COME, MIGHTY JUDGE, AND SET US FREE
"Watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour." Matthew 25:13
AS the church year comes to a close we turn our thoughts to the end of all things: the end of the world, the end of our lives, and by the mercies of God, the end of wilderness wanderings for Christ Lutheran Church; but by virtue of our baptism into the Lord's death and resurrection, every ending also provides a new beginning. Many times we don't want the present to end, and we fear what lies ahead, but we need not fear because the Good Shepherd is with us, and He will continue to lead us in the paths of righteousness until we dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Five years ago a glorious chapter in the life of Christ Lutheran Church came to an end when we laid our aged mother to rest and embarked on an uncertain future. It was a time of sorrow, but also relief because we had nothing left to give. Likewise our time in the wilderness was mixed with joy and sorrow. It was a time of rest from the responsibilities that had consumed us for ten previous years, but also a time of limited liberty, when we were painfully restricted in what we could do. To be sure, we did what was most important. "This do in remembrance of me," and by this Manna in the wilderness, this Bread come down from heaven, our hearts were gladdened, our souls were nourished, and not one has been lost, but we had no outlet for our faith and our joy; no opportunity for special celebrations, personal fellowship or for the Christian works of mercy that ware so vital to the Christian congregation.
Yet as today is the Last Sunday of the old Liturgical Year, next week is the First Sunday of the New, and we pray that God who is our help in ages past, will be our hope for years to come.
Whatever our time or locale, the word of Jesus in today's gospel is always appropriate, always in force: "Watch therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour," but what does the Lord mean when He says "Watch?" Is this simply a mental process or is there something else we are supposed to do? And, what exactly is it we are watching for?
If you were listening to today's Scripture lessons on Moody Radio (which I sincerely hope you never do) you would learn how the recent Jihadist massacre in Paris is predicted in the Book of Revelation, and you would be instructed to stay tuned to CNN for the further unfolding of international events, but the Lutheran religion specifically rejects that interpretation of the Bible! Rejected, because St. paul teaches us that when the Lord returns it will be a complete surprise, as unpredictable as a thief who comes in the night. Besides this, international affairs tell us nothing about what we are most interested in; what we need the most: the Holy Spirit the holy Christian church, communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting that is ours in Christ.
What exactly is it are we to watch for? In a word, the end; not the end of human existence. People are eternal. You are eternal, and after this life ends there is another, either in joyous gladness with Christ, or in weeping and gnashing of teeth without Him, but this world as we know it will come to an end. The One who came here to save us will come again to Judge us. Then the sea will give up her dead, and all the graves will be opened. Then every thought you ever thought, every intention you ever intended, every word you ever spoke, and every action you ever took will be revealed, and you will be judged.
It won't be a pretty day! There won't be any Starbucks coffee there, and no one will be texting.
Only one thing will matter then: the forgiveness of sins; the very thing we obtain in the church, every Sunday of our lives!
How exactly do we watch? You're doing it now! The gifts received in this Divine Service are the oil that keep your lamps lit, that keep your light burning bright until the Bridegroom comes to escort the Bride to His Father's house in festal procession. You are that Bride!
The Word Of God chanted into your ears keeps you sober and alert. While the world is fast asleep in a comfortable coma, bereft of all that is Divine, without moral compass, and unable to distinguish the right hand from the left, you are anointed with the oil of gladness. You have the Light of Life, the Spirit of God, the mind of Christ, a delightful destiny, and a bright future beyond human telling, but you have a present joy as well, because what we "do" in this Divine Service is both a foretaste and an installment of the end. In Holy Communion two things happen. First, our sins are neutralized and Satan's head is crushed by the Body of Christ we eat and the blood of Christ we drink. Secondly, we are filled with the Light of Christ, given a vision of heaven and a foretaste of the Feast to come, all given tenderly to us here and now in order to cleanse, fortify, comfort and shield us until we arrive at our Father's house, where Jesus has gone before to prepare a place for you.
Therefore in the words of St. Paul, be sober and alert, "for you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness, so then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober ... for God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras