Day 31: Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning. NIV
I hear the Gospel song, “Keep You Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” when I read this verse, and Gospel music always takes me back to the congregation I served in Detroit. A well-known Gospel Choir rehearsed in the basement of our building. Whenever I grew discouraged at the challenges of ministry and the sorrows of life in our once working class but now largely poor neighborhood, I would go sit on the basement stairs and listen to the rich and vibrant music that had such power to sustain hope and faith in our city.
The song has its roots in the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. But it connects here, too, with the parable of slaves waiting for the return of their master from the wedding banquet. That story contains a stunning reversal, for the master comes home from the wedding to gather the whole household into the joy of the wedding celebration. The words are not threat and warning, but invitation and promise. Be ready for joy. Be waiting and watching for the banquet to come.
Being “ready for joy” and “ready for service” are sides of the same coin. They speak of the banquet to come, the healing of the world, the dawning of God’s new age, the reign of the lamb who was slain but lives. We live justice and mercy because the age of justice and mercy is upon us – and the age of mercy and justice is the age of joy when tears are wiped away and the sorrows of life lifted. Already we have tasted the feast to come. Already we have heard the word of forgiveness and life. Already we “walk in newness of life.” Already “there is a new creation.” We have seen the empty tomb and know that God has vindicated Jesus. The shame he endured is not his but ours: we nailed him to the tree. But God has reversed the sentence of death we imposed on Jesus and, wondrously, the risen Christ welcomes us with open arms and the breath of his Spirit. He comes in the joy of the wedding feast even now, and bids us “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”
(This was the text for my sermon at my daughter’s funeral. If you would like, you can find that message here: “Keep your dancing shoes on.”)
in the waters of baptism you sent us forth as your witnesses.
Help us live your grace and compassion
to all you bring near us today.
– A prayer for the fifth week of Lent