Sermon preached by Fr Daniel Trott
on Sunday 12 November 2017 (Third Sunday before Advent)
Wisdom 6.12–16; Matthew 25.1–13
At the beginning of November we do a lot of remembering. On All Saints’ Day we remember those inspirational people we call ‘saints’, and on All Souls’ Day we remember all who have died. But today we remember and honour those who died fighting for our country. Why? What makes these deaths worth remembering all on their own?
One word that is often used on this day is ‘sacrifice’. What goes through your mind when you hear the word ‘sacrifice’? I imagine it’s probably one of two things. If you’re of a historical frame of mind you might think of killing an animal in a religious ceremony – sacrificing a sheep or a dove, perhaps. Or alternatively you might think of someone giving up something for the sake of something or someone else: someone sacrificing their time to help a good cause, or a parent sacrificing their career to bring up a child.
The reason we talk about the ‘sacrifices’ of the men and women who gave their lives fighting for their country is that these men and women chose to risk their lives for the sake of others – either by volunteering or just by not saying no when they were conscripted (although it wasn’t always very easy to say no). There are lots of kinds of sacrifice, but the sacrifice of a life holds a special place.
At the end of this service we will make a promise. We will pledge ourselves ‘to serve [God] and all humankind, in the cause of peace, for the relief of want and suffering, and for the praise of [God’s] name’. Although not as dramatic as the sacrifices made by those we remember today, this is our sacrifice. This is using our lives to serve others, to create a better world for everyone.
And this is part of what Jesus is talking about in the parable we heard earlier from Matthew’s Gospel. There was a custom in Judea in Jesus’s time for the bridesmaids to meet the bridegroom when he was on his way back to his house with his new bride. They would light the way of the new couple, and then be invited to the party. But in the story, the bridegroom is very late, and some of the bridesmaids don’t have enough oil for their lamps. As a result, they can’t light the way of the new couple, and they can’t go to the party. Be like the wise bridesmaids, Jesus is saying. God could look at what you’re doing with your life at any time: be ready.
Jesus is using the idea of the Day of Judgement to encourage people not to put off sorting out their behaviour. Serving humankind, working for peace and justice, isn’t something to worry about tomorrow, or sometime in the future when I might be able to make more of a difference. It’s something to do right now. Perhaps if we all did that, made ourselves living sacrifices day by day, there’d be less need of the kind of sacrifice we remember here.