Grace Waits

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reFlectionary posts will be periodic reflections on readings, usually the Old Testament reading, from the Daily Office Lectionary, which forms the backbone of my devotional reading. Periodically, I offer a brief homily and serve at Asbury Seminary’s Noon Eucharist, and I will be posting those meditations under this category as well.

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Readings for Lectionary Year One, Tuesday of Easter Week:

Psalms 103, 111, 114
Isaiah 30:18-21
Acts 2:26-47
John 14:15-31

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The prophet Isaiah in chapters 1-39 normally preaches the gloomy stuff: sin, judgment, the coming destruction. But here, for just a moment, he looks past that; past the defeats, the destruction of Jerusalem, past the deportation to Babylon, the coming exile…and he sees restoration and hope. After a long time of waiting, he knows, and assures his hearers, that a moment is coming, a time of God’s promises finding fulfillment, his will reaching its realization.

Easter is such a time for us. The Empty Tomb tells us: the season of waiting is past! We have traveled with the disciples in the Gospel the road of Lent, the road of self-examination and yearning. We have named Christ Lord, then seeing him betrayed, owned our own treachery; we have seen him suffer, seen the tomb. We feared that indeed, death has the last word. And through it all, we have waited. We have heard the promises to those who “wait upon the Lord.” Easter tells us this time of waiting is over! He is alive! He is risen! He is here!

The prophet knows of the pain of our waiting. We have wept, we have been fed—by God—the bread of adversity, the water of affliction. Yes, God has allowed pain to do its work in us. God will not harm us, but that does not mean he will not hurt us. Sometimes good things hurt. The pain of setting a bone, admitting a sin; of  pulling a tooth, of righting a wrong; of lancing a boil, of letting go. Penitence hurts, but it doesn’t harm. It blesses. And we have known, in the words of the prophet, how our Teacher can hide himself. The very promise implies an admission: “…your Teacher will not hide himself any more.” Where is God when we need him most? Where was Jesus when his disciples, devastated by his suffering, most needed his wisdom and comfort. My God, my God, Jesus, my Jesus, why have you forsaken me? So the prophet knows of waiting.

But…when the waiting is over and all that is sad becomes untrue, when Babylon surrenders its captives, when the tomb yields up its dead Messiah, the prophet speaks of another moment, another waiting. But the waiting is not ours. Isaiah tells us, “Therefore the LORD waits…” The Lord waits?

Yes, the Lord waits. He has fulfilled his promise. It is finished. The Kingdom of God is at hand. And now…the Lord of glory, reflectionary3the God of the Israel, Yahweh of Hosts, our Redeemer, waits. On us.

“Therefore, the Lord waits…to be gracious to you.”

Interesting thing about grace. People who talk the most about grace tend to talk down our own responsibility, our “response-ability.” We play grace against works, grace against righteousness, grace against holiness, grace against obedience, grace against any obligations, burdens, demands or standards; grace against the fear of the Lord. As though we can’t be grace-filled people and still stand for God’s righteous will for human sexuality, for honest work to support ourselves and not be a burden to others, his call that we make a productive contribution to the lives of others, and conduct ourselves with integrity. Talk about those things, and you’ll be accused of not being “about” grace.

But notice that the God who waits to be gracious, does so precisely because, Isaiah tells us, “the Lord is a God of justice.” So grace waits…which means now, something must come from our side. Grace creates a possibility that did not, could not exist before. Before, nothing we did could matter. Now, after grace…and the divine waiting of grace…what we do next matters eternally. We not only can…we must. Grace now waits…for us.

And what a waiting it is!

He awaits our cry: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you!” I have a feeling the cry he awaits most is the cry, “Yes!”

God also awaits from us a profound teachability. Twice the prophet says the Grace Who Waits is “your Teacher.” And in his waiting, he is protecting the space that grace has created, the space where it is we who must act. In that space, we can think he is not present because he is not supposed to be. He gives us that space as a gift, a place for our receptivity and action. The Teacher must step back and let the student perform. So, in this Moment After Grace, the moment of Waiting Grace, the question is not “Where is the teacher?” but “Where is the student!?” Not “Where is God?” but “Where are we?”

God in grace also waits for us to move. Notice the prophet says we’ll hear his voice when we turn to the right or the left. I hope I’m not being picayune, but he seems to assume we are moving, not standing still. You can’t direct a stationary object. God waits for us to step forward in obedience, and notice even here, he waits, after a fashion. Isaiah doesn’t say God, like Moses, will take his place at the front of the throng, hold up his staff, and call us forward. No. The Grace Who Waits stands behind us. In front of us lies only the open road of possible obediences, possible acts of faithfulness. But listening, our ears hear a word behind us, saying “This is the way, walk in it.”

So the grace that waits is a grace that endows us with responsibility, that expects us to be in the place of learning with him, crying out to him, and moving forward attentive to his voice.

Easter’s over friends. It’s done. He’s clean  gone from the cemetery.

So…What are we waiting for?

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I’m 60 years old, professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I love my wife of 36 years, my three adult children and children-in-law. I love our three horses, two cats, and whatever other creatures decide to call our place home. I hate mowing grass, hanging pictures or shelves, or anything involving punching or drilling holes in walls. I love my job of studying and teaching the Old Testament. I’ve recently contracted a fierce interest in archaeology. I also enjoy guitars, jazz, vintage firearms, airplanes, photography, drystone masonry and, visiting the lands of the Bible.

2 COMMENTS

  1. It’s actually the Daily Office Book. The biblical passages are arranged by date in the liturgical year so you can find the readings for the day in one place. The translation is the RSV.

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