The bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But He said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.’
Mt. 25:11 – 13
Many yeas ago, stretched across a treacherous hairpin turn on Highway 30 in Mountainous Middle Tennessee there was a sign, suspended from a cable stretching across the chasm, that, as I remember it, proclaimed “Jesus is coming; be ready!” Then I brushed its message aside as representative of a rough, untutored religion. It took several decades for me to see that the message on the crude sign was of life-saving importance.
It is certainly true that the early Church lived in the daily expectation of the return of Jesus, like the lightning flashing from east to West. Their universal cry was, “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is also true that when months and years passed there was confusion and disappointment. The Apostle Peter addressed those who asked, “Where is the promise of His coming, for things 2 have gone on as they have since the fathers fell asleep?” The community in which the Gospel of John was written, thinking that their Beloved Disciple would live until Jesus’ return, was much disturbed when that disciple died without Christ’s descent from the sky (John 21:22-23). Saint Peter addressed this concern when he wrote in his second letter that Jesus had delayed His return because the Lord God wanted many to come to repentance (3:4). The gift of salvation was not only for the citizens of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee, nor was it for those blessed few who lived in the days of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, but was for all times and all places. On the teaching of Peter and the other apostles Jesus had founded a Church, and ekklēsia into which the citizens of all times and all nations would be called. Jesus’ last command had been that His disciples go into all the world and teach all nation, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He would be with the apostolic mission until the end of the age.
Jesus did not, however tell His followers when this age of grace might end with His triumphant return. What He did tell us is that it might be at any moment, at any second. So the parables in Matthew 13 are intended to permit uncertainty and that uncertainty is intended to inspire us to see each day as a gift and as an opportunity, the gift of another day in which to live for the Lord and an opportunity to attempt that perfection in grace toward which He calls us. The meaning of the parable of the unwise wedding guests is clear. Come to the wedding feast of the Lamb before the door is closed. That the door will be closed is certain. It will on a day certain in God’s providence close across the progress of our journey on earth so that we will be among that blessed company He will bring with Him when He returns bringing all the saints with Him (First Thessalonians 4:16). Or it may be that with these eyes of earth we will see the Lord descending with a shout.
Of course many, some faithful at Mass, will believe none of this, because they are, sad to say, atheists. They do not believe that the telos, the end and perfecting of everything in creation, is not a political arrangement, not some utopia, but, self-evidently, that the highest of all creatures is a person, and that person Jesus Son of God, Son of Mary in whom all things subsist. And without Him nothing was made that was made. The gospel of Jesus Christ is of course an invitation to share in ideas, but is more deeply and significantly an invitation to share in Christ’s person, a fact which countless Christians experience but an experience that is difficult to describe, incorporation into a person suggests realities that are not easily assimilated by day to day experience. Perhaps we do have some intimations. There will be people in our lives whose minds we will know so well that we know what their thoughts will be on any particular issue. There are those whose pain we do feel and in whose happiness we do share. But incorporation into Jesus is much more because it is a more than natural, a supernatural relationship that exists within the communion of saints. This is what Jesus means when He prays to the Father that His disciples “may all be one . . . I in them and you in me, that they may be perfect in one.” And what Paul means when he says, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ,” Paul says in Galatians, “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:7) and in Colossians 3:10–12: “You have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” Those standing by asked the obvious question: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” To this Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you 4 shall not have life in you.” And then in the night in which He was betrayed He took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you.” We are given life by sharing in His life. Words like participation and incorporation stretch thought and imagination but they are essential to the Biblical and theological attempt to insist that history means Jesus and those who live in Him and with Him. He it is “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the remission of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and in Him (Colossians 1:15-16).
So the person Christians will meet at the end is the person in whom we now live. He has given us His person, His body and His blood, His flesh and His life. We do not wait to receive eternal life until that happy day. The root of that life is already in us, planted there by our baptism, nourished by His presence in the Eucharist. But there is this. We must be ready for the wedding feast, for although baptized and fed we may still be outside a locked door if we do not guard the immeasurably great gifts of His presence in us and our lives in Him.