Hurry up and wait.
It seems like something I do often.
Hurry up and wait.
As I work with the youth to explore the possibility of a mission trip this next summer, I’ve been trying to remember lessons learned from the last big trip I led. “Hurry up and wait” came to mind. It seems like any time I’ve tried to do something with a big group, that’s what it ends up being- hurry up, get all your stuff, get ready to go… and then wait, because you’re actually early, or someone else is late, or somehow the timing isn’t quite right.
Or any time I try to pack the girls up and go somewhere. It’s – run around the house, grab the diapers, find everyone’s shoes, wonder if it’s really important to have matching socks- then finally click everyone in and head down the road… to end up driving around the block a few times because it’s easier to control them in carseats than get them to wait in a hallway.
Hurry up and wait.
When has it been you?
Maybe it’s been an early appointment, arriving at the hospital well before sunrise, only to wait to be admitted, wait to be seen, wait for the procedure, and then wait and wait for the results.
Hurry up and wait.
There’s something about this phrase that rings so true, but is so frustrating for me. It reminds me that time isn’t under my control. That other people don’t revolve around my schedule. What seems ready in my time, or even overdue, isn’t ready in its own time.
I’m not alone in my frustration. Even way back, before instant messaging and Minute Rice, people have struggled with preparing and waiting.
This morning, we hear the voices of the faithful before us as they live in the discomfort of waiting. Paul writes to the church of Thessolonica, Matthew to the early church in Jerusalem, and Amos to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, almost a thousand years before.
The problem for the faithful is that we can forget what we’re waiting for. We can fear that it might never come to pass. Or we no longer prepare because we have given up.
The Christian church, then and now, waits for the return of our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ. The whole people of God, then and now, wait for the full and complete healing and restoration of creation and all peoples.
As the church today, with some 2000 years of waiting for Jesus to come again behind us, we don’t feel as much urgency in our waiting as the early church did. We might be so used to waiting, we don’t really expect that what we wait for will occur. Most of us may have never really thought about what we’re waiting for. If we’ve heard of people preparing for the Second Coming, it’s often from sources we don’t trust, or view as fringe groups.
But for the early church, Jesus promise to return was fresh. Not everyone had experienced an encounter with the risen Jesus, but many people had, or knew someone who had. So, to think of Jesus coming to be with them again and to finish his work wasn’t such a strange thing to believe. In chapter 16, Matthew records Jesus saying, “…there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” as Jesus describes his path towards Jerusalem and death. The early Christians thought Jesus would return in their lifetimes.
They struggle when it seems that Jesus has been delayed. The early church at Thessalonica is burying its founding generation. The people who were so sure that they would be welcoming Jesus again have died before the day of his return has come.
They’ve put their faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, trusting that they would experience the resurrected Jesus, and would share in his life- but it seems that their hope was misplaced. The gift of life at the center of what they expected to receive seems a false hope now that their loved ones have died. They weren’t supposed to die. They are deeply troubled and confused.
Paul encourages them to keep up the faith. Continue to trust in God. He calls them to hope, reminding them that God raised Jesus from the dead, and though they may grieve those who have died, they have reason to have joy and hope, trusting that Jesus has not forgotten them. Those who have died and those who live will all be brought together into a shared experience of life with Jesus.
The Thessalonians have prepared their lives for Jesus, but are caught in the uncomfortable and frustrating position of being forced to wait. The faithful path is to continue on in living prepared for Jesus, trusting that any day Jesus may return, with a faith strong enough to accept that the awaited day might come after their lifetime.
In Matthew, we hear Jesus offering a parable of the kingdom of heaven. There’s a lot to unpack, many images to explore, and so much about the scene with its situation set in a different time and culture that I can’t understand it the way the first listener would have. So I’ll offer one point of connection. The one image that connects with me as I consider it against the context of the rest of today’s readings is the bridegroom. The bridegroom is late. All the text says is that he’s been delayed.
There’s a party that is supposed to be happening, people who have prepared for it and have their supplies ready, but the central figure hasn’t arrived when he was expected. They’re in that hurry up and wait situation. When the moment they’ve been waiting for- the bridegroom’s arrival- comes, some have kept up the waiting better than others.
I’m a fan of the TV show “Amazing Race.” It’s one of the only reality TV shows I can stand, and I’ve been watching it for ten years. The premise is that ten teams follow clues and complete obstacles as they travel around the world in a race for a million dollar prize. I like to see all the different places they travel and watch them find patience, encouragement, or bravery at difficult moments. Of course, the producers of the show are looking for those dramatic moments of failure or horrible choices.
During one season, all the teams had arrived at an airport and gotten tickets for different flights. One team got there early and bought tickets. Others came later and bought the same tickets, but then went in search of a better option, or went to the counter for an earlier sold-out flight to be on the stand-by list. That early team took their boarding passes and found a Dairy Queen. They sat back and enjoyed this familiar food. They relaxed and put up their feet. They forgot the urgency of the race. They forgot the prize they were longing for. They ended up being the only ones on a later flight, and at the end of the round, they were the ones to hear the dreaded words, “You are the last team to arrive, and you have been eliminated from the race.”
The Church today can struggle with this time of waiting. We can lose sight of what we’re waiting for, and can give up on the urgency of being a part of what is coming.
Jesus Christ has come into this world and he will come again- bringing life that never ends, healing that never fails, fulfillment to hope. We prepare for his coming by living as if he was returning at any moment- as if he was already here, already transforming the world. We live for the sake of others, with hope for the future, and without fear. Jesus is already transforming the world. We live at a time when the first fingers of dawn are lighting the world, pushing back the darkness, and we wait for the full dawn to burst forth.
Our God is faithful in keeping promises. Be of good courage during this time of waiting. There may be days when we join with the voices of the faithful before us, asking God “how long” must we wait until death is no more, pain is no more, oppression and injustice are no more. Those who are alert will see signs of God’s faithfulness: hope in the midst of grief, generosity in the midst of scarcity, reconciliation in the midst of discord. Jesus Christ will come again, and you who have waited will not be forgotten.