Matthew 25: 1-13
May I speak in the name of the one living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
For those of you who are wondering what is different, I am wearing a tie! I served in The London Regiment, London’s infantry battalion, in the T.A. (or Army reserve) as it’s now referred to. I was a member for just under 5 years, the only period where the army wasn’t in ‘action’ anywhere in the world since its formation in 1660! Since then The London Regiment has served in Kosovo, Cyprus, Iraq and Afghanistan alongside regular units.
This year has an interesting 100 year anniversary, something to do with old age – can anyone guess? Well it is 100 years since the monarch started sending telegrams to individuals reaching 100 years of age. Quick question then – how many did King George send in 1917? 24, next obvious question how many did Her Majesty send last year? Answer is 10k. Typically we are all living longer. We might think World War 1 was a long time ago but there are many people living now, who were born during World War I, with memories passed down to them from their families.
As for today’s service, we are preparing to remember the enormous sacrifice made by others, many who are unknown to us, men and women, who served and paid the ultimate price with their lives. Also, we remember the sacrifice or contribution of others in many different ways, women working in the fields or factories or by children growing up many miles from their homes without their parents. If you were to add up all the total amount of time and effort, I imagine the sum total would be quiet astonishing. We are grateful for the peace and freedom we now enjoy, which, I would suggest, we too often take for granted.
So how does this relate to our reading today from Mathew?
Well we heard the story of the 10 bridesmaids, 5 who are prepared to meet the bridegroom, with lamps full of oil. The other 5 had a plan to buy oil for their lamps later. However the bridegroom arrived much later than expected, the 5 bridesmaids with oil were prepared for this situation and able to attend to the bridegroom whereas the 5 who were not were unable to attend. Those who were prepared are described as wise, those you weren’t are described as foolish.
If you look up the definition of ‘wise’ you will discover the description is of someone demonstrating good judgement and knowledge. Someone who is ‘foolish’ is the opposite. The bridesmaids who have oil in their lamps were prepared, whereas those who did not relied on their plan. Unfortunately for them their plan failed, when they were unable to buy oil and they then missed out.
The simple message is: that we don’t need a plan. God has a plan for all of us, however, we do need to be prepared. If not, we run the risk of missing out on God’s Kingdom, of running out of time; time being something which we cannot make or borrow – no matter how hard we try! And I am reminded of the famous Clergy joke: if you want to make God laugh, show him your plan!
So how does this relate to our Service of Remembrance? Well, we should look at the tactics on the battlefield of World War I. As a quick reminder, the battle of Somme is infamous, experiencing 60k casualties in the first day. The thinking of the day (the plan) was to for artillery to bombard the German lines for 5 days (the theory being to destroy the trench system). Once the bombardment had stopped, all the British Army had to do was come up, out of their trench, form up in lines and march across the open ground. The problem was that the plan was flawed. The German Army, having taken ground, wanted to keep it. Therefore they were dug in, very deep, and the bombardment had little effect on them.
When they heard the whistles blowing from the British lines, all they had to do was to get up out of their trench, set up their machine guns and open fire. There was very little preparation if the plan didn’t work. No one was prepared, the private soldier, NCO or Officer and as a consequence a slaughter unfolded. Nowadays in the British Army, on the website of The School of Infantry, you will see the following line “soldiers and officers are prepared for any operational situation they may face”. We should always remember God has the plan and we should have faith in that plan.
Lord, we give thanks and ask you to honour all those who made a huge sacrifice for us. We ask you to help us, grant us faith and courage, as we journey together, in your plan. Amen.
Paul Budgen, Churchwarden and SPA, St. Peters, Limpsfield