This is a strange moment. Christmas is past, Lent is yet to come, we’re in between. What now?
Normally at this time of year we make plans; holiday, family togetherness, community events. Our daily lives are shared; half lived in the present, half in the future. When winter does its worst; when everywhere is not just wet but sodden; when clouds meet countryside, horizons fade, the world closes in; it is to the future we look to brighten the day. Not this year. We long to do something, anything, but what? It’s the waiting that gets us; the uncertainty.
Centuries ago, a man was on the run. A fraudster who’d cheated his brother, not once but twice, was now fleeing for his life. Exhausted and alone, he lay down in the open countryside to rest. His dreams lay in ruins, shattered by his own greed. As he rested, he dreamt and as he dreamt, a door opened into the heavens, a ladder stretched up and he saw messengers of God coming and going. A long hard road lay ahead, with many years of waiting, but in the darkness, he encountered God and heard the promise ‘I am with you and will keep you’. (Jacob’s dream, Genesis 28)
When Milton wrote the words, They also serve who only stand and wait, he had become, aged 43, totally blind. Convinced he had been called by God to write a great epic poem, his blindness led, unsurprisingly perhaps, to a crisis of faith. Fascinating, then, to realise that Paradise Lost, the great epic which would one day come, would be dictated by him several years later.
Today we wait; waiting for Lent, Holy Week and Easter; waiting for a vaccination; waiting for the day when we can meet and touch our friends and loved ones; waiting for the nightmare to end. Today we wait, while others around us are frantically busy. We may not be on the run; we may not have the call to write epic poetry (we might); but God is with us in times of waiting as well as in working. They also serve who only stand and wait.
Rev Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet for February 7th is available in Downloads