Graceful Living Week 9

O Lord our God, from whom neither life nor death can separate those who trust in thy love, and whose love holds in its embrace thy children in this world and the next; so unite us to thyself that in fellowship with thee we may always be united to our loved ones whether here or there; give us courage, constancy, and hope; through him who died and was buried and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(William Temple )

Daily Readings

Day 1: Psalm 90
Day 2: I Thessalonians 4:1-12
Day 3: I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Day 4: Matthew 25:1-13
Day 5: Amos 5:1-9
Day 6: Amos 5:10-17
Day 7: Amos 5:18-27

Weekly Reflection and Questions

Matthew 25:1-13

The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids is found only in Matthew’s Gospel.  The parable is placed in the middle of Jesus’ teaching about the end times (24:1 — 25:46).  Jesus is speaking to his disciples while sitting on the Mount of Olives, looking at the Temple grounds (24:1-3).  He has left the temple and the verbal battle with the scribes and Pharisees. The disciples come to Jesus privately (24:3) to ask Jesus about the signs of the end of the age. Jesus uses several analogies to stress the need to live faithfully and expectantly, to watch and remain ready. 

The image in this week’s parable of the bridegroom is found in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the covenantal relationship between God and God’s people.  (See Hosea 2:14-23; Isaiah 62:5; Revelation 22:17). A typical ritual at a wedding would have the bridegroom coming with his companions to the house of the bride’s parents to take her to his own home. As the groom approaches, the bridesmaids would come out with lighted lamps and meet him.

Note the opening verse of the parable: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.”  The word “then” and the tense of the verb imply something that will happen in the future. Contrast this with other “kingdom” parables in Matthew (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47) which begin in the present: “The kingdom of heaven is like. . . .” While the parables in Matthew 13 emphasize the mystery of the kingdom already present in the world, the future tense of the parable of the bridesmaids points to a time when the presence of the kingdom will be clearly seen and understood. 

The parable begins with grace. At first, all ten bridesmaids, wise or foolish, are equal members of the wedding party. All are to be included in the celebration. Both the foolish and the wise are prepared for the ordinary, usual events. But as in other parables in Matthew, grace calls for a “wise” response.

The challenging question for the church of Matthew’s day (and for the church today) is: How are we to live during the “in-between” time – the time between the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the promised coming of the victorious Christ at the end of the age?  Do we trust in One whose presence is not readily seen?  The answer Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel is to live a life of active faithfulness, of doing what we believe.

1. How helpful or meaningful is the image of bride and bridegroom, to describe the relationship between God and people? Explain your answer.

2. What are the characteristics of a faithful disciple who waits and prepares for Christ’s coming?

3. What does it mean to live a life of active faithfulness?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The first followers of Jesus, including Paul, expected Jesus to return within their own lifetime. This was based in part on Jesus’ own understanding about his return.  (See Matthew 24:29-35, Mark 9:1; 13:24-30, and Luke 21:25-33.) Jesus thought he would return soon. But then again, God’s understanding of soon appears to be different than those of us who walk on this earth.

The Thessalonians are concerned if those who recently died have missed their chance to be part of the kingdom of God and eternal life. Thus there was a double grief—the grief when someone we love dies, but also the concern of forever losing that person because he or she died before Christ comes again. We can only imagine the confusion when first-century Christians died before seeing Jesus. 

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses these questions and the rising anxiety associated with grief in Thessalonica. Questions about death and the after-life are not restricted to first century Christians.  Most of us wonder about death and what comes next. Sometimes, we voice those questions aloud, but often we deny death and press on with living.

Paul is passionate in his response. He does not want his beloved congregation in Thessalonica to be uninformed and left without hope. Those who are not connected to Christ and the promised resurrection may experience despair, living without hope. Paul assures our connection with Christ goes beyond death. The words from Romans ring out, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)

When Jesus returns he will bring those who died. Take hope. Death is not the end of the story. Death does not have the final word. Thanks be to God.

Paul imagines the return of Jesus to be with the sound of a trumpet and the sight of Christ descending from the clouds. Then, we will be with the Lord forever.

1. How does God measure time?

2. If you knew Jesus was coming this week, what might you do before he arrives?

3. Would you make any changes in your lifestyle?

4. What do you believe happens to Christians when they die?

5. How have you experienced hope at a Christian funeral?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 163.