This is the fifth of our series of articles through the year from Spectrum, each taking a theme from the book of Acts…
by Carrie Seaton.
Paul was a strategist and had decided the best way of spreading the gospel was to campaign in the Roman world’s greatest cities. On arriving in Athens, where he was waiting for Timothy and Silas to join him, he saw how the city already had a thousand years of civilisation and was basking in its former glory and greatness. Becoming a democracy in the 5th Century B.C. it was the home of Plato, Sophocles, Euripides and Socrates, to name but a few. It was the main centre for philosophy, science, literature and art. Although waiting, he was using the time to have a good look around: doing a ‘reccy’ in the market place.
In his book, The Stature of Waiting (D.L.T. 1982), W.H. Vanstone states that the majesty of Jesus was seen most impressively as he waits for three lots of people: his accusers, his taunters, and finally those who crucify him. The ‘glory of God’ is disclosed in this passive waiting and His willingness to be handed over.
As we begin to look ahead towards the easing of the third lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we wait for confirmation of tentative unlocking measures. For many it’s still a time of passivity – when others control our lives, when we have things done for us, as we wait for restrictions to be lifted. If we agree with Vanstone, these waiting times are as important as times of action and taking charge.
Yet in contemporary understanding, activity is often valued for its own sake. Those older people who for so long in the last year were told to remain indoors are the very same as those who are normally applauded for ‘keeping active’. There’s an attitude in today’s market place that to be fully human is to be active, even if the activity has no goal.
However, the lockdown has perhaps made us more patient – a virtue! We have learned to wait for Supermarket delivery slots, online purchases to arrive outside our doors, we wait on the phone. Waiting gives us space. According to Luke in Acts 17, it gave Paul time to understand the cultural, religious and philosophical divergence of Athens. Waiting also gives us the space to try and discern where God may be leading us – as individuals and as a church. Many of the live streamed, Zoomed, and printed services of worship have stressed this point.
Jim Wallis, the American liberal theologian writing in the e-magazine Sojourners, said, in December 2019, that Advent was his favourite liturgical season as it comprises of waiting, longing and yearning for Christ incarnate. He asked the reader: how do we wait for Christ, in not just the spiritual sense, but in a globally political sense too?
Waiting is a key experience repeated through the cycle of the church’s liturgical year. At the moment we wait for Easter with the period of Lenten preparation. After Easter we will wait for Pentecost, and this is the period in which the church focuses on reading through the book of Acts. We may remember that the first Jesus Followers felt uncertainty as they waited for God’s plan to unfold. After the Crucifixion they’d been waiting fearfully behind locked doors until they discovered Jesus was alive to them, albeit in a different way. They were to wait for God’s power, in the knowledge that Jesus had promised to be with them in the future that would be different.
Returning to Paul, he didn’t just speak to the Jews in their synagogues or to the religious Gentiles; he came out of the churches into the most public of places to challenge the Athenians with the good news of Jesus and the Resurrection. In verse 19, they ask ‘may we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’ He makes the ‘unknown God’ ‘known’ by describing the nature of God and declaring God is not confined to human temples.
So as our human temples remain closed, we continue to make God and Jesus known, through growing different guises and grasping newfound opportunities.
1. How has the waiting in lockdown been a positive experience?
2. How has it enabled you to positively ‘do things differently’?
3. How have you had the opportunity to make God or Jesus ‘known’ through new channels?