The kind of waiting Matthew is encouraging through this parable (Matthew 25:1-13) is difficult. Waiting for something way over due, waiting for something you’re not sure will even come is challenging. How about waiting for someone who is the center of your life and not sure when he or she will arrive? It’s irritating and thoughtless when we have no idea, but maybe they themselves don’t know. All I know is that it makes me apprehensive. This special arrival involves preparation but I’m so distracted I can barely concentrate on what I am supposed to do. And what about the times we waited for a call from a doctor or lab test result? There is nothing we can do to prepare, what’s done is done. We just wait. This kind of waiting is really hard.
Whether what we are waiting for is good or bad hardly matters, the anxiety and stress of living in the “in-between time” of waiting can be difficult. This parable reminds us that we are not alone in our waiting. Upon closer look Jesus is speaking of his own “in-between time,” his own time of waiting. The scene is set between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his trial and crucifixion. And one thing on which Matthew and all the Gospel writers agree is that Jesus knew what was coming. Yet here he is, still teaching the crowds; debating his opponents, and instructing his disciples…even as he waits for the coming cross. When he gets to the garden we know how difficult waiting was for Jesus, and how all his followers were so “hard to find,” even after he asked them to wait with him.
Waiting for Jesus’ imminent return is difficult for most of us to conceptualize; yet, Jesus’ presence is with us always . Each time we work for justice, we testify to the presence of Jesus. Each time we help each other, we testify to Jesus’ presence. Each time we stand up for the poor, or reach out to the friendless, or work to make this world God loves a better place, we testify to the presence of the Risen Christ.
Yet, these efforts are not always easy to sustain and we can grow frustrated by the lack of “measurable outcomes.” Let’s admit it, on any given day, at any given time each of us may discover we are a foolish bridesmaid. Given this reality, let’s reclaim our church as a place where we can find help and support in our waiting – all kinds of waiting! – and support as we try to live our Christian life. I find it striking that Paul closes this part of his letter to those first-century Thessalonians that found their own waiting nearly intolerable with these words, “Therefore, encourage one another….” (David Lose, In the Meantime, 11/3/14)
We are the Church. We are those who wait for each other. We are those who support each other in times of pain, loss or bereavement. We are those who help each other wait, and prepare, and keep the faith. In all these ways, we encourage each other with the promises of Christ. That’s what it means to be Christ’s followers, then and now. And that’s why we come together each Sunday, to hear and share the hope-creating promises of Jesus.