Let's face it; Elvis Presley probably caught your attention in the title of this blog post. How about “parousia” are you familiar with that term? And patience? How long, how long have we waited for a pandemic to pass, an election to be over, for a “return to normal”?
Let’s start with Elvis Presley. Take to heart the words of the song he is singing in the video above.
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:
When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.
Here is a link to read about the author of this song Thomas Dorsey . It was out of a personal tragedy this beloved hymn was written. It may have felt to him like an “end time” . Here is also a brief video documentary on him. Bourne out of deep grief he writes “Precious Lord Take My Hand”. Maybe this song can serve each of us as a prayer in this time in which we might be asking; how long, O Lord, how long? When there are challenges and changes that seem so very overwhelming.
Moving on to “Parousia” - For the next three weeks to understand our gospel readings we will be exploring together the context of end time/Jesus’ Second Coming bible readings. The particular time, the particular place and this particular portion of the fifth and final “teaching” of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel takes place as the community of followers is also asking; how long, O Lord, how long until Jesus returns? They are anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises.
The word in Greek “parousia” is translated as coming/presence it can signify a visit especially an official visit. Used in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37 and 39 parousia is also the word used for the second coming of Christ. Matthew’s gospel has beginnings and endings intentionally designed to speak to his community and now they get to speak to us. Let’s explore the parallel of two times of mountain top preaching; the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and this teaching on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25).
Matthew has structured his gospel into five teachings (think Pentateuch) Matthew 5-7, Matthew 10, Matthew 13, Matthew 18 and Matthew 24-25. Each of these sections ends with “when Jesus had finished”. Last week we heard part of the Sermon on the Mount in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) part of the first of the teaching. I encouraged you to read that entire section of Matthew 5-7 as a unit.
Now we go with Jesus to another mountain; the Mount of Olives for the fifth and final teaching in Matthew’s gospel. If you decide to read this fifth teaching Matthew 24-25 it will be a much more difficult teaching to read, hear and understand than the Sermon on the Mount.
With this in mind let’s seek to understand context. Jesus’ teachings put together in writing for Matthew’s community takes into account anxiety. Wondering, waiting, becoming worn out…the early Christians need hope and reassurance. Jesus will come again. They hear this Mount of Olives teaching in light of the Temple in Jerusalem having been destroyed, families separated over religion and tradition and a community who really didn’t think they would still be around this long without Jesus having returned.
Timing and context are key to the final teaching in Matthew. The first teaching—the Sermon on the Mount is at the beginning of his ministry. Now the teaching in Matthew 24-25 takes place at the end of his ministry. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem there was a parade. In Matthew 23 there are the “woe’s” the opposite of the blessings in Matthew 5 as Jesus laments over Jerusalem;
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:37-39
Deep lament. This is the context of this fifth teaching. We are in the days leading up to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The end is close at hand. And so Jesus will instruct his followers now as the end draws near just as he did when he began his ministry. Leaving the temple Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives and his disciples ask for signs of the coming of the end (Matthew 24:3).
So on this mountain Jesus gives his fifth and final teaching. This is the context for our lectionary reading for this weekend of the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids or virgins. At the end of this challenging parable the message is “to keep awake”. This is going to take patience. What does this parable mean for us today? All week long this camp song has been going through my mind. So this weekend we will explore what keeps oil in our lamps. How can we encourage one another to keep awake?
What fuels you on this journey of following Jesus? Perhaps music is one of the things that gives you encouragement and helps you in the waiting. The words of the end times are challenging and often used not help fill the oils in our lamps but to extinguish hope. Hope is a function of action.
Over the next few weeks we will get to collectively practice patience as we explore portions from Matthew 25. Let the song Elvis sings above be a prayer. We are in this together and get to explore parables and proclamations of Jesus that invite us to go forward in faith not fear. We get to trust even in the midst of uncertainty that it is a gracious and loving God who sent Jesus into the world. Jesus in deep compassion takes on the sins of the world to set us free- even in the midst of challenges and changes, pandemic and politics we ask Jesus to take our hands and lead us. At the end of our reading for this weekend from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul writes; “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Writing about the Second Coming of Jesus, Paul invites us to be hopeful and encouraged. The constant and consistent in all that appears to be upheaval, uncontrollable, unimaginable, untenable, unthinkable…. Is the love of God in Christ that saves us not only in the hereafter, this love is saving us in the here now.
Let’s face it; God is not limited by our imagination. The love of God is being revealed all over the place and we are called to keep watch, to wait, to wonder, to look, to listen and to live this day asking our precious Lord to guide our feet and hold our hands and lead us home.