The Wedding is ready. (Matthew 22.4)
The wedding was furnished with guests. And when the King
came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding
garment. And he said unto him, ‘Friend, how came thou in hither, not having
a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then said the King to the servants,
‘Bind him hand and foot and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness.’
What a terrifying picture, the very stuff of our nightmares. We are suddenly
called and then find ourselves the subject of attention in the midst of
company. When we look to discover the reason, we find that we are naked
or without the appropriate clothes. In horror, we flee or are sent out.
All this is because we were caught unprepared, summoned in the midst of
our sins. We were found unready.
Readiness is the central theme for this Sunday’s readings and Collect.
St. Paul’s Epistle advises us to “walk circumspectly,” that is, carefully,
aware of the dangers around us and the lateness of the hour. We are not
to be caught drunk or asleep as were the foolish maidens, who allowed their
lamps to burn out and were unready when the bridegroom came to go into
the wedding feast. Unready, they found themselves locked outside in the
darkness. Readiness is required for “the Lord cometh at an hour when ye
think not.” (Matthew 24.44) And so we pray in today’s Collect:
Almighty God. . . keep us. . .from all things that may hurt
us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish
those things that thou wouldest have done.
The problem is readiness for an unexpected call, wise preparedness for
a summons or visitation whose exact time is unknown. I suppose that we
ordinarily think of this in terms of a readiness for death. Certainly the
time of our death can scarcely ever be exactly known to us and we do pray
God to give us the grace to make a good death. It is very unfortunate that
the idea that a person ought to prepare himself carefully for death seems
to have been largely given up. Recently a man of considerable wealth was
buried in Halifax with the greatest public pomp. At his funeral it was
said by many that during the last month of his life while he was ill in
hospital with a condition known to be fatal, he sold more goods and made
more money than during any other month in his life. How very dreadful!
There are many failures in such situations. A failure of the doctors to
make the condition of their patients very clear is one of them. The deceptions
in such cases are often more for the sake of the medical people and those
who will survive, than for the dying person, and may prevent him or her
finally handing their life back to God in a Christian way.
There is often a failure on the part of the Church: a failure to remind
us that our eternal destiny is the matter of greatest importance; a failure
to hold before us the necessity of readiness to give our solemn account
before the judgement seat of Christ; and a failure to impress us with the
great value of being peacefully and penitently ready to make our last and
most important journey. Finally, there is our own failure: a failure to
take the business of dying seriously enough; a refusal to be “deeply sensible
of the shortness and uncertainty of human Iife”(BCP, p. 599); as
well as a pretence and delusion that we can escape the necessity of death.
These are all foolish self-deceptions.
So we ought to be prepared to die, but such preparation does not capture
the whole meaning of the readiness our Lord requires of us. The prayer
in the Collect is to be ready in body and soul so as to cheerfully accomplish
those things that God would have us do. What is required is a readiness
for all the demands of life, a preparation such that we will have the capacity
to act rightly and cheerfully no matter what demands are made upon us.
One might call this a readiness both for life and death. It seems impossible
that we should be so prepared, but in fact this is what is demanded and
is that for which we pray. It is certainly clear that this is a readiness
we can never have of our own power. The mere power of our natural life
could never make us ready for everything which might confront us in life.
We need and require divine assistance and heavenly grace. To return to
the image we used at the start, in which we found ourselves without the
appropriate clothes or even naked in the midst of the great wedding feast,
we require to be given clothing, clothing which will make us always ready,
ready for any circumstance. The clothing offered to cover our weakness
is our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle tells us “to put on our Lord Jesus
Christ and the whole armour of God that we may be ready and able to stand.”
Putting on our Lord Jesus is to re-direct our lives, to re-orient them,
to be converted so that we are turned steadfastly toward the good and the
true. This is the first necessity for those who would be always cheerfully
ready to act rightly. The first requirement is to love what is good, to
hope for nothing but the good, and to put our whole faith and trust in
its power. These virtues of faith, hope, and charity, are the gifts on
which everything else depends. They are the basic parts of the wedding
garment demanded by the King which make us always ready to go into his
feast and ever prepared to serve him cheerfully when he calls.
But we must build on the foundation of theological virtues if we are
to be ready for everything. We must build up the powers, the virtues, the
habits which make us able to control and direct our actions. A virtue or
a good habit is nothing else but a readiness to incline toward the good
in all the circumstances of life without unnecessary deliberation and labour.
It is a tendency and disposition to make the right decision. Once we are
converted to the good, determined to live for it and by it, we need then
to conform all we are, all our actions and powers, toward that end.
This is something which occupies every moment of our life. It has to
do with our education, at home, at school, and at church. In these places,
we acquire the mental, emotional and physical powers and habits which must
serve us during a whole life time. We are made ready for good or evil by
the habits, good and bad, we acquire daily in the family, at school, and
at work. When we take over the control of our own lives from our parents
and teachers, every deed we perform either builds those habits which increase
our readiness for right action, or weakens our capacity for good and increases
the power of evil over us. If we are turned toward the good made known
in Jesus, and if we direct and conform everything we are and do to accord
with that beginning, then we shall be prepared for all the circumstances
of life and ready when God summons us to himself at our end.
If we put on our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be able to stand against
all the fiery darts of the evil one and finally, having done all, we will
be found standing erect and ready when the King cries “The Wedding is ready,
Then we shall go in with gladness and join in the great banquet and
wedding song, singing to God, Father, Son, and Spirit the praise which
is his due and giving to him thanksgiving and glory, even as we do now.