All Things are Ready
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Shakespeare’s Henry V, set in 1415, tells the drama of young King Henry V of England. When the king of France sent Henry tennis balls for Henry’s birthday and colluded to plot against him, Henry invaded France. The French army outnumbered the British army by thousands and Henry offered a speech to his demoralized troops that has become one of the most motivational wartime speeches in literature: In this speech, Henry says, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that shed his blood with me shall be my brother.” These lines have been referenced throughout the centuries to encourage soldiers going into battle. They have also been used in countless locker room gatherings by coaches wanting to win the big game and they have inspired numerous movie and television programs portraying the battlefield.
The very next scene shows one of Henry’s soldiers telling him the French are ready to fight and Henry responds, “All things are ready if our minds be so.” Because Henry assured his troops that they had great honour in fighting with their brothers and he also assured them of their mental readiness, they won the battle.
Our Gospel reading today is about readiness, too. It’s one of the more complicated parables, I think, and speaks about Jesus’ warning to his disciples to be ready for his presence. In Matthew chapter 24, the disciples asked the question regarding the return of Jesus: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence?” To respond, Jesus gave this answer: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, but only the Father…keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Then Jesus gave numerous illustrations to drive home the point: A homeowner would have stayed awake had he known the hour the thief would arrive. A good servant is always ready for his master even though he does not know the day or the time the master will return. And bridesmaids will either be ready or not and, of course, the ones who were ready to meet the groom receive the benefit of the marriage feast.
Scholars who deliberate this parable concentrate on each element of the narrative: One scholar claims the number ten to indicate how many bridesmaids were at the wedding is indicative of the ten worshipers needed for a quorum in the temple in Judaism. Another scholar spoke about the oil as wisdom: those whose lamps were ready received the spiritual banquet. I, for my part, like to think about the door, an image which is common in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament: Psalm 84 says, “I have chosen to stand at the door in the house of my God rather than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” John 10 says, “But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. I am the door; by me if anyone shall enter in, he shall be saved.” And, of course, Matthew 7 says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”
But perhaps the biggest lesson in the parable is that while we ready ourselves and stand at the door, we also must be prepared to wait. And our society today isn’t big on waiting. Microwaves, fast-food restaurants, grocery store express lanes, devices that give us instant communication – all of these attest to the hurried-ness of most people today and the fact that waiting can be torture. Author John Ortberg writes about more serious kinds of waiting: a childless couple wait to start a family. An unemployed individual waits to find meaningful work. An ill person waits for the morning when he will wake up and feel better. An awkward child waits for the time she gets picked for a team first on the playground. Oppressed groups of people wait for the day when true social justice takes hold. God promised the Israelites they would escape the bondage in Egypt to become a nation of their own…but first they waited four hundred years. God instructed Moses to lead his people but only after forty years in the wilderness. Today especially we remember thousands of Canadian and Allied troops who waited in the trenches for the day when victory would be at hand.
Perhaps when the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence?” they really meant, “Can we stop waiting now?” It seems like waiting wasn’t their strong suit, either. Jesus encourages them and lets them know their waiting will bring great rewards. He says to them, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” Matthew’s account recorded multiple times when Jesus used ordinary things to describe the kingdom of heaven: the kingdom is like a sower who scatters seed upon the soil; it is like a mustard seed; it is like a net that captures both edible and non-edible fish; it is like workers in a vineyard who all receive the same wage regardless of how many hours they work; and, it is like a wedding where only half the bridesmaids come prepared.
Is the opposite of waiting remembering? Today we observe Remembrance Sunday and we’re drawn to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. Many of you will have personal experiences of war and seeing loved ones go off to war. You may have stories of how those you knew either survived or perished. You may remember the difficult times at home as a result of war. Today we remember together that the fallen must be honoured and that their sacrifice must not be in vain.
Jesus taught us about the power of remembrance when he broke bread and poured wine and, blessing them both, said to his friends, “do this in remembrance of me.” And he taught us that both remembering and waiting are important elements in our Christian faith and hope.
Shakespeare’s Henry V tells his troops before entering battle, “All things are ready if our minds be so.” More than physical preparation is our mental preparation. Each week, we come together to nurture our faith as we wait. We both seek and give kindness and we honour those whom we lost through our acts of remembrance. Our waiting is accompanied by readying and encouraging those around us to ready themselves, too, for we have learned that our perseverance in waiting and our readiness brings the kingdom of heaven closer still. Amen.