Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
“Is it time yet?” “Is it now??” “How many more sleeps?” “How much longer?!?”
I am guessing you could all name a situation in which you’ve heard children wondering (I was going to say whining) about when something is going to happen.
Now, to be fair, children often ask out loud what adults are thinking in their heads. We can probably all remember times when we have had to sit for what seems like an unbearably long time in one place, waiting for something to happen: Waiting for the gridlock in front of us to clear up, waiting on the tarmac for the crew to resolve mechanical issues so the plane can take off, waiting for a particularly long sermon to wrap up. Then there are the more intense periods of waiting, like waiting for the specialist to call back about test results, waiting for a loved one’s suffering to be over, waiting for our own feelings of grief and loss over something to pass. These are harder, because we don’t know when they’ll be over. We don’t even know when to expect these things to be resolved. We’re waiting, desperately, for the time to come, but we don’t know when that time is, or even what it will look like when it does arrive.
This was the situation the first Christians found themselves in. After Jesus had died, and been resurrected, the first Christians found themselves still waiting. They had been waiting for things to change, even though they didn’t quite know into what, and now they were still unsure. In our reading from Acts, they ask Jesus, “Is this the time?” And in our second reading, from 1 Peter, the recipients of that letter also seem to be wondering: Is this it? Is this the kingdom of God? When will our suffering be over? How much longer? I imagine that the families of the Coptic Christians who were killed on Friday are asking the same questions.
Unfortunately, the answers are not particularly helpful. In response to the disciples’ questions in Acts, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times.” The writer of 1 Peter responds with, “In due time.” Our Scriptures are frustratingly vague about when all of these things that God has promised will happen. There are references to the time “to come,” and “in that day,” and “in the end times,” but this is like responding to a child who is wondering, “When will it happen?” with the answer, “Soon. It’ll happen soon.” How is that supposed to help?
In our Gospel reading, Jesus complicates the situation even further when he says, “The hour has come.” Now, he’s talking about his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and his crucifixion. But he’s also talking about “the hour.” The time when God will restore everything, when we will finally be “there,” when we will not have to wait any longer for the world’s suffering to be over. Jesus is saying that that time “has come.” So why do things still look the same?
The answers continue to be complicated. When the disciples ask him after his resurrection if the time is here now, he says, “It will come. You will receive power.” And in 1 Peter, the writer says, God “will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” Time is all mixed up. It’s time, it’s not time, it will be time, the time has already come. How are we to understand all of this? More to the point, when we are suffering, because of a deep loss that has happened or a loss that we are expecting to happen, how are we to wait through all of this? We do not doubt that God will fulfill God’s promises, and wipe away every tear from every face, as it says in both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation, but how are we to wait? How are we to understand that the time has already come when we are still suffering? How do we get through this?
Well, it seems to me that there are two different ways to do this. The first comes from our second reading, which says, very clearly, “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.” Be steadfast, and resist despair. Get through the waiting by just waiting. God will make all things new. God will bring you through this period of suffering, and God will restore you.
Now, if that works for you, if that alone is enough to sustain you through all your suffering, then you are indeed blessed, and I envy you. Some people have indeed been blessed by the Holy Spirit so that they are able to endure all kinds of suffering, for truly extended periods of time, simply by waiting in hope. I am not one of those people, and I suspect I’m not alone.
So for those who are not able to just wait, God offers another way. It still involves waiting, but there’s more. This second way of waiting has a long tradition in the church, and in the Jewish tradition that precedes us. This second way of waiting is how Jesus waited for his suffering to be over, how Paul and the first disciples waited for their suffering to come to an end. Its effectiveness comes from remembering all of the times in the past when we had to endure suffering, and when God restored us then. It is looking at our history, and identifying those times when God blessed us and brought an end to the waiting of that moment.
In the Jewish celebration of Passover, which Jesus and Paul both celebrated, there is a point, after the story of the deliverance from Egypt has been told, when something called the Dayenu is recited. Dayenu means, “it would have been enough.” And the Passover Dayenu says, among other things, “If God had split the sea for us, and not led us through it on dry land, Dayenu.” It would have been enough. “If God had satisfied our needs in the desert for forty years, and not fed us the manna, Dayenu.” It would have been enough. “If God had fed us the manna, and not given us the Sabbath, Dayenu.” It would have been enough. “If God had given us the Sabbath, and not brought us to Mount Sinai, Dayenu. If God had brought us to Mount Sinai, and not given us the Torah, Dayenu. If God had given us the Torah, and not brought us into Israel, Dayenu.” Dayenu, dayenu, dayenu. It would have enough. In their exodus, even if God had done only that very first thing, it would have been enough. This kind of waiting encourages us to look at what God has already given us, so that even as we mourn what we have lost, we are grateful for what we have been given.
As St. John comes to a close, many of us wonder how we will endure the suffering that comes with the loss of this congregation. God promises us that our feelings of grief will subside, and that we will one day be restored to one another, but we don’t know when. It is hard to imagine that that time will come. Some of us are able to cast all our anxieties on God and just wait. But for those of us who are not, I offer this Dayenu for St. John, this remembrance of what God has already given:
Had God sent Christ to redeem us, and not given us baptism, Dayenu. It would have been enough.
Had God given us baptism, and not given us Holy Communion to strengthen us, Dayenu.
Had God given us Holy Communion, and not given us the church of every time and every place, Dayenu.
Had God given us the church of every time and every place, and not founded this congregation, Dayenu.
Had God founded this congregation, and not built this building for us, Dayenu.
Had God built this building for us, and not sent singers and musicians to help us worship, Dayenu.
Had God sent singers and musicians to help us worship, and not given us children to nurture in Sunday School, Dayenu.
Had God given us children to nourish in Sunday School, and not enabled us to support organizations like CLWR and the Women’s Shelter, Dayenu.
Had God enabled us to support organizations like CLWR and the Women’s Shelter, and not sent us friends to cherish for so many years, Dayenu.
Had God sent us friends to cherish for so many years, and not brought us to this day, Dayenu.
The last time my kids were waiting for a big event, they kept asking, “Is it time yet?” And, to their intense frustration, my husband and I just kept answering, “Yup.” In a way, this is how God answers our questions of “Is it time yet?” Yes, it is time. We do not wait for God to restore the things we have lost or to ease our suffering. God has done so and is doing so even now. God has given us Christ, and the Sacraments, and the church, and community. Had God given the people of St. John only one of these things, we would indeed have been given more than enough. Praise and thanksgiving and thanks to our God who has given us all these things and even more, from whom even these last few services together are an overabundance of blessings and gifts from God. It would have been enough, it is enough, it will be enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.