I was expecting to be in Ely Cathedral this coming Saturday afternoon, sharing with the Bishop in the laying-on of hands as Shirley Holder was ordained priest. And I was going to be back in the cathedral on Sunday morning as David Bagnall was ordained deacon. Then, on Sunday evening, we would all have been together in Great St Mary's as Shirley presided at the Eucharist for the first time.
I'm crying as I write. I cry a lot anyway, but I cry a lot more these days. This was going to be a great moment in the life of our church, let alone in the lives of Shirley and David. And it still will be, of course, when it takes place, God willing, in September. It will have been worth the wait.
I hadn't thought much about the phrase 'worth the wait', or even the word 'wait', until today. So I thought I'd look it up. The Oxford English Dictionary tells me of the origins of the word - and they're really interesting:
Middle English: from Old Northern French waitier, of Germanic origin; related to wake. Early senses included ‘‘ lie in wait (for)", ‘‘ observe carefully", and ‘‘be watchful".
Here is a theological crock of gold at the end of an etymological rainbow. The scriptures are full of it. Jesus is forever telling his followers to 'stay awake', 'be awake', 'keep awake' (in just one chapter alone of Mark, 13, Jesus uses the phrase six times). In Gospel terms, waiting is not a passive thing, but an active thing. Gospel waiting is different from killing time. It is lying in wait for Christ's coming. It is observing carefully for the signs of the Kingdom. It is being watchful in living hope. 'From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is hope' wrote Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann goes on to say 'Faith hopes in order to know what it believes'. I love that: watchful, wake-ful, hope. Pray for it. Because it is hope in Christ that transforms our waiting: waiting for ordinations, waiting for churches to reopen, waiting for lockdown to end. He is worth the wait. He is the meaning in the waiting.
Moments of great calm, Kneeling before an altar Of wood in a stone church In summer, waiting for the God To speak; the air a staircase For silence; the sun’s light Ringing me, as though I acted A great rôle. And the audiences Still; all that close throng Of spirits waiting, as I, For the message. Prompt me, God; But not yet. When I speak, Though it be you who speak Through me, something is lost. The meaning is in the waiting.
Kneeling (R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems 1945-1990, Phoenix Press 1995, p. 199)