I learned a lesson on the night of the 2000 election: don’t stay up waiting for the final results. To my regret, I did stay up that night. When I finally went to bed, I had no idea that the election wouldn’t be finally resolved for another month.
So, this year, I went to bed around my normal time. As it happens, it didn’t help much. I had a restless night. I had two anxiety dreams. Carrie and I got up to check the status of the election in the middle of the night. I continued to obsessively check election results over the next several days.
I suspect I was not alone. Our experience of waiting for election results may help us identify with the women in the parable.
The kingdom of heaven is like this, says Jesus. Everybody is invited to the party. But the bridegroom—that is, Jesus—is delayed. And so we wait.
In the parable, we don’t know why the bridegroom is delayed. We don’t have any idea how long the delay will last. That is the bad news.
The good news is, the bridegroom is reliable, and the bridegroom is loving. The bridegroom’s reasons for delay may be mysterious, but we can assume they are good. And we can rely on the promise that he will show up eventually. That is when God’s kingdom comes.
But, for now, we wait. And we keep waiting, knowing that our heavenly bridegroom may well be delayed for generations.
The question for us is, how do we behave while we wait?
In the parable, the wise virgins had brought along some extra oil for their lamps, so they were ready when the bridegroom arrived even though it was the middle of the night. The foolish virgins didn’t have enough oil.
I have struggled with this next bit. The foolish virgins ask the wise virgins to share their oil, and the wise virgins refuse. That seems ungenerous. It seems like saints destined for the kingdom of heaven would be willing to share.
The unfortunate oil-less virgins hurry off to replenish their supply even though it is the middle of the night. By the time they succeed, the door is shut and they are no longer welcome at the party.
As one who doesn’t always think very far ahead and who routinely underestimates how long it takes to get things done, I identify with the foolish virgins, which is a little awkward since they are foolish and they are out of luck.
But I think getting hung up on the plight of the foolish virgins misses Jesus’ point. Jesus wants us to be like the wise virgins. And we can say two things about them.
First, the wise virgins continue to look forward with eager expectation to the arrival of the bridegroom. They never forget that the bridegroom is on his way, that a wedding banquet will happen, that they need to be ready when the time finally comes.
But the wise virgins are realistic enough to know that the bridegroom’s arrival might be postponed, that they might have to wait a long time. And so they wait with eager expectation and patient endurance. That is a really tricky combination.
What might that wise combination of expectation and patience look like in our lives?
Start with a personal example. I have joked before that I am eager for my children to start cranking out some grandbabies. That is true enough. But it is also true that my children are not ready to be parents.
I have the expectation part down. My challenge on this one is to be patient. I need to enjoy this stage of my children’s lives, to love them as they are right now, to let them go on about their business without constantly harassing them about my wants. Whether or not I succeed in being patient is a separate issue.
We need the same combination of expectation and patience as a parish. I am eager to be worshipping with you, inside, with singing and hugging and no safety concerns. And coffee hour!
I continue to hope that day will come, sooner rather than later. So on this one, too, my challenge is to be patient, to make prudent and safe decisions, to be aware of what God is doing now, in this stage of our common life.
Or think about where we are as a nation. At this point, the election seems to be about over. But we need more than to know who the next president will be. I long for real national healing, for a time when liberals and conservatives and everybody in between can work together, with integrity, for the common good.
Waiting for that time takes patience. But what is harder, at least for me, than staying patient is staying hopeful, holding on to my expectation that it really could happen.
Most importantly for us as people of faith, of course, is God’s kingdom. And here, too, our challenge is to combine expectation and patience. Every week we proclaim our faith that Christ will come again to establish God’s kingdom. And yet we look around at our troubled world and don’t always see many signs of that happening.
But Jesus promises us that God’s kingdom will come. There will be a day when God wipes every tear from our eyes, when death will be no more, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for God makes all things new (Revelation 21:4-5). We long for that day. But sometimes we struggle. Our faith wavers. Our hope crumbles.
The wise virgins of our parable encourage us to hold on to Christ’s promise and also to live patiently and responsibly in this world, doing what we can to love our neighbors while we wait for its fulfillment.
My prayer is that we can follow their example, and that we can be agents of both hope and patience in our world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan