The Tardy Bridegroom: A Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Virgins icon

Sermon audio here.

Ten virgins: five wise and five foolish, but all ten sinful. All ten became drowsy and slept. In the next chapter our Lord will find His disciples sleeping while He prays in Gethsemane. The question Jesus asked Peter must have been piercing: “So, could you not watch with me one hour?”

This is the Church year’s final lesson to us: the Bridegroom is returning, so be ready. Wake, awake, for night is flying!

It’s not by accident the hymn characterizes this life as “night.” Sin, death, and darkness are all around—and even within—you. But you’re not of the darkness. You’re a child of the day. Christ calls you to shine like a star in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation:

You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (St. Matthew 5:14, 16b).

This world needs some light in a desperate way. Darkness is all around. Be careful, lest your eyes get too used to this darkness and the light blind you at its coming.

Stay awake. Don’t let the Master find you unprepared at His returning.

We have this problem, even with things that don’t require nearly as much attention. We forget what we’re doing, we get distracted. I have this problem every time I make instant oatmeal. It never fails—the second I look away, it ends up boiling over into the microwave. Every second of those two minutes is critical!

If we can have a hard time staying focused on something for two minutes, how can we ever hope to be ready for Jesus’ return?  It’s been over 2,000 years. And not only that, we don’t know the day or hour of His returning. At least we know the oatmeal will be done in about 2 minutes. You need to be ready for the Lord at any moment.

It doesn’t help that God often seems to be MIA. It’s not hard to believe Scripture when it uses words like “perverse” or “crooked and twisted” to describe this world (cf. Det. 32:20; Phil. 2:15). It’s hard to believe God’s loving and gracious when you’re surrounded by darkness and death. We have a hard time seeing God in the midst of tragedy, even as the disciples had a hard time seeing God at work in the death of Christ.

Learn from the cross. The cross shows you that God does His greatest work when it seems like He’s not there at all.

You would expect the Bible to emphasize the closeness of God—that He’s with us. And He is, but His presence is only visible to faith. As far as the sinful flesh is concerned, God’s an absentee Father. That’s why there are so many atheists out there. The pious want to blame Satan for this world’s darkness, but Satan isn’t almighty. Nothing happens apart from God’s will. God is present—and therein lies our problem. If He’s present, why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

It’s for this reason that the Bible also emphasizes God’s apparent absence. God is with us, but His absence is a major theme in the parables. Our Lord says God is like a housemaster who put His servants in charge and then took off. In the parable of the talents, the master entrusted his property to his servants and split. In the parable of wicked tenants, the owner of the vineyard was off in another country when his servants killed His Son. In today’s Holy Gospel, Christ is the Tardy Bridegroom.

How does God become delayed? It’s not like He loses track of time or gets hung up in traffic on the way to the reception. It doesn’t make sense. And yet, that’s exactly what we confess: “the bridegroom was delayed.” And not only that, we believe that God is delayed for our own good. This is where “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding” becomes vital (Prov. 3:5). If we understood God’s ways, we wouldn’t call it faith.

Satan would have you associate God’s presence and favor with those times when life is going according to plan and you’re feeling great, and to treat suffering as a sign of His absence. This makes God your own personal Aladdin’s Lamp; it puts you in control over god. Problem is, the lamp never seems to work when you need it most.

This is the false doctrine known as prosperity gospel. Jesus’ Gospel teaches that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. That’s when you most desperately need Him. God’s love for you is most profoundly revealed in suffering and death—namely, in the holy suffering and death of His Beloved Son for your sin.

The foolish live by sight. They don’t see God, so they live for themselves. This is the wisdom that says you’re in charge of your life, your time, your things. You may believe, but you have lived as if you didn’t. Repent!

The foolish say there will always be more time, but baptism says you belong to God now and were bought with a price. The wise know it’s better to crucify their sinful desires than to indulge them. The life of the baptized is a daily crucifixion of sinful desire. It’s is a life of faith in God and fervent love toward one another.

Sleeping isn’t the problem; both the wise and the foolish slept. God knows you need rest. When all you do is work, you break the Sabbath. Even soldiers, firemen, & police officers sleep. Without sleep, they wouldn’t be able to do their jobs very well. But they need to have everything ready before they go to sleep so that they can be ready to go on a moment’s notice.

What counts is what you do while you’re awake. The wise were ready with their oil. They lived as though the Bridegroom were returning. Be ready. Christ will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. Keep looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

And then when you do sleep, you can sleep securely. I don’t know about you, but if I try to go to sleep with a lot of unfinished work, I don’t sleep very well. I get the best sleep when I know I’ve made all the necessary preparations for the next day. The best way to prepare for our Lord’s return is to let the Lord prepare you. To paraphrase what another pastor once put so beautifully:

The five wise virgins brought extra oil. They did this because they knew the Scriptures. They heard the promises. They already had the right clothes for the occasion on. They were wearing the white robe of Christ’s righteousness with which He had provided them in Holy Baptism. They had practiced this wait every Lord’s Day—singing hymns, hearing the preaching of the Word, confessing their sins, receiving the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood.

They were prepared because they had practiced for this event their whole lives. They’d been prepared by the gifts that create faith, the gifts that sustain faith—Christ’s Spirit-filled Word and Sacraments.

The Divine Service is the practice that makes you perfect. Word and Sacrament give to you what Christ won on the cross. It teaches you and prepares you for His returning. It gives you what you need for your waiting and for when you fall asleep. It perfects you for that time when your Bridegroom will come to bring you into His Wedding Feast—not some nameless virgin, but you: His very own holy, immaculate, beloved Bride.[1]

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 25:1–13
The Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2015: “The Tardy Bridegroom”
Zion, Summit
Immanuel, Hodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies

[1] Rev. Jason Braaten’s, comments on Trinity 27 (http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2012/11/practice-makes-perfect-thoughts-on.html).



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