I’m sure that at some point in your life you have experienced the flashing brilliance of a Kingfisher. I had my third experience recently and was once again left utterly amazed at the sheer beauty of this momentary experience.
There are so many ways we can experience something that takes our breath away. A moment in time and space that transcends both. A moment of glory or beauty or some other unexpected event, can be quite moving…no, that’s not quite right, how about exhilarating, or goose-bumpily amazing?
Waiting is a dominant theme of Paul and the New Testament. According to Anthony Thiselton, “In everyday life, waiting can suggest dull and static situations like sitting in a railway waiting room, or standing at a bus stop.”
But Paul uses several verbs to express the range of waiting. We wait for the sons of God to be revealed; creation waits with eager longing; Paul has an “eager expectation” as he hopes for “deliverance” from captivity. The LXX usage implies that this waiting is a kind of “stretching of the neck, craning forward” as in eager anticipation with intense longing, craning one’s neck to see. Or, if you are Zacchaeus, you climb a tree (Luke 19:4)! This is far removed from idly waiting for a bus or train!
It is of a different quality. Look at the craning of necks as a bride turns up at the church, or a person trying to glimpse the Queen as she goes by. Sadly, some Christians have assumed an inhumane quality to this waiting, as though they need to be in a permanent state of joyous, frenzied expectation, “To keep up emotional fervour for an interminable period is impossible and unhealthy, and, in the event of flagging zeal, even causes guilt” (Thiselton).
For the New Testament, expectation “constitutes a disposition, not an emotion” a state of readiness, not emotional fervour. But what constitutes “being ready” depends on readiness for what, and how we prepare. Both Augustine and Luther regarded readiness for the coming of Christ as continuing in everyday Christian trust, work, and obedience in everyday tasks.
To the question, What is it to expect? Thiselton draws an example given by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who asks, “What should I do if I “expect” my friend for tea? “I put out cups, saucers, plates, jam, bread, cake, and so forth. I make sure that my room is tidy. “To expect” certainly does not refer to one process or state of mind . . . I prepare the tea for two, and so on.”
Thus the coming of Christ, and our waiting is ethical in nature; it is our discipleship, a life lived before God that pleases God (1 Thess. 4:1). Thiselton develops Wittgenstein’s thought, “The notion that expectation constitutes a mental act, he said, is a “curious superstition.” He concluded, “An expectation is embedded in a situation from which it arises.” In the Zettel, he substitutes for “expect” the phrase “Be prepared for this to happen.” This is why it is a disposition. It is a disposition to respond in an appropriate way when given circumstances bring it into play.”
This is all part of a wider discussion on The Return of Christ, the Resurrection and Related Issues. In order for a Christian response to be thoughtful, mature, and appropriate, Thiselton discusses five categories that help us think better about the return of Christ. They are:
The terms used to denote it
The validity of the belief in the future and the public coming of Christ
With thanks to the excellent team at Holy Ground, Exeter for showing this video recently, and Fr. Simon Rundell SCP for providing it, and of course Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber for writing it in her book ‘Accidental Saints’. This has the aroma of Jesus all over it.
1. Not to speak of Christ in any way that sidelines his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly human.
2. Not to speak of Jesus in any way that sidelines the divine depth beneath his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly God.
3. Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.
4. Not to give the impression that Christ’s divinity is fully contained within his humanity, or that his divinity is limited by his human experience. The human nature of Jesus is assumed by the person of the eternal Word.
5. Not to divide redemption from creation, or to give the impression that Christ invades a world that is alien to him. Human beings were created after the pattern of the same eternal Image that has become incarnate in Jesus.
6. Not to divide Christ’s person and work, or to give the impression that Christ is merely the instrument by which God achieves salvation. Salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.
7. Not to divide Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, or to give the impression that he achieves salvation at just one moment of his career. The total life-journey of Jesus Christ – from his birth, to his ministry of teaching and healing, to his death and resurrection – is the saving event.
8. Not to speak of Christ’s death as a mere preliminary stage on the way to resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Priest whose death abolishes the power of sin and death. He is the humble God.
9. Not to speak of Christ’s resurrection as a mere reversal of his death. Jesus Christ is the King whose resurrection exalts and glorifies human nature. He is the deified human.
10. Not to speak of Christ in any way that implies that he is absent, or to give the impression that the church’s task is to make Christ present. Jesus Christ is the Prophet who reveals himself. He is present always and everywhere as the divine-human light of the world.
11. Not to divide Christ from Israel’s history, or to give the impression that the New Testament abolishes the Old. As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ is the surpassing fulfilment of Israel’s messianic hopes.
12. Not to speak of Christ as if he were relevant only to some people in some cultures and circumstances. Jesus Christ is present to all people, in all times and places, as their divine-human Prophet, Priest and King. The church trusts and proclaims, but never possesses, this Messiah.
The amazing picture above, called Face of Christ is by Tracy Hatton, and is currently on loan to the wonderful retreat centre Mary and Martha at Sheldon, South Devon, and located in the tiny chapel on the grounds.
The one below was taken by me a while ago and is posted here to lament the end of summer and the beginning of the Dark Ages of Months….