Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour." - Matthew 25:1-13
By now we’ve all most likely heard about the mass shooting at the rural First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas this week. All shootings are deeply tragic as our hearts groan at the darkness that pervades our world. As Christians though, this mass shooting hits a little closer to home. It’s not the first church shooting and I’m sure it will not be the last. I think what stings so deep with this one is that church is our safe place. It is our home. It is where we encounter God in a tangible way.
I very often fall asleep and dream about being involved in a mass shooting. You can probably blame the Benadryl, but the dreams are detailed and realistic. I wake up in a haze, only to realize I’m alive. I breathe a sigh of relief and then at the same time I am overwhelmed by a strong sense of urgency. It’s an unwelcome but successful reminder to give each day to God.
My other unwelcome reminder comes as I am often called in to play the music for a funeral. Despite what you would imagine, truth often does come out in those eulogies. There are beautiful stories of selfless love that leave us all in tears and a lump in our throats, and then there are the family members who have to beat around the bush while making a joke about the deceased person’s anger, mean-spirited nature or unethical decisions made throughout their life. Maybe I’m just too dark, but I do often place myself in that casket metaphorically and wonder what my funeral would look like. Who would show up? What will my ‘family pews’ look like? What will be said about me during the eulogy? Will it all be about my love for cheese or will they mention my heart for the needy? Will they have to joke about my crankiness in the morning or will my future children thank me for welcoming them into my home? Will anyone even show up?! ;)
Maybe you’re not like me and these thoughts don’t pop into your mind very often. Or maybe you have the same wandering mind and have asked yourself the same questions. Or possibly you, too, dream about what would happen if a shooter walked into church this week. Would you be ready to go? Jesus gives us another reminder this week that our life is short and we do not have time wasting it doing anything other than giving our lives to God in total surrender.
We don’t like to think about death. It’s not fun. It’s certainly not the desired conversation at your Saturday night party. (I’ve learned that first hand too many times. Someone please remind me to keep party conversations light – I always seem to miss that memo!) But starting now and continuing through until Christmas, Jesus, through the Scriptures and our Liturgical Season, is going to give us a lot of little reminders to think about death and to remind us that our lives have worth and meaning. We cannot afford to waste it. We cannot sleep through it. We must stay awake.
And so, this week, we ask ourselves if we are living like Christians who are awake and on the move or Christians in the middle of sleep. We ask ourselves if we are living our days in total surrender to Jesus or if our days are for our own enjoyment and pleasure. We ask ourselves what legacy we are leaving. What will be said at our funeral by our coworkers, friends, and family members? If we found ourselves at the end of our lives tomorrow, would God respond with, “I do not know you,” as he did to the unprepared wedding guests? I hope instead we hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
As the days begin to shorten, may we be reminded of the shortness of our lives, the urgency of each day, and the ability to start anew in dedicating each day to the One who loves us beyond measure.