Matins Devotion: November 9, 2022
Just a moment ago, we sang the greatest hymn ever written. “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying” is majestic and soaring, bursting with a glorious trust in Christ’s promises of forgiveness, salvation, love and victory. In both its text and melody, this hymn is vibrant and radiant, inviting those who sing it to tremble with delight at the idea of God ushering us out of this world of sorrows and into the great wedding feast of salvation. And when you consider that this hymn was based on our reading from Matthew for today, it’s even more amazing. Because the parable of the ten virgins is not exactly the most comforting of parables. It’s a pretty law-heavy parable, a parable where the main point is, “you may not have much time to get ready for Christ’s return, so do it now lest you be cast outside of God’s kingdom where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So, then, how did Phillip Nicolai, the hymn’s author, end up extracting such a comforting hymn from such an afflicting text? Unfortunately for aspiring hymnists, the answer is profound and unimaginable suffering. Philip Nicolai was a pastor in Germany in the late 1500s and, over the course of six months, he buried over 1,300 members of his congregation due to an outbreak of the plague. For half a year, death and the devil surrounded him, mocked him, attacked him, grieved him on an almost incomprehensible scale. And so, when Nicolai considered this very law-heavy parable of Jesus, he found profound comfort in one seemingly small detail–the promise that the Bridegroom who loves us beyond measure was on His way, ready to bring us into the eternal joy of the wedding feast and ready to lock sorrow and suffering outside forever.
And, in a way, I think Nicolai’s hymn and the context behind it helps explain the mystery of these foolish virgins who go out to wait for the bridegroom but aren’t actually prepared for his arrival. Why do people say they believe Christ is returning but refuse to turn from their sins? Why do people say they’re waiting for Jesus to arrive with His peace but refuse to make peace with God and with their neighbor? Very often, it’s because life is fine and cozy and comfortable and they don’t feel a pressing need for their Savior to rescue them from the relentless violence and persecution of the devil. They’re not dying to escape this world of sorrows, like Phillip Nicolai was, so they’re not ready to die, not ready to stand before Christ, not ready to enter the wedding feast.
But even if you don’t feel like you have death staring you in the face, you do. Even if you can’t feel the breath of Satan upon your neck like Phillip Nicolai felt, the breath is still there. The hour to repent is now. The hour to make earthly peace and to make peace with God is already here. The hour to hunger for the wedding feast has arrived. Don’t wait. Don’t delay. But also, don’t despair.
Because, as Jesus told us, and as Phillip Nicolai echoed for us in beautiful song, the Bridegroom is coming to clothe us in the love of God. The one who loved us more than His life is on His way to bring us into His kingdom as He slams the door in the face of sorrow, sin, and Satan. The Son of God who will crush every grave to powder and burn every demon to ashes will be here soon. The hour of suffering is nearing an end, and the eternity of bliss is closer than it has ever been. Wake, awake, for night is flying. The darkness is almost over. The day of neverending light and joy is almost here.