Waiting for What Already Is

April 2, 2017

Bible Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14 |

All of us are waiting: Waiting for the baby to sleep through the night; waiting for the check to clear; waiting for the biopsy result; waiting for someone we love to get sober.

A thousand hopes and fears – some petty, some essential – churn simultaneously within us as we wait.

There is no shame in waiting. It is not a punishment. It’s not a critique of our personhood. It is simply the reality of the world in which we live – a world in which we have very little control.

That being said, some of us are better at waiting than others. I discovered this while spending time in a poor, urban slum. The people who lived there were far better at waiting than I was, simply because they were formed in a world that had no particular interest in their welfare or happiness. I was used to American efficiency where the customer is always right and – for those in the know – you could get the “Fast Pass” at Disney World. Waiters introduce themselves to me by name with the assurance that they “will be taking care of me this evening.” I can order anything on Amazon Prime and have it on my doorstop in two days. If it shows up later than that I feel hard done by. So it was startling when I forced to experience that, for the poor, almost everything had to be waited for.

And yet, regardless of whether or not we’ve learned to wait with patience, we are all waiting still. In some sense, you might say, it is our human vocation to wait. And what, exactly, is it that we are waiting for? We are waiting for God. And we are waiting for the redemption of God.

“Out of the depths have I called to you,” prayed the Psalmist.

Lord, hear my voice….

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

And as one who has learned to wait, the psalmist can exhort,

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins (Psalm 130).

But, God knows, sometimes the waiting can be very hard indeed.

My friends told the story of the day their daughter died of leukemia. She was only ten. For a year and half she endured every medical treatment available. They poured themselves out in love and they waited. They waited and hoped and prayed… and yet she died. But they kept praying still. “How long was I supposed to pray?” her father asked. I didn’t really understand what he was saying to me until I realized that – even when she lay lifeless in their arms – they were still praying for a miracle.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” said Jesus. So they took away the stone…and Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” and the dead man came out…and Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:40-44).

My friends were praying that she would be as Lazarus. They held her in their arms for hours, praying and waiting, their last desperate attempt to see God’s love and glory proven … until, deeply wearied, it was time to let go. Hours of praying for resurrection; days of sleeplessness as they watched her fade; months in the hospital. It was time to let go and enter into the much longer season of waiting – no longer for the miracle in this life – but in the deep, soul waiting for the “plenteous redemption” of God, when “the Spirit … who raised Jesus from the dead … will give life to [our] mortal bodies” (Romans 8:10-11).

It is the waiting shared by all of us who have lost someone we love.

God showed Ezekiel the vision of a field strewn with bones. It is the image of a battle lost, of soldiers slain. The surviving army has salvaged the armor and the weapons. The poor have come to salvage the clothes. The vultures have come and eaten the flesh. All that remains are the sun-bleached bones. Every hope of victory is vanquished; every valuable artifact, taken. Nothing is left but the stark testimony of defeat.

And yet God tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’” And there was a noise, a rattling as the bones came together, and – behold – there were sinews and there was flesh and there was skin, and from the four winds came the breath of God and gave them life – a vast multitude (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

This vision gives flesh, you might say, to the conviction that throbs within us that – in the end – God shall have the final word, and that word shall be life, and that word shall be love, and that word shall be peace to this troubled and wearied world. That in the end, there shall be no end, but all shall be in God.

I am waiting for a future resurrection of the dead, although I can’t possibly claim to know the fullness of what that means. But if we are honest, I think we can agree that we are waiting for something more than a future reality of redemption. We are waiting – and seeking to know and experience – the plenteous redemption of God that is already alive and true and at work throughout this world today.

For, if the eternal reality of God is true for the future, then the great mystery of faith is that it must already be true because God and the Kingdom of God cannot be restricted or contained. Faith not only waits for a resurrection that is yet to be; faith is the desire to discover and participate in the resurrection that already is.

Christ is risen, and we are risen with Christ.

The deep waiting of our souls is finally to “love what God commands and desire what God promises.” We are waiting to discover our true likeness as children of God who walk in the rhythm and purpose of God.

Simon Weil writes, “It is too easy to love an imaginary home, a spiritual country, or an unseen dimension somewhere beyond us or other than us, because we can turn it into anything we wish. Love needs reality.” [1]

It’s like Blaire shared so succinctly when he spoke at last Wednesday’s Soup Supper. He was asked how his life changed once he’d become a Christian. He was quiet as he thought about it, and then he simply said, “I no longer had the option to walk away from someone I disliked.” It was so clear, so real. It was his way of affirming what our patron Saint John taught, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Love needs reality.

The great paradox of following Christ is that we are waiting for something that is already true. We are already joined with Christ. We are joined to the one who embodies all that we desire. Every hope of universal love and peace is already in Christ, as are we.

And so it must be, that our waiting is no passive contemplation of what may yet be. We wait with purpose. We wait by joining Christ today with compassion, forgiveness, and a generosity of spirit towards everyone we encounter. We wait as one who says, “I am tired of waiting. I am ready to live.”

  1. D. Maurice said it plainly:

"The Bible,” we are told sometimes, “gives us such a beautiful picture of what we should be.” Nonsense! It gives us no picture at all. It reveals to us a fact: it tells us what we really are; it says, This is the form in which God created you, to which He has restored you; this is the work which the Eternal Son, the God of Truth and Love, is continually carrying on within you.[2]

The resurrection we desire is a resurrection that has already begun.

[1] Simone Weil, Waiting on God, translated by E. Craufurd (London: Fontana, 1959), 132.

[2] Frederick Denison Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer (London: McMillan, 1880).

 

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