Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect: Thoughts on Trinity 27

Practice makes perfect. That's what we tell ourselves when trying to master something new or difficult. Practice make perfect. Practice prepares our hearts, minds, and bodies to react in a certain way in uncertain and unforeseen situations. And if we believe that it's worth it, we'll invest our time and resources so that they can be mastered. This is why we have fire drills. This is why doctors and nurses undergo internships and residency, why our military, police, and firefighters train as often and in the ways that they do. They're preparing to face without hesitation the unknown by practicing everything they already know to be true and everything that could possibly go wrong.

This is what distinguishes the five wise virgins from the five foolish virgins. Even though both of them fall asleep on the job as they watch for the Bridegroom to come so that the Wedding Feast can begin, the wise are prepared. The foolish are not. They are prepared because they had practice.

The five wise virgins brought extra oil. They did this because they knew the Scriptures. They heard the promises. 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, that foretaste of the Wedding Feast to come, that appetizer and hors d'oeuvre which staves off hunger while at the same time whets the appetite for what is to come. They are prepared because they have practiced for this event their whole lives. They've been prepared by the gifts that create faith, the gifts that sustain faith--Christ's Spirit-filled Word and Sacraments.

And since they've been waiting their whole lives, since they'd heard from the Bridegroom's own mouth that no one, not even He, knows the day or the hour when the end will come, they took Him at His Word as they were trained to do. And they did it unhesitatingly. They knew all they needed to know: That the Bridegroom is coming, and No one knows when. So they practiced waiting for Him. And in that practice, where the Lord gives to them what He has accomplished through what He says, He is perfecting them for that time when He will come again to take them from this vail of tears and waiting, to Himself in heaven.

The Divine Service is the practice that makes us perfect. It gives to us what Christ won on the cross through His Words, HIs Sacraments. It teaches us and prepares us to wait. It gives us what we need for our waiting and for when we fall asleep. And it perfects us for that time when our Bridegroom comes to bring into His Wedding Feast, not some nameless virgin, but us, His very own, holy, immaculate, and beloved Bride.


  1. I was wondering something similar to your thoughts here, but lean towards the wise and unwise virgins as faithful and unfaithful pastors. The virgins are not the Bride and from Matt. 24 we see that Jesus is specifically speaking privately to His disciples. Maybe I've stated the obvious.

  2. It surely applies to the disciples. We know that the disciples will fail at keeping watch. They all fall asleep while Jesus prays in the garden on the night in which He was betrayed.

    The question is this: does Jesus have in mind here only the apostles? Or is His audience wider than that? While Jesus is speaking only to His disciples, this could just be that He is in fact speaking to the church. In other words, the disciples is the faithful gathered around our Lord's teaching. Furthermore, I don't know if any of our Lord's parables, off the top of my head, that begin with "the kingdom of heaven is like . . . " ever refer only to the apostolic ministry. They certainly include it, but I'm not sure this is exclusive to the wider church.

    Keeping watch for the coming of the Lord is paying attention for how He continues to come even now (in the preaching of the Word and in the Sacrament of the Altar) and, in so doing, keeping watch for His coming finally at the end. We keep watch for His coming now so that we are ready for His coming then. This certainly includes pastors, but I'm not sure it does exclusively.

  3. I don't think it's exclusive to the apostles or the office by extension. The wider church is there by virtue the imagery of the Bridgegroom. Perhaps you get the light of the Gospel through the "faithful pastors"/wise virgin's lighted lamps? The unfaithful pastors/unwise virgins do not have the light. They're like those in chapter 24 crying "look, there is the Christ", but He is not there (the Light is not there). Yes, yes, mixing parables. That's not good.

    It's too late in this particular week for these thoughts to make it into my sermon, but I've been thinking about this this morning.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. A reference to the wider Church is also hinted at by the use of the number 10 (Mt 25:1), a convenient numerical shorthand for a "new order," "completion," or a "culmination of things." Such meaning was common to both the ancient Greek and Hebrew minds; but then, so was ten fingers and ten toes. Interestingly, despite the annual observance by the faithful of Jewry, only ten Passovers are specifically and specially detailed in the canonical Old and New Testaments (source: http://www.vic.australis.com.au/hazz/number010.html). The tenth so listed (Mt 26:2) happens to be associated with the institution of a "new testament in the Lord's blood," a sacramental prelude to His crucifixion. A "new order" is appearing, one which will be a mark of the Church shortly to be birthed on Pentecost.

    Of interest (and comfort) to the Lutherans, of course, is that a wise portion of the virginal Church remembers the oil, the means by which the lamp can be used to successfully meet (or shall we say, discern) the Bridegroom's presence (Mt 25:6; cf. Lk 24:31). Those who are foolish, on the contrary, "took no oil with them"(Mt 25:3, AV). Their ability to intimately beseech the Lord (Mt 25:11) is impeccable, but the careless dismissal of means obtains a limited ... indeed, an altogether chilly ... reception (Mt 25:12).

    I suppose one should note, here, that immediately prior to Mt 25:1, the Lord intones "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?" (Mt 24:45; the chapter has but 51 verses). The context is suggestive; the faithful servant is the wise (that word again!) pastor, feeding his flock that heavenly flesh fit unto salvation, in the course of the Divine Service. The "minister" not looking for the Lord's coming, but convinced instead that the Lord dallies interminably and is a total no-show (Mt 24:48), simply eats and drinks like an unknowing and grossly delirious inebriate (Mt 24:49). Such unwise individual is given the fated (and ironic) portion of a Christian hypocrite (Mt 24:51): having perceived no bodily coming of our Lord in a fore-taste Supper, one is left to weep water without power, and gnash the teeth against nothing.

    Heavy stuff, for the servant ruling over God's house. On the whole, though, the Kingdom of God is like unto Christ, who "is within you" and you and you, the dear Baptized. As such, the ten virgins represent His Body, the Church, tare and wheat alike until the door is shut.


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