that we will not know when Jesus will return, so we need to be ready to greet Him when He comes. This is not just to be ready in practical terms, but also in spiritual ones. How are we ready to meet Jesus? Are we living out our faith in our lives? Have we got things ‘in order’? Just as wisdom comes with age, so we can use our lives to prepare. Such preparations are wise, and a joint effort: we can prepare together. That is what the Church exists for: to help us to get ready to meet Jesus.
There are two inescapable facts in our readings this morning: first that our earthly lives are finite, they will come to an end, and secondly that Jesus has promised that He will return. Death and Judgement may not be something that we like to think about, but they will happen, and we cannot, if we are serious, simply live our lives as though neither will take place. Many in the world around us live this way. Is it wise? Not at all, it is the opposite of wisdom.At this time ofRemembrance we, therefore, also reflect on our own mortality and the way in which we are living our lives and what we are doing for those in need.
To be prepared means to know what we are facing and to be ready for it. It is a mark of spiritual maturity that we can contemplate such things without fear. If we are prepared then we have lived out our faith, and we know that the God who will judge us is a God of love and mercy. God died for love of us, and to give us the hope of eternal life with Him. This is the Heavenly Marriage Feast which we, as Christians, look forward to.
If our lives are characterised by Faith, Hope, and Love, there is no need for fear. The world around us is scared of Death and Judgement, because it has no hope of eternal life. The promises of the world are empty, whereas what Jesus promises us is real, and is for everyone who turns to Him. This is Good News, in fact it is the best news possible! Our life on earth is meant to be a prelude to an eternity with God. This is what we believe and hope for as followers of Christ.
If what we believe in our hearts and how we live our lives are in perfect synchronisation with each other, then we need have no fear, as the promise of sharing in Christ’s Resurrection is there for us. We do not need to be anxious, and we can get on with the business of living our lives secure in our faith. This is what it means to be a wise virgin with a lit lamp and a flask of oil, ready to meet our Lord . This is the purpose of the parable: to warn us in advance so that we can be prepared and not be surprised, so that we can be wise. We can therefore be lamps of faith in a dark world, ready to shine love, and hope on those around us.
May our lamps of faith be filled with oil so that they may burn brightly to the honour of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.