The Way to Wait
Few things are less comforting to us than the knowledge that there are matters of great significance to us over which we have no choice but to wait. We are not good at waiting. We are conditioned by our culture of instant gratification and on-demand delivery to think of waiting as evidence of powerlessness—as lacking control over the most important things in our lives.
But that is, in fact, our circumstance in this moment. We have no choice but to wait—under another round of increasing restrictions on our lives—for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. We have no choice but to wait for the outcome of the election in the United States—and for some among us, that is a matter of deep personal and social concern. It even feels as though we have no choice but to wait for a time when the appeal to violence and extremism will cease to be a part of anyone’s claim to righteousness.
Regardless of the ways our cultures have shaped us, there are certain universal qualities that all humans hold in common—qualities about us that God knows very well. One of them is our tendency to respond to moments when we feel powerless or dissatisfied with our circumstances by taking action—any sort of action. It is when we are deprived of the capacity of doing anything at all that we fall into the grip of despair—and fear. Even Job, whose patience we often extol, despairs of waiting for an answer, any answer, from God: “What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?”
There is an invitation for reflection in the simple fact that we are in the midst of this period of waiting just as All Saints-tide comes upon us, the fall triduum of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day that makes autumn’s echo of the springtime Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil—another time that the only thing we can do is wait.
I am finding a source of deep hope in recalling just what these feast days are meant to remind us of—the fact that not just our faith, but the faithful people who have shared it with us and handed it down to us, have endured down through the long years since Easter morning. They weathered times of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty, times of deprivation and degradation—and yet they kept the faith. They remembered that while the changes and chances of the world could rob them of all they had gathered into their barns—all the wealth, all the comfort, all the dignity, all the reputation—nothing could take away from them the promise God has made to us of our essential dignity, our ultimate value, our assurance of God’s absolute determination to reconcile us to God and each other in love.
The world is changing around us. We, too, shall be changed. The church will change, too, if the church holds to its purpose—as it surely must—to convey God’s message into the world as it is, not the world as we prefer to think it is.
But the faith—the faith does not change, because the one who promises does not change.
What the angels say to the shepherds in the field at the beginning of the story and to the women in the garden at the end of the story is what they are now saying to us: Do not be afraid. They do not say—thank God!—that God is handing us control; they do not say that the world has been turned into the firmament of heaven.
What they are teaching us in those words is the difference between having faith in worldly outcomes and having faith in God’s promises—what an old teacher of mine wisely called “truths that last in time of need.” Those truths are with us still, and will remain with us, today, and tomorrow, and throughout all that is ahead.
In the days ahead some of our churches may confront again the requirement to close. All of us must now face the necessity of greater care around social distancing, and mask-wearing, and hand-washing, and all the rest. Our observances, when they can happen, must continue to be under circumstances of great, even uncomfortable caution.
And in the days ahead we may live in the midst of tumult and uncertainty. We may watch as places we love, where people we love reside, fall into chaos and confusion. We may even fear for our own safety as we attend church.
But the Christian answer to fear is not foolishness; it is not to disregard the facts or to discount the dangers. It is to live as though those words are not just comfort, but command—Do not be afraid. And it is to work, and witness, to the Way of Love, not because it is the easy Way but because it is the necessary Way—indeed the only Way by which the fear will be overcome.
Have faith. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Stay home when you can. And be still and know—God is faithful, and remains steadfast in the midst of all waves that toss us.
Blessings to you and those you love and pray for, in heaven and on earth, this day and always.