Continuing to share the WCC reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity:
Day Two: Changed through patient waiting for the Lord
Let it be so now, for it is proper to fulfil all righteousness (Mt 3:15)
– 1 Sam 1:1-20 Hannah’s trust and patient waiting
– Ps 40 Patient waiting for the Lord
– Heb 11:32-34 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice
– Mt 3:13-17 Let it be so now, for it is proper to fulfil all righteousness
Victory is often associated with immediate triumph. Everybody knows the taste of success when, after a difficult struggle, congratulations, recognition, and even tributes are paid. At such a joyful moment, hardly anyone realises that from a Christian perspective victory is a long-term process of transformation. Such an understanding of transformative victory teaches us that it occurs in God’s time, not ours, calling for our patient trust and deep hope in God.
Hannah witnessed to such patient trust and hope. After many years of waiting to be pregnant, she prayed to God for a child, at the risk of having her weeping prayer dismissed as drunkenness by the priest at the doorpost of the Temple. When Eli assured her that God would grant her prayer, she simply trusted, waited, and was sad no longer. Hannah conceived and bore a son, whom she named Samuel. The great victory here is not that of nations or armies, but a glimpse into the realm of a private and personal struggle. In the end, Hannah’s trust and hope results not only in her own transformation, but that of her people, for whom the God of Israel intervened through her son Samuel.
The psalmist echoes Hannah’s patient waiting for the Lord in the midst of another kind of struggle. The psalmist too sought deliverance from a situation which remains unknown to us, but which is hinted at in the language of the “desolate pit of the miry bog.” He gives thanks that God has transformed his shame and confusion, and continues to trust in God’s steadfast love.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews recalls the patience of people like Abraham (6.15) and others who were able to be victorious through their faith and trust in God. The realisation that God intervenes and enters into the narrative of human history eliminates the temptation to be triumphant in human terms.
In the gospel, the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus announcing This is my Son, the Beloved, seems to be a guarantor of the immediate success of his messianic mission. In resisting the evil one, however, Jesus, does not succumb to the temptation to usher in the Kingdom of God without delay, but patiently reveals what life in the kingdom means through his own life and ministry which leads to his death on the Cross. While the Kingdom of God breaks through in a decisive way in the resurrection, it is not yet fully realised. The ultimate victory will only come about with the second coming of our Lord. And so we wait in patient hope and trust with the cry “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Our longing for the visible unity of the Church likewise requires patient and trustful waiting. Our prayer for Christian unity is like the prayer of Hannah and the psalmist. Our work for Christian unity is like the deeds recorded in the Letter to the Hebrews. Our attitude of patient waiting is not one of helplessness or passivity, but a deep trust that the unity of the Church is God’s gift, not our achievement. Such patient waiting, praying and trust transforms us and prepares us for the visible unity of the Church not as we plan it, but as God gives it.
Faithful God, you are true to your word in every age. May we, like Jesus, have patience and trust in your steadfast love. Enlighten us by your Holy Spirit that we may not obstruct the fullness of your justice by our own hasty judgements, but rather discern your wisdom and love in all things. You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.
Questions for reflection
1. In what situations in our life should we have a greater trust in God’s promises?
2. What areas of church life are particularly at risk from the temptation to act hastily?
3. In what situations should Christians wait, and when should they act together?