As the Church Year comes to its close we hear again this Parable of the Ten Virgins. What is this Parable trying to tell us about the Last Day, about Our Lord coming to judge the living and the dead? First, consider our Baptismal liturgy. When someone is Baptized they are given a candle along with this encouragement: “Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end.” Looking at the Parable through this statement from our liturgy, we see that the five wise virgins are those who kept their Baptism blameless. That’s not something we can easily see, which is why in the Parable all ten virgins look the same—they are all waiting for the Bridegroom, all carrying lamps, and all fall asleep. Yet, five are wise and five are foolish.
Though politicians don’t often make for good theologians, and perhaps vice versa, there is something to Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. The United States is in the middle of the Civil War. The Union is divided. In not a few instances families are torn apart as people with the same relatives shoot at one another, fighting for their side. In October 1863 it didn’t seem like there was much to be thankful for. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national thanksgiving. He was onto something. Consider his words: “No human council hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” Though we rightly deserve God’s wrath, He still shows us His mercy. We do not deserve anything we have, but through His fatherly, divine Goodness, God the Father still graciously provides for all our needs of body and soul.
Whenever good works are praised in Scripture, we must look at the context and details. If these accounts that seem to say good works earn your salvation are not read in light of the entire Bible, we can be easily confused. No statement of Scripture can disagree with Scripture. So we must consider Hebrews 11 where God tells us that, without faith, it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). So, no good work is pleasing to God without faith in Christ. Good works only please God when they are performed by the justified, that is, those who believe that they are forgiven and receive eternal life by God on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who believe necessarily do good works and their works are pleasing to God, because these good works flow from faith as its natural fruit.
Jesus tells us what signs will accompany the End Times. We know well what Scripture says about physical signs, and we are no stranger to them. How many of them have we seen in just the last few months—wildfires, a mass shooting, public hatred of prayer in the aftermath of disaster. In addition to these events, Jesus tells us of wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, famines, and earthquakes. As bad as it is two thousand years after Christ’s Ascension, Jesus Himself says “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Mt. 24:8). And, anyone can see the evil of these days, whether they are Christian or not. Anyone on the streets can tell you that natural disasters are increasing in intensity and frequency. They can tell you that the divisions between people are worse than anyone has ever known. However, our Readings that prepare us for the End Times don’t focus on these things because the Church is more concerned with our spiritual life. So our attention is placed on the spiritual signs that come with the end of the age. Our Lord tells us what to expect so that we will be prepared, and He reminds us that the only comfort we will have is to be found wherever His Body is present to strengthen us.
The feast of all saints in the Lutheran Church is observed a little differently from its original intentions. Originally, the Feast of All Saints was established as a sort of “catchall” day for the Church to observe and give thanks to God for those men and women who had made a memorable contribution to the Church on earth, but for whatever reason were not given a set date on the calendar. They didn’t rank with Apostles and Evangelists, famous Martyrs, or others, so they were remembered as a collective group on the first of November.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.