Eucharist means Thanksgiving: a Lectionary Reflection for the morning after the night before

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wis 6:12-16, Ps 63, 1 Thes 4:13-18, Mt 25:1-13

It seemed as if the readings today had been specially crafted for the moment our country finds itself in today. Even the opening prayer:

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.

validated my sense that I have been so very hindered, in mind and body alike, by all the adversities of the last four years, of 2020 in particular, of this election in particular, of this week in particular. That my inability to attend mass, even by streaming, over the past several months has had to do with all the adversities and difficulties that I was facing, personally and communally. Even last Sunday, the Feast of All Saints, my favorite feast; the Sunday before the election, over which I had great anxiety, which I deeply wanted to bring to church and pray for our country in the sacrifice of the mass… I just couldn’t.

This morning? I woke up early, looking forward to mass. Eucharist means thanksgiving, and that’s what I wanted to offer.

The first reading felt written directly for our country on this day, after celebrating the Biden-Harris win last night: seek wisdom. Resplendent, unfading, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care. Wisdom perfects prudence. Such a contrast to the increasingly negligent foolishness of the last four years; but it won’t come to us automatically with a new administration — we are called to seek wisdom.

And that psalm… oh, my. It was recited rather than sung because of the pandemic, but there’s a musical setting by Michael Joncas (composer of On Eagle’s Wings, that Biden quoted in his speech Saturday night) engraved in my heart that the words evoked, and I was singing its translation under my breath as the lector recited.

Oh God, you are my God, for whom I long
For you my soul is thirsting
my body cries for you
like a dry weary land without water

Today felt like the blessing of a first gentle rain, after a long dry weariness.

The passage from Thessalonians made me think of how it has been misinterpreted to support a Left Behind theology of the Rapture among certain American Christian groups. Learning that, in the world of the New Testament, the leaders of a city would go out beyond its walls to meet its visiting overlord, to welcome him and escort him back into to the city, provides context and emphasizes the point Paul is making to the church of Thessaly: when Christ returns in glory, our beloved dead will go out (up) to meet him, welcome him, and lead him back here.

The gospel further contrasts wisdom and foolishness, with the parable of the wise and foolish women of the household waiting to welcome the bridegroom. I’ve typically heard this preached from the perspective of prudence, as I did today. But prudence isn’t the same as wisdom, and the prudent women’s refusal to share doesn’t exactly strike me as a virtue, either.

Rather, I read this parable through the lens of “what do we put first?” The foolish women were foolish for abandoning their vigil for the person of the bridegroom to go get a thing, more oil for their lamps. What’s more important, our relationships or our stuff? Our welcoming presence when an absent loved one returns, or the traditional symbols of welcome in our hands?

In this pandemic year, when so many of us have been deprived of the loving presence of family and friends for months, it’s easier for us to keep those priorities straight: if you could be with your beloved family and friends for the holidays this year, would it even matter if there was turkey at Thanksgiving, or gifts around a Christmas tree?

Foolish women. The bridegroom wasn’t looking forward to the light of your lamps; he was looking for you.

As we begin to consider the priorities and policies for the next four years, and contacting our politicians to advocate for them, we are called to keep that in mind: people are more important than stuff. The Catholic preferential option for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized calls us to further seek wisdom by prioritizing the poor over the rich, the oppressed over the oppressors, the marginalized over the comfortable: centering their concerns, and including their representatives, and following their lead.

If that sounds like upside-down foolishness rather than worldly wisdom… well, that’s what Paul told us the gospel would sound like, isn’t it.

And yes, the cantor sang the song, during the distribution of communion. 😇

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