Another Forty Days, Day 40–And So We Wait

Jesus is dead. For  those watching the spectacle from start to finish–people like his mother, Mary, Mary Magdalen, and John–it must have felt like the day that would never end. He was taken down and prepared for burial, then sealed in the tomb and the massive stone rolled in front of it. When it was all said and done, the two Marys, the disciples and followers went to their respective abodes and likely collapsed from the exhaustion and strain of an incredibly stressful 24 hours.

Anyone who has ever sat with the dying and been drawn into all the preparation that precedes and follows the death of a loved one, knows what a stressful and exhausting ordeal it can be, even when the death is expected and relatively uneventful. While my mother was dying, my five siblings, our father and I sat vigil with her at the hospital for nearly a week, all of us arriving from various cities on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently she had died at least once when she’d first arrived, but my father (who was a physician) resuscitated her. We hovered around her praying and singing and telling her it was okay for her to go. (I can only imagine what she was thinking, we were probably such a sight.)

At one point in the middle of the week, she appeared to rally, actually alert and motioning and asking questions. By Friday, she had exhausted herself and fell into a deep sleep, from which she didn’t stir before I left to go back home to check on my family. We were all physically and emotionally drained from having lived at the hospital for most of those days, keeping watch. It was interesting, but she in essence waited for most of us to leave–me back to Michigan and my sisters back to the DC area–before she quietly took her last breath, witnessed only by my father, one brother and his wife.

I was not involved in planning my mother’s funeral. I showed up where I was told to be, did what I was told to do. I did sing at her Mass, a song I had written for her, alongside my younger sister who sang harmony. The entire time was surreal. But it was simple, straightforward, and while heartbreaking for us, it was not marked by the drama and violence that had been visited upon Jesus and witnessed by his mother and close followers.

For some reason, I was more involved with the process of my father’s death and aftermath. I arrived in his hospital room only a few moments after he’d died. One of my brothers and my oldest sister were in the room, and my father lay there, still and unmoving. It was hushed in the room–no whirring machines or beeping monitors, only the occasional sniffing of one of us who was quietly crying. After a while we scattered, and I called my children in California, trying to wait until it was late enough to not wake them, to tell them their grandfather had passed.

Those days were a different kind of exhausting. I wrote his obituary–for some reason the task fell to me, though any of my siblings were capable of writing it–and all of us were involved in the planning of the service, selecting readings, and music and making all manner of mundane decisions. At times we argued over silly things. I could tell it was all about the strain of it all. And I wept far more often than was my wont. Mostly the time was draining. When it was all said and done, we all boarded our planes or got back into our cars, and went back into our lives.

For the followers of Jesus, from the time he was sealed in the tomb, they waited. Hadn’t he said he was coming back? What must that Saturday have been like? They all were sequestered, in hiding while much of the unrest surrounding Jesus’s death continued to bubble. The religious establishment as well as the Roman oppressors each had their stresses associated with this wait. The whole city, at least the part of it who had heard the prediction, the promise that Jesus made that he would rise from the dead to walk the earth after three days, was holding its breath to see what would happen.

We too wait, though for what I am not entirely sure. To see that promises and predictions about those things we are waiting for come to pass? While Jesus slept or did whatever it was he was doing after he died, the people who loved him waited. The people who feared him waited. The people who hated him waited. And so we too wait.

When we take a 360-degree view of the world around us, we see so much conflict and confusion and uncertainty around us. Few places in our line of sight are untouched by some form of drama, trauma, or difficulty. And, in a sense, as the followers of Jesus waited in their tiny hiding place to see what would happen, we too wait and watch to see what’s going to happen. The fact is that waiting is inevitable, but what’s important is how we wait.

As I wrote in a post from a short-lived Advent blog:

There’s a line from the Catholic Mass that captures this anticipation, “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” I’ve often pondered this notion—waiting in joyful hope versus what? Fearful dread? And yet, in fearful dread is sometimes how we wait. We wait for outcomes, for news of someone who’s been injured or seriously ill, for the results of a medical test. Or the more mundane waiting: being stuck in the slow crawl of rush hour traffic, sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, standing in the checkout line at the supermarket. We spend a lot of time waiting, but how do we learn to wait in joyful hope?

The last few weeks and months have been very challenging ones for the heart of a nation. How do we learn to wait in joyful hope for good to come? How did the Israelites do it two millennia ago as they waited for Emmanuel? How has any people waited who suffered in bondage or oppression? Perhaps for a time there is fearful dread, followed by grim determination and perseverance. I honestly don’t know what it takes to wait in joyful hope, but that is what I am reaching toward. It’s inevitable that we wait; what’s important is how we wait. What do we do during the waiting time, and how can we turn from fearful dread toward joyful hope?

And so we wait, not passively, but actively responding to the things we see around us. While we’re waiting for Jesus to wake up, rather than cowering in a room somewhere waiting to see if the promise is fulfilled, let’s find ways to make ourselves useful to calm the unrest around us, including the unrest that resides in us during these tense, intense times. What would Jesus have us do?

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