We Wait with Hope, and with Work to Do
To have faith is to wait. For Christians, this is summed up in “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). But in many ways, twenty-first century humanity, with microwaves, instant messaging, and “watch-what-you-want-when-you-want” is less equipped than ever to wait. But we are in a confluence of moments that remind us of how waiting is central to whose we are and who we are, as people of faith and as people in the world.
Just over a week ago, Jews observed the end of the eight-day Passover holiday. It is a holy time at whose core is waiting. It takes us back to the Jewish peoples’ four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, waiting for freedom. This time also reminds us of the start of the forty years wandering in the desert, waiting to reach the Promised Land. I have attended many Seders, the ritual meal of Passover, and they are long and unhurried affairs, because while slaves rush from one thing to the next, free people do not.
Then, one week ago, Christians celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, whom we understand to be the Messiah. But the Christ was long in coming. An Advent (pre-Christmas) hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” reminds us that many generations waited for his birth. With our Trinitarian understanding of Three Persons in One, we commonly refer to “The God Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is to Come.” That last clause reminds us that we have been waiting a long time, over 2000 years, for the Second Coming. Yet at the same time, we wait with confidence, trusting that “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Finally, in just a few days, Muslims will enter into the sacred month of Ramadan, a time of spiritual discipline expressed in additional prayer, increased generosity and charity, and added study. Most well-known, there is a waiting that is core to every living thing, waiting for nourishment. Fasting from dawn to sunset, watching for the moment when we need not hunger and thirst any more. Of the Eid al-Fitr celebrations I have been invited to, marking the end of Ramadan, after a month of fasting, the food and fellowship are abundant.
Waiting is a theme that runs throughout these religions which have common origins. But it ought not be a passive waiting, as if saying “someday, someday, someday” is enough. Because it is not. That kind of passivity, waiting without hope, can lead us to give up. It is to accept what is as if it is what will ever be, however deficient it is. This is the source of Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Hopeful waiting, however, is what invites us, encourages us, energizes us to fight the good fight, to run the race that set before us with every intention of seeing it through to the end. This hope allows us to look at what was and what is, and to see how it pales against what can be. It calls us to participate in the Lord’s Prayer petition that “God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It prompts us to ask hard but necessary questions.
If slaves rush but free people do not, are you slave or are you free? And is your life freeing those around you, or enslaving them?
If now is the “acceptable time,” are we now ready to hear the women, people of color, and those of diverse sexuality whose voices have too long gone unheard? If not, why not? If not now, when?
If a minority people in this country, often unfairly targeted, can offer generosity and hospitality, what is preventing the majority people from offering the same?
What are we waiting for?