As we experience another dimension of waiting, an experience we nearly always find uncomfortable, Geoff Colmer shares this reflection for Holy Week
Whether it’s the fractious child in the car, ‘Are we there yet?’ or the frustrated adult, ‘How long do I have to wait?’, waiting is part and parcel of being human. No-one is excluded. In more ordinary times we wait for a bus or a train, for someone, for an appointment, for results, for surgery, for something to arrive, for a holiday, for good news or bad, for a birthday or celebration, for a birth or a death. We find ourselves playing ‘the waiting game’, waiting for something to happen, in the church, in our work or the place where God has called us, in our personal lives, in a relationship.
And in these extraordinary times in which we live, we experience another dimension of waiting. Waiting for Covid-19 to peak, waiting for social isolation to end, waiting to see if those we know and love catch it, waiting for the outcome. We wait to see the impact on the social and economic fabric of our nation and world. We wait to see what will happen to those in the two-thirds world when the virus takes hold.
Waiting, at all times, is an experience of not being in control, of not having the power to make something happen. And nearly always we find it uncomfortable. At times it can feel like the hardest thing to do, especially in our ‘now’ culture where so much is instant and immediate. We find ourselves saying, ‘But it’s so hard to do nothing but wait.’ Waiting is seen as doing nothing.
But waiting can be a necessary experience. When our sons were small did I really want them to suddenly become men? Do I really want the seasons to hurry so that I live in a perpetual summer? Nature is never in a hurry. And, strangely, God seems not to be in a hurry, so much so that at times with the psalmist we want to cry out, ‘How long, O Lord!’
And waiting is an expression of faith. Mostly we wait because we believe something is going to happen. If you believe someone is going to turn up, you wait for them. If you believe that some news is coming, you wait for it.
The Scriptures are full of waiting: Abraham waits for the promise of a son; the People of Israel wait to enter the Promised Land, and a remnant wait 400 years to return to Israel. God’s people wait for and long for the Messiah. And at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, with the story of Jesus’ birth we encounter five waiting people: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, Anna. One of these, Simeon, an old man who had spent his whole life waiting and longing for the salvation of Israel, expresses it well. ‘Now, Lord,’ said Simeon, ‘now I can die happy. Now I've seen the thing I've been waiting for all my life. Now I am fulfilled.’ Luke 2.29,30.
As we move through the events of Holy Week in these strangest of times, I’m struck by the observation of WH Vanstone in The Stature of Waiting, where he observes that in the first part of Jesus’ life he takes all sorts of initiatives: he speaks, preaches, heals, travels. But at the point where Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and ‘handed over’, he becomes one to whom things are done, over which he has no control. Vanstone notes that this is the meaning of passion – being at the receiving end of other people’s actions, being done to.
And when Jesus says, ‘It is finished’, he does not simply mean, ‘I’ve concluded what I wanted to do.’ He also means, ‘I have allowed things to be done to me that needed to be done in order for me to fulfil my vocation.’ Jesus does not just fulfil his ministry by doing the things the Father has sent him to do, but also by letting things be done to him. And waiting for how people are going to respond - would they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to him? God became a human being among us, not only to act among us but also to be at the receiving end of our responses. God reveals to us a waiting love that does not seek control.
Henri Nouwen, the writer, was once asked: ‘Are you an optimist?’ His reply: ‘No, not naturally, but that isn't important. I live in hope, not optimism.’ The counterpoint to waiting is hope. Hope isn’t optimism, positive thinking, glass half-full. Hope isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t a fantasy that someday our boat will come in. It isn’t the ability to watch the news and pretend that everything’s ok really. Hope is a vision of life that is defined by God's promise, irrespective of what the situation looks like and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the news, lives out that vision based upon God's promise, trusting that the God who is love is with us, and for us, and intimately involved in our lives, and relentlessly at work bringing good out of even the most painful situations.
So, what do we do?
Waiting provides us with an opportunity to pause and to even welcome it. To acknowledge our lack of control and to accept it as a gift, recognising that we’re never as in control as we think we are. To notice how God is with us in this situation and how we are with God, and to stay with this and savour it. And to be attentive to what God invites us to – this day and for this time.
Largely we wait, conscious that for many of us there is not much doing to be done, especially in this time of Covid-19 and as we journey through Holy Week to Good Friday and beyond to Easter Day. But also we hope, trusting the promise of God.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Ps. 27.14
Geoff Colmer is Regional Minister Team Leader of the Central Baptist Association
Image | Christopher Lemercier | Unsplash
This is the latest in a series of theological and biblical reflections from Baptists for Holy Week and Easter
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