St. Matthew.jpg

Too Late

Matthew 25:1-13

The Rev. Jon Roberts

6 November

2011

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The wise and the foolish Virgins by Peter Von Cornelius, 1813

Late, late, so late! and dark the night and chill!
Late, late, so late! but we can enter still.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

'No light had we: for that we do repent;
And learning this, the bridegroom will relent.
Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now.

'No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!
O let us in, that we may find the light!
Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now.

'Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?
O let us in, though late, to kiss his feet!
No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now.' [1]

Jones came into the office an hour late for the third time in one week and found the boss waiting for him. "What's the story this time, Jones?" he asked sarcastically. "Let's hear a good excuse for a change." Jones sighed, "Everything went wrong this morning, Boss. The wife decided to drive me to the station. She got ready in ten minutes, but then the drawbridge got stuck. Rather than let you down, I swam across the river (look, my suit's still damp), ran out to the airport, got a ride on Mr. Thompson's helicopter, landed on top of Radio City Music Hall, and was carried here piggyback by one of the Rockettes." "You'll have to do better than that, Jones," said the boss, obviously disappointed. "No woman can get ready in ten minutes."

Just across the Rhine River, in Germany, there in the city of Dusseldorf, one can visit the national museum. Strolling through the halls admiring the collection, there is no doubt that you will be touched by a particular oil painting called The Ten Virgins or The wise and foolish Virgins. It is a portrayal of the parable we hear today. Christ, the bridegroom, stands at the opening of a massive door. Beside him is a man whose hand is on the handle, the other holds the key, ready to pull it shut, with only a nod from Jesus. Behind them, in the Father’s house, there is a heavenly banquet going on. Before them, in the street there are ten fair maidens, wanting to get in. Some of them are desperate, on their knees, begging. Others are comforted. In their hands are burning lamps. As Tennyson’s poem suggests, those who are begging hear those words time and time again, “Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.”

The ancient custom of the unexpected invitation by the bridegroom for the wedding party to join the wedding banquet continues to this day in Israel. After the wedding, instead of going away for the honeymoon, the newlywed remains at home for a week. There, in the father’s house, the bridegroom has invited only those closest, to join in a long banquet festival. Once it begins no one else is allowed to come in. The custom was that the bridegroom would call upon his guests unannounced to see if they were waiting for the call. If the call came in the dark, and night and chill, a lamp was necessary to go out to him; a lamp filled with oil. In this parable Jesus tells us we are not only like the bridesmaid, but we are also to be like the lamp. We should be filled with something that keeps us ready for the coming of Christ. It is our spiritual sloth that empties our lamps. We hear the alarm wondering how could this ever happen? How could we wake up so late? We blame it on something that broke our routine, likened to a drawbridge. We run down the list of all the things we had to do, likened to swimming across a river. We plead we had to go to great heights, likened to taking a helicopter ride. We refer to our resourcefulness, likened to being carried piggyback by a Rockette. Worse yet, we blame those closest to us for this oversight, like our spouses, forced to get ready in ten minutes.

Let us not make excuses. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit at all times. If we have not the Holy Spirit, then we have not been good stewards, giving all we have, in order to receive God’s love into our hearts. It is never too late to call out for the Holy Spirit to help us. This is what is meant by filling our lamps. When doing so, we are able to hear when Jesus, the bridegroom, calls us. Today, let us answer God’s call, by letting him into our lives. Let us come to the altar with our lamps, being filled by the Holy Spirit. Let us not disappoint the bridegroom who stands at the door and knocks. Let us not be carried away with life's distractions, with our sinfulness, making excuses. Christ will come again. Receive him into your hearts or else there is the risk you may hear those uncomfortable words, "Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now."

[1] Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809-1892
[2] Matthew 25:1-13

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