The readings from the lectionary for this Sunday are kind of a downer if you think about it. The second reading, from 1 Thessalonians, is about dead people and whether or not they will be able to participate in the Day of the Lord. The Gospel reading is an urgent warning about the need to be constantly prepared. It seems to be saying that if
we’re not completely ready and prepared, we are screwed! But rather than
focusing on the negative, let’s look at the positive message of hope these
Hope. The word itself only comes up explicitly only once in readings
today, and that’s when Paul cautions the Thessalonians not to be like those who
don’t have any. If we look for underlying themes, however, we can see that it’s hope that ties these readings together.
Hope is a good thing. We have hopes for our children, for our families, for our careers. We hope that the stock market will recover enough so that we can retire as we’d planned.
Each and every one of us has a hope that’s specific to our own wants and needs. That’s one of the things that’s so great about hope: there’s enough for everyone. As followers of
Jesus, we have come to know that hope is nothing more than trusting that what God has done for us in the past He will continue to do in the future.
When we think of what God has done for us in the past, we might think about stories
contained in the scriptures, but we should also think about events in our lives
that threatened to ruin us, but somehow we managed to survive. These are our own miracle stories, our own stories of faith. When we think of what God will do in the future, we know only that we will die, but nothing more. The present is what’s most real to us, because it’s all we’ve ever experienced, and it can seem far removed from God’s activities, past and future.
The truth is, the present is just a tiny, slim little moving edge separating the vastness we call the past from the vastness we call the future. Ten minutes ago my reading the gospel lesson was in the future. Five minutes ago it became the past. Even if I read it again now, it would be a different, separate event. I can’t bring the past into the future. I can’t ranscend the present. But God can.
Frequently, at Mass, I say, “The Lord is with you!”, meaning, God is with you
right now. The same is true when we sing the Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world…” This is something that the Lamb is doing right now, on that thin little edge. Yes, the Lamb’s saving activities happened 2,000 years ago, but they continue to happen in the present moment.
Our culture understands hope as a feeling that what we want to happen will happen. Our plans for our families. Our careers. Our stocks. Our retirement plans. Think how different our lives might be if we put our hope in God first, and then other things and people.
The Thessalonians certainly had their hope in God, but they were expecting
things to be accomplished according to their timetable. They feared that those who would die before Jesus’ return might have their hopes dashed. Paul assures them that God’s plan transcends every barrier, even time, even death. The Gospel, too, is all about waiting and waiting. God doesn’t go by our timetables—which is frustrating and annoying. As an old
Sister once confided to me, “God is good, but He’s not prompt!”
There are other times when we get caught up in life’s stresses and worries and lose
sight of the true source of our hope. But even though we don’t know the day or the hour, the fact is that the bridegroom will come. And if we forgot extra oil for our lamps? This might be a weird thought, but why do ten people need ten separate lamps in the first place? Couldn’t they just share their light? Maybe the primary mistake of the foolish bridesmaids isn’t that they forgot oil, but that they had become so fixated on their supply that they stopped watching for the Bridegroom altogether. Their hope wasn’t in the coming of the bridegroom; their hope was in having enough oil.
Whenever we celebrate a baptism, the newly baptized is given a lighted candle to
sybolize the need to let the light of Christ grow within us, so that others might see God revealed in us. Others who at any given moment do not have oil in their own lamps can be illuminated by the lights of the baptized, and encouraged in their own faith to fill their own
lamps with oil. That is called witnessing to our faith, and we are witnessing to the hope we have in God’s goodness.
We can’t make someone else believe or have faith, but we have been given a truly
awesome gift, and we’ve been told to share it. It’s not so we can get together and sing songs and participate in liturgical rituals—as important as those things are—it’s about moving out beyond our own comfort zone and reaching out to others.
We’re talking about the light of faith, so there is always enough of that to go around. Every Easter Vigil, as the paschal candle is brought into the church, we see the miracle of light
demonstrated for us. At first there is only one flame, the Light of Christ, but then one by one we light our own candles from the one flame and suddenly the whole church is ablaze with light. And it all started with a single little flame, in the same way you and I can bring light if we so choose.
We are loved. We are encouraged. We are blessed. We are participants in God’s salvation which comes through Jesus Christ our Lord. And we know this because we have gone to the Lord and received the word of eternal life. And that word tells us what God has done for us in the past. God has brought us this far without dropping us on our head. There is no reason to think He won’t continue to do the same thing for the rest of our life, and even into eternity.
That is why we’re here, gathered around this table: to declare to each other that, no matter
what, we carry that hope deep within us.