Waiting can be extremely tedious, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Waiting for a bus, an appointment, a letter or just for the rain to stop. It is a pastime immersed in incredible boredom, unless relieved by having something to read or to think about.
But then there is another kind of waiting, such as in a good restaurant where the waiters are looking out for the needs of their customers. They are there, attentive and watchful, but not interfering unless asked or the need is evident. This kind of waiting is active, even expectant. It has that sense of looking for something to happen and being able to respond to it positively.
During the pandemic, much of the politics of church life has ground to a halt, and the forums for scoring points and being seen to be significant are very much diminished. Maybe Zoom provides an outlet for the passionately active but overall the disputes that have divided the church have become much quieter.
Nevertheless there is the sense in which we are still waiting on God for something. The whole of the history of ancient Israel and of the church is full of covenants being neglected and then renewed, of communities withdrawing into the desert in order to find solitude to meditate and to pray, and then the formation of the monastic communities, each in its day at the cutting edge of the life of the church, but then losing that eagerness and zeal. From the 14th century, there was a new movement to honour the scriptures (followed by the excesses of the Puritans and the counter-reformation and its Inquisition) . In the 18th and 19th centuries there were the evangelical movements taking the gospel to distant shores and in the 19th and 20th centuries there have been the Tractarian, the Evangelical and the Charismatic movements.
Now it seems to have gone very quiet, and yet I feel a kind of faint shimmering and a distant harmony of things preparing to happen. I do not know what, when of in what form it will be, but that sense of expectancy is there.
For our part the response is not to run around like over-enthusiastic farm animals but rather to compose ourselves. It is to pray that ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.’ It may mean attending to some of our relationships, maybe to have another look at our reasons for not joining with others in worship in church, maybe to be available to assist as sidespersons, readers, intercessors, church cleaners, or in supporting those already active in the administrative life of the church.
Eventually we will be released back into the full scope of congregational life, and we look for the day when this is so. But there may also be friends, family and neighbours who have been feeling isolated and anxious who would welcome an invitation to be part of a believing and worshipping community. These also may be wanting us to be looking out for them, attentive to their needs and concerns, much as the restaurant waiter I was thinking about earlier.
If any, within or outwith the congregation, would like me to contact them, online or by telephone or a visit, please let me know. I am very much aware that for many the distancing which has been part of our lives for the last 15 months has become ingrained and a little more personal space has become a welcome norm.
But now is the time to review where we are and where we are going. The potential is already there and the social and spiritual needs of our nation are great. Now is a time for us to be active in waiting on the Lord – and we can start by being active in waiting on one another.