Lectionary Hymn for Pentecost 23; Matthew 25:1-13; I Thessalonians 5:1-8
Text: Gracia Grindal (1943-). Tune: Daniel Charles Damon (1945--)
1. The trumpet will sound and Christ descend
To waken the dead and the sleeping,
Who trusted in him until the end
And rested within his keeping.
They knew that the Lord would come again
And joyfully end their weeping.
2. We wait in the dark and hope for light
To break through the clouds of terror,
While here in the shadows of the night
We fear earthly pain and sorrow;
The famine, the floods, the violence,
The mayhem of sinful error.
3. O watch for the day when Christ appears
On earth without any warning!
Be ready to greet him as he nears
With lamps that are brightly burning.
Rejoice as the darkened heavens rend;
Your bridegroom is now returning!
Copyright Wayne Leupold Editions, 2006
MEDITATION This parable of the five wise and five foolish maidens always came to mind when I was on the underground in Stockholm during a brief study time there. The conductors would cry, "Dörrarna stängs!" Many were the times that young girls would be running to get in, but were too late, no matter how loudly they cried out and pounded on the doors. They were not let in.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, we still had special meetings, a week of evening services with an evangelist preaching salvation. This text was a key text. "Don't delay!" they preached. “What if you should die on the way home? Would you be ready?”
These were ultimate questions that gave moment to life. Sometimes we might smile at them—my pious mother, who had a keen sense of humor, would imitate the pastor of her childhood and his thick Norwegian brogue, who ended nearly every sermon shouting, “What if you should die on the way home? Where would you go?” He terrified her because he never really made it clear to her what she should do. It made her afraid, as a young girl, to go home! When the next pastor came, a wise and seasoned shepherd, he assured her that she was safe in the promises of Christ and in the renewal of her baptismal vows at confirmation. The main thing was to be ready.
The question she knew had eternal consequences and she took care to be ready, to have oil in her lamp, Christ was coming soon. Thinking about one’s ending gives shape to the story of one’s life.
Berthe Canutte Aarflot, one of the women in whom the Hauge revival in Norway took root, lived on a farm near Ørsta. Her father, an Enlightenment man, and her pious mother taught her to read the Bible, the Catechism and hymnal as well as other spiritual books. During her confirmation instruction she began to wonder if she was ready. She wept and wept and could not be comforted until she received the assurance of salvation during her catechization when the pastor commended her faith. She began writing hymns, many of which focused on her becoming a bride of Christ, like the five wise maidens. “My bridal dress is lovely, fine,/My bridegroom is God's only Son/Who sits above in heaven.”
She married and gave birth to seven children over the next years. Over time, she said, her faith became routine. And then a traveling evangelist came to visit them. As he spoke while she was preparing dinner, she realized that she had lost her first love and fallen into a deep spiritual slumber. She was awakened and reclaimed the notion that the only righteousness that could save her was Christ’s, which she received in her wedding garment--the forgiveness of sin. Only then would she be ready.
The image of being ready, with one’s lamp full and burning, became her constant theme in her hymns and song. She became something of a preacher in the awakening that swept Norway after Hauge who approved of women preaching. Her hymns, her letters, and her open hospitality to any searching souls who found their way to her farm home helped many find a living relationships with the Lord. She wrote hymns in memory of neighbors who had died in childbirth, or her own little daughter who had died as a small toddler, a friend who had perished in a terrible windstorm when the barn fell on her. In every case, her warning was from the texts for next Sunday: be ready, have your wedding garment on and your lamps burning.
There is something of her in my hymn, as there is of the great chorale, "Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying" which also uses the Matthew text. Right now we are fearful of many things: Whether the election goes your way or mine; what will happen after the election or when will the pandemic be over? No matter how you believe Christ will come again, and the Bible gives us several ways to think about it, in every case we must be prepared to meet Christ. That's the big one. But it doesn't mean sitting on a hill waiting. The real question is about death's eternal consequences, and about life, no matter how long or short. What if you lived for fifty more years and never knew the Lord? "Be ready to greet him as he nears/With lamps that are brightly burning." Scripture promises that knowing him is eternal life, he brings unending joy.
The hymn text combines the epistle and gospel text for next Sunday. As I was writing it, it had not been long since 9/11. The possibility of terror and violence seemed more present and would continue throughout the next decades. What keeps recurring in my thinking is not only the forces of evil as we face the end, but also in our living, both here and eternally, the assurance of joy. The hymn can be sung to "Den signede dag/O Day Full of Grace," for which there are links, or what Dan has written below.
Oslo Domkor https://youtu.be/uTj0IDj7gLk
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