“Hurry up and wait.” That is the refrain we hear when we talk to someone in assisted living, or long-term care, or even temporarily confined to hospital or rehab. Pastor and professor Karoline Lewis tells the story of her mom, also a pastor, who has been forced to make many adjustments with her move to a long-term care center, a move necessitated by her progressed Parkinson’s disease. She spent many years fulfilling expectations as a pastor’s wife. Then she answered the call to ministry herself, but was only able to work for ten years until her diagnosis made it too difficult. There have been many changes to her previously busy and dynamic life, however, the change to her situation she notes most often is how her daily routine is now marked by the certainty of waiting, which is most often prefaced by a charge to hurry up and get ready.
She gets ready, but once she presses the button that calls for assistance, she waits. She waits for her care partner to get her dressed. She waits for her meds. She waits to be bathed. She waits to be taken down to dinner. She waits to be picked up for a doctor’s appointment. She waits to heal from a fall. More recently, she waits for the hallucinations to pass, for reality to replace the delusions caused by the very medications that are meant to keep her symptoms at bay.
We all experience waiting as an integral part of life – sitting in a doctor’s office, holding on the phone for customer service, waiting for the birth or adoption of a child or the arrival of a loved one. There is so much for which we wait, with different levels of both urgency and expectancy. We usually manage to fill the time of anticipation with tasks and activities, with places to go and people to see, trying to check off one more item on our endless “to do” list. But for those in situations like Lewis’ mom, the space between “hurry up and be ready” and the actual fruition of the event they are waiting for is not so easily occupied.
When you are not allowed to get out of your wheelchair without help, when your brain does not comply with your will and desires, when your hands are no longer capable of writing and have lost the strength to do much of anything else, and when your mind plays tricks on you, convincing you that there are people sitting in your room, staring at you, waiting becomes more than waiting. It becomes the space where the wait seems unbearable, where the expectation begs for the escape of sleep, even, at times, where God seems absent.
Lewis observes that the kind of waiting our gospel writer Matthew has in mind is similar. She says, “It is the kind of waiting during which it is hard to determine how to wait.” How do we wait for those events that mark the day’s passing? Events that fill the day with reason and purpose. Events that we need, desperately, to remind us that we are still alive and that we still matter. Matthew wants to help us understand how to wait for the event that marks the very coming of Christ.
Christians have asked for two centuries, how do we wait for the fulfillment of the promised coming of peace, justice and righteousness to the world? In the end, preparing for the coming of Christ means understanding that how we respond depends on our readiness to give witness to Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, in our daily lives.
After two thousand years of waiting we can be forgiven for not thinking of the coming of Christ with a sense of urgency. The bridesmaids who did not have enough oil for their lamps assumed the groom would be coming shortly, they did not think they needed to prepare for a long wait. When our son was married in August, I observed the guests for the next wedding all seated in anticipation of the ceremony. We found out later that the bride was two hours late. That wedding party figured that checking out email on their phone would keep them occupied. They didn’t realize that they should have brought their Kindle to read a book because it was going to be a long wait.
Our preparation, our response to the hope that Christ will come again determines whether we take our anticipation of the coming of Christ for granted or if we don’t even believe in it. Are our lamps burning, ready to call out the injustice we see? Are our lamps trimmed to give witness to the righteousness of God present here and now? Are our lamps filled with oil so we are ready for the long haul of resistance to those who would deny his coming, do we have enough so we can persist in the Gospel message?
Because when Christ comes and calls out our continued complacency toward that which undermines the bringing about of the Kingdom of Heaven, we better be ready to respond. We better be ready to answer for our compliance and our collaboration with structures and systems all over the world that persecute those with whom Christ was most concerned, the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the marginalized. Systems that have no interest in and no intention of changing, although that is what God demands.
It is often difficult to visit or speak with those who are confined to places where they have lost their autonomy. Their situation breaks our hearts. But as Lewis notes, it is possible that we can learn from those conversations, that “hurry up and wait” might very well be the kind of readiness we need right now. It means more waiting, but it also means that we can make the effort to be prepared by responding to the gospel message. It means that we can be ready for Christ to come again, whenever that may happen. Amen.