Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the November 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
Those who study our culture often write about the difficulty we have in waiting. Unusual is the person who is good at it. Even if the person or event which finds us waiting is worthy of great expectation, the period of time before the great arrival or happening is difficult to endure.
We tend to fill the “in-between” time with a variety of distractions. Television fills this period with commercials. Dentist offices stave off pain with back issues of Time or Good Housekeeping. Sports stadiums stuff it with popcorn, candy and drink. Children spend it in games of one kind or another. Waiting seems to have little or no value, and so we fill its minutes, hours and days with activities of our own making which protect us from the boredom of the moment.
How then are we to address the notion our Christian faith champions that we live in a season of “in-between” time? These last few weeks of the liturgical year once again remind the faithful of our status as they focus on the bottom line of our spiritual journey and call our attention to the last things. On the one hand, our salvation already has happened in Jesus Christ – nearly two thousand years ago now. On the other hand, we wait for the so-called Second Coming of the Lord and the final culmination of all things in his glory. Already – but not yet. We are caught in-between, and we wait. Is that not what we pray at Mass just before sharing in Holy Communion?
Judging from the testimony of Scripture as well as from occasional newspaper accounts, we Christians have a problem with waiting. The early Christian community expected Jesus to return in glory almost immediately after his Death, Resurrection and Ascension. The accepted thinking of the times said that while he did not come back yesterday, the Lord probably would tomorrow or, certainly, the day after. The immediacy must have been tangible. Some folks even had given up working; St. Paul observes that the faithful need not bother with the challenges of marrying; perhaps others quit planting their spring gardens. If the Second Coming is right around the corner, so the thinking went, then why bother with such trivial pursuits? It was assumed that they had nothing to do with living the Christian faith.
The Letters and even the Gospels in the New Testament offer evidence of the fact that the longer this period of in-between time stretched, the more difficulty the community had in waiting. The importance of the present moment became questioned as the moment of final culmination of salvation history extended further into an ever-expanding future.
The longer we have to wait for something, the more the imagination has a chance to play. So it is with our anticipation of the final coming of Christ. We have been waiting now, not just for a few decades, but for nearly a couple millennia! Subsequently, over the centuries our Christian imagination has run rampant. The mind of the fundamentalist searches Scripture for a portrait of what the end times actually will look like. The spiritual enthusiast announces that the last day is about to happen here or there. Newspapers, world events, and even Scripture are molded and squeezed to fit the shape of expectations.
In all of this in-between time, Jesus slips to the past or stands in the future. He goes unrecognized in the present. To the extent that our Christian spirituality and our discipleship with Christ puts the importance of God’s saving work in Christ off into the distant past or the not-yet-here of the future, we distract ourselves from the importance of the salvation that indeed already has happened for us.
Whatever shape the Second Coming of Christ may eventually take, the point of the Good News Jesus brought us is that the Kingdom of God is now. It is here, today, where we live and go about our daily business and responsibilities. Those who fear the Second Coming as some great cataclysmic event ignore the greatest event of all time: the Incarnation of the Word of God, Emmanuel, God-Among-Us. Jesus, the Risen Lord, has not departed from human history (and our daily lives) only to return at some unannounced point in time. The Risen Lord and his Church are one. Our time is Christ’s time, and our place is God’s place. Whatever we do in union with Christ has significance and purpose. For the Christian the so-called in-between time is rich, and filled with excitement as the signs of God’s Kingdom abound. Now is the hour of salvation.
In this vision of faith there is no room for a passive waiting filled with distractions. Now is the time for action in union with Christ as the saving and loving presence of God is disclosed in the word. Our time and place – whether that be the home, the office, the classroom or the playfield – are made holy by the continuing presence of the Risen Lord. Through him the work of our hands and the hopes of our hearts are intimately involved in God’s saving work in human history.
Whenever the Second Coming happens, and whatever it is, that day will be very like today – and Christians will recognize it to the extent that Jesus is seen at work now, while we wait in joyful hope.
(Father Savelesky, Moderator of the Curia for the Spokane Diocese, is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa.)
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