Hurry Up and Wait

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, March 18, 2021

Jesus gave his disciples repeated warnings that soon he would be crucified. Understandably, one of their reactions was to object, something Jesus responded to with sharp rebuke. (Mark 8:33) But the reaction most often reported was bewilderment. They did not understand what he was talking about, as their foreboding over the unknowns that lay ahead burgeoned.

This much they did know – they were already being threatened by the religious establishment, and that threat was escalating. All they could do was wait for what was sure to come, for the other shoe to drop. Dread over the gathering storm was mixed with and muddled by their hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its captivity to Rome and its vassals.

We think of Advent as the season of waiting, but surely Lent is also such a season. As I said last week, our COVID curtailment feels like a year-long Lenten journey. Like Jesus’ disciples as they walked to Jerusalem that final time, we have journeyed this year not knowing what lies ahead and when our distress will pass.

A new kind of waiting has consumed us recently, the vaccination wait. We must wait until we are deemed eligible for a vaccine before we can even sign up for one. Then, when we become eligible, we must wait until we can find an available appointment – some have waited on the phone and online for weeks just to get on the schedule. Once we get the appointment, there is usually another wait of several weeks before administration of our first dose. Then we must wait at least three weeks for the second dose. Then we must wait for another two weeks before the vaccine is fully effective.

Once we are finally immunized, we will still have to wait – we know not for how long – until enough of the population is immunized, before we can begin gathering again unrestricted.

Like Jesus’ disciples, we find signs and words of death and resurrection bewildering at best. We fear that we’ll never be able to return to “normal,” forgetting how we had complained pre-pandemic about how untenable our “normal” had become.

Only after Jesus’ resurrection were his disciples able to understand what he had been telling them all along. I suspect that we too won’t really understand the journey we have walked this past year, until our own resurrection from its ashes has taken place.

Jesus’ disciples did not understand what lay ahead as they walked their journey to Jerusalem with him. But this much they did know – their only way forward was to stick with him. As many of his companions abandoned him, Jesus asked the Twelve whether they too wanted to leave, and Peter replied that anyone interested in words of eternal life has no choice but to stick with Jesus. (John 6:66-69) “We might as well go to Jerusalem and die with him,” Thomas sighed as Jesus made ready to travel to Jerusalem.

We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait until it’s safe to gather together again, or how those gatherings will look post-pandemic. But this we know – as long as we stay in company with our fellow-disciples as we follow the Master, all shall be well. It is in this company that we have found the springs of life abundant. It is in this company that we have been comforted in sorrow and have celebrated in joy. It is in this company that we have been called and mobilized to serve the world around us.

The pandemic has made us more aware of the importance of keeping company for our own well-being. We tend not to appreciate things of great value until they are taken from us. Being in company with each other virtually is all the more important when we are prevented from being in company physically. Yet we yearn for more than virtual companionship, longing for the day when we can worship together, break bread together, and work together side by side.

I am grateful that I was able to receive both COVID vaccine doses last month. When I entered the clinic for my second shot I realized to my dismay that I’d forgotten my constant companion (aka my smartphone) in the car. What would I do for those 15 long minutes that I had to sit there after getting my shot? I struck up a conversation with the nurse who administered the vaccine, and soon discovered that we shared history in upstate New York, and enjoyed a wonderful conversation. That would never have happened if I hadn’t forgotten my phone. I find that I must beware settling for virtual connections as a substitute for personal connections.

Keeping company with each other virtually is a wonderful gift when physical company is not possible. But it is just a substitute for something far better. Keeping company with each other requires us to walk together, not just to talk together.

Your companion in the journey,

Sheldon


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