Bible Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 & Matthew 25:1-13

Remember 2017

Today is a day for remembering in a season of remembering. A few weeks ago, here in church, we had a service for people to remember loved ones who have died. Around this time of year many people will sponsor a light on the Telford Tree of Light, in memory of friends and family members. Today we remember especially those who have died in, or been affected by, war and conflict. Today is a day for remembering in a season of remembering. As we remember, it occurs to me that each present moment we live is coloured by the events and the people that we remember from the past. In some cases that feels like a shadow, a darkness. In other cases our memories are a light showing us a way to the future. And, of course, the way we view the future also colours the present moment of our lives. Do we look forward in fear and anxiety, or with readiness and hope?

The apostle Paul recognised the way in which the present is coloured by both the past and the future. That’s what he was writing about in the bit of his letter to the Christians in Thessalonica that have just read. He is writing to people who have friends and family who have died, and they are grieving their loss. Paul doesn’t deny the grief that their memories cause them, but he knows that what we believe about the future affects how we react now to things that have happened in our past. So, he instructs them not to grieve as those who have no hope. Paul is not telling his friends not to grieve – that would be to deny the love that we feel for those who have gone. He is reminding them of Jesus’ promise that there is life beyond death for those who trust and follow him, and inviting them to allow that promise to give them hope.

Paul is suggesting that our grief for the pain of past loss can be tempered by the hope of the future that we are waiting for.

I wonder if we are ready for that future to arrive. Have you heard the one about the young apprentice on his first day at work on the building site who was sent to the stores for a left-handed screwdriver, a glass hammer, and a long wait? Christians have been waiting for Jesus to return as he promised for getting on for 2,000 years. That’s quite a long wait. In the parable that he told to his friends about the bridesmaids and their lamps, Jesus instructed them always to be ready, no matter how long the wait.

It seems to me that there are two different parts to being ready, both of which have to be there if someone is to be truly ready. Being ready means being both willing and prepared. In the parable that Jesus told, both sets of bridesmaids were willing to welcome the bride groom, but only half of them were prepared – they had the oil that they needed for their lamps because they had prepared. It takes a bit more of a stretch of the imagination, but I could think of another possible third group of bridesmaids, who had brought extra oil – they were prepared to greet the bridesgroom, but they weren’t willing to. Perhaps they got fed up with waiting and went home, or decided that there was a better party down the road that they were going to take their lamps to. Being ready means being both willing and prepared.

Today we remember those who were willing. Willing to answer the call to defend their country, willing to sacrifice, willing to go when they were sent. It is one of the tragedies of war that many, through no fault of their own, were not well prepared. We don’t have to read many of their stories to know that did not feel ready, and were not prepared in any meaningful sense for what was to confront them. And yet, ill equipped as they may have been, they went. I wonder why. There were probably many motives, but I suspect that we are back to hope. Hope for a better future, hope for a peace to be made soon, hope for a new day.

The question for us today is, are we ready? Are we willing and prepared to make sacrifices for justice, peace and mercy? Are we willing and prepared to live as obedient and faithful followers of Jesus? Are we willing and prepared to welcome him when he returns?

As we remember the past and look to the future, we can have hope because Jesus was ready, willing and prepared, to come to earth as a human person, the creator becoming part of creation, to sacrifice home, to leave the comfort of close relationships, to forgo the security of heaven, and to enter the battle for our souls. More than that, he was ready to die so that we could live, forgiven and free. We are now waiting for his return, and as we wait so we remember all that he did and said. As we remember we are filled with hope for the future and make ourselves ready so that we might greet him with our lamps lit and our hearts hopeful.


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