The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[a]
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:22-26 NRSV
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;
Romans 8:18-19, 22-25 NRSV
“Waiting patiently” is an essential skill for those whose hope is in God...but when it comes to developing that virtue, I’m still in the learning curve. Something tells me that I’ve got a lot of company.
Ever since Life in the Time of Pandemic began, way back in the second week of March, I’ve had the strange but persistent feeling that my life is on hold, that I’m waiting for something. Exactly what I’m waiting for, I’m not quite sure. Waiting for COVID to go away? (That could be a long haul, if the epidemiologists are right.) Waiting to be able to spend time in community without masks and distancing? (Ditto.) Waiting for everything to get back to normal? (Not so sure that’s happening, folks.) Whatever it is I’m waiting for, the feeling of life as we knew it being on hold indefinitely is not an easy sensation for me - and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
A couple of weeks ago, I spent two hours in a Zoom meeting of the CCT (Conference Connectional Table) of the NC Conference of the UMC. There were about 25 attending virtually. (I used to dislike meetings that lasted longer than an hour and a half, but I hated to see this one end. It’s been so long since I’ve been to a real live meeting with real live people that I’ve grown fond of seeing the faces of even those who weren’t my favorites before...but I digress.) Bishop Hope Morgan Ward gave the opening devotion, reading a paragraph from a recent Disciplines entry in which the author urges us “to remain nailed to the present moment” and to remind ourselves that whether we like where we’re standing right now or not, we are “standing on holy ground” wherever and whenever the Lord is present - which is everywhere, burning bush or not. I felt both “guilty as charged” and “let out of jail free.”
It’s been tempting for me to dwell upon all that I cannot do (or do safely) right now, all that I must wait for, with no real idea of when the wait might end. The Bishop, who is working an additional year (or more?) past her scheduled retirement until new bishops can be elected at jurisdictional conferences, responded to a “When?” question with the sage comment, “Who knows how long this quadrennium will last?” (Just for the record, she was smiling beatifically at the time.) “Remaining nailed to the present moment” became the theme of that Zoom meeting, and it has become my chosen watchword for the duration.
Because waiting doesn’t have to passive, and it certainly doesn’t have to be pointless. Go to your favorite online Bible app, search the Scriptures for “wait on the Lord” (or even just plain old “wait”), and you’ll see what I mean. Nowhere in the Bible is the notion that waiting patiently involves twiddling our thumbs and passing the time as idly as possible. “Waiting patiently for the salvation of the Lord,” according to Lamentations 3:26, is a good thing. St. Paul goes one step further: waiting with patience for what we do not yet see, even when it involves a great deal of groaning, is a process that develops our hoping muscles. And strong hoping muscles are much needed by people of faith who aim to remain nailed to the present moment.
After all, the present moment offers challenges that can propel us forward and opportunities we may never see the likes of again. One of the congregations I’ve followed closely here in downeast Maine has leveraged the present moment in ways far beyond anything they could have imagined 7 months ago. They’ve moved from no services at all to online services to parking lot services to on-the-lawn services, which, since they’re located on US-1, have drawn a lot of attention and increased attendance this summer. Now they’re purchasing state of the art equipment that will allow them to become a year-round church for their whole congregation, many of whom live elsewhere during the winter. Their choir, which is small but excellent, is figuring out how to record safely so that their community, churchgoers or not, can experience an Advent and Christmas “Concert for a Cause.” (As temps drop, this will almost certainly involve double layers of long underwear beneath choir robes so that the windows on all sides of their voluminous sanctuary can be opened...and, with 12 choristers lining the outside walls of the sanctuary, spread out 20 feet apart, their music director is surely going to experience a modern day miracle - every singer actually watching him intently.) No doubt they’d love to go back to rubbing elbows in the pews and singing side by side, but they’re not sitting by gloomily while they wait for it. Like so many congregations I’ve heard about recently (including our own beloved Centenary), these folks are looking for the opportunities on the flip side of the challenges. And, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they’re finding and embracing them.
Best of all, there are some things we simply don’t have to wait for. We don’t have to wait to pray for friends and family, especially those suffering from COVID. We don’t have to wait to beseech God to heal our divided nation; there’s no time like the present for such fervent supplications. We don’t have to wait to put legs on our prayers for liberty and justice for all; there are ways to do so even now. No waiting is required when it comes to developing a gratitude journal, or a prayer diary, or flash cards for scripture memorization. As an old Bible Study friend of mine is fond of saying,
“You can worship while you wait.” No matter what the peculiarities of the present moment, our purpose remains the same: to glorify God. To quote the founder of the Methodist movement:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. (John Wesley)
It’s starting to look as though “remaining nailed to the present moment” is going to give wings to the waiting. In fact, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Advent...even if it is almost three months away.
“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”
United Methodist Hymnal 196, stanzas 1 & 2
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
In the Advent seasons, when the past has fled, unasked, away and there is nothing left to do but wait, God, shelter us. Be our surrounding darkness; be the fertile soil out of which hope springs in due time. In uncertain times, help us to greet the dawn and labor on, love on, in faith awaiting your purpose, hid in you, waiting to be born in due time. Amen. (Ruth Duck/United Methodist Book of Worship)
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood