There are many different kinds of waiting. There's confident waiting--I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. There's expectantly hopeful waiting--I think I did pretty well on that test. There's expectantly discouraged waiting--I haven't seen the biopsy results yet, but I know it isn't going to be good. There's unending waiting--Someday all things will be made right. There's desperate waiting--If I don't find a bathroom soon, we'll all be in trouble. There's doubtful waiting--I don't think I'll ever find a soul mate. There's aimless waiting--I'm just sitting here waiting for I-don't-know-what. And there are many more examples, too.
As Christians, we do a lot of waiting. We wait for Jesus to return. We wait for the consummation of God's promises. We join with all of creation to "wait with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19). During Advent, we wait to celebrate Christmas. During Lent, we wait to celebrate Easter. During July, we wait for people to get back from the beach. During December, we wait for people to turn in their pledge cards. And, this Sunday, we will join the disciples in waiting for the already-ascended Jesus to send down the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The collect for this Sunday says it best:
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone beforeOn Thursday--forty days into the Easter season--we will celebrate Jesus' ascension into heaven, but it will be ten more days before the Spirit comes down on Pentecost. In between, we have one strange Sunday when the disciples wait for what comes next. But the manner of their waiting says a lot about their faith.
The first order of business after Jesus departed was to elect a successor for Judas. Yes, I know there's important symbolism in having the twelve disciples, who represent the twelve tribes of Israel, be reconstituted before Pentecost, but I'm more interested in the election itself as evidence of a peculiar sort of waiting. Other than the important symbolism, why did they need to find a new disciple? What does that say about the manner in which they waited for Jesus' return?
For several years--even decades--after Jesus' ascension, the church waited eagerly and expectantly for his return. "Any day now," they said to one another, and Paul's early letters (e.g. 1 Thessalonians) confirm this attitude of short-term focus. I think Peter and the other disciples expected Jesus to return any day. At any moment, he would appear in the clouds and all that was longed for would be fulfilled. But that didn't stop them from choosing Matthias.
Even though the wait was expected to be short term, Peter and the other disciples knew that the waiting wasn't merely an empty waiting. There was work to be done. (2000 years later, there's still work to be done.) The good news needed sharing. People needed to know about Jesus. If Jesus picked twelve people to carry his message to the ends of the earth, then they needed a twelfth person to take up that work alongside them--even if it was only temporary.
And consider how Matthias was elected--by lottery. "Lord, you know everyone's heart," Peter prayed, "Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship." And the drew straws, trusting that God's will would be done. Think about that--they were so confident that God's will would unfold around them that they let a silly thing like drawing straws be the determining factor...which is to say that they knew nothing could stand in the way of God's will being done.
What an amazing attitude toward waiting! Jesus had left them, but they knew that God was still in control. They didn't expect to wait very long, but they knew the time for action was at hand. They were confident. They were expectant. They were hopeful. And they were also certain that God would guide them as they waited.
What sort of waiting is that? It's Christian waiting. We recognize that this is a time of waiting, and we expect fulfillment any moment, but we refuse to waste even a moment because we know that there is work to be done while we wait. And we trust that, even in the waiting itself, God's will is made manifest. It isn't just the end of the waiting that reveals God's will. It is being revealed every moment of every day. The waiting is just as holy as the completion. That belief is what sustains us as we wait.