I arrived at 18:56. The service was due to begin at 19:00. That’s cutting it fine! I was certainly thankful I made it – especially since it was our Thanksgiving Service! I wasn’t late on purpose (returning from Barnes Conference) – though I’m pretty sure I took a wrong turn in Gloucester-shire which didn’t help. It was more circumstantial – roadworks and peak hour traffic sort of things. Yes, I prayed ‘get me to the church on time’ (though I didn’t sing it and it wasn’t for a wedding!) and imagined myself Moses going through the Red Sea (only to have the red tail lights in front of me increase rather than decrease!). On a day where approximately 490,000 babies are born and maybe 300,000 people died, in a world of Gaza, politics, economics, and the envi-ronment, my little trip was seriously insignificant. Three hours earlier when I first realised I mightn’t arrive in time, I phoned and organised a ‘Plan B’. Nevertheless I arrived with 4 minutes ‘to spare’ (and I still got to enjoy delicious food – thanks everyone for a lovely evening!).
Arriving on time is usually regarded as a good thing – a necessary thing for smooth and efficient living – something to be valued and worked at. Being late is usually a pain and is not encouraged and people who do so are viewed negatively in some way (selfish, disorganised, and the like).
The Christian Church are people who have come to grips with their Lord ‘being late’. There was no timetable given at Jesus’ ascension and the announcement of his return (Acts 1:11). It wasn’t a matter of ‘when’ but that he will return in glory. The early church lived in the tension (more so than we I think) of practical discipleship. How should I follow Jesus in my life if I ex-pect him to return in a few years? Should people marry was a question Paul discussed with the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 7). Are there ‘issues’ between those living and those who have died when Jesus returns? Paul discussed this with the Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 4). How do we respond when the world picks up and even mocks the fact that the Jesus, we’re expecting to return, hasn’t done so? (See 2 Peter 3 for a reply.) Christians know that Jesus might return at any time. Nevertheless our daily discipleship can oscillate, it seems to me, be-tween ‘practical atheism’ and hoping for Jesus’ immediate return. I recall in younger years accepting the truth that Jesus might return right now and being ok with that but still thinking ‘It might be nice if I could get married first … have a child first … see my first grandchild …’.
So is Jesus ‘late’? Of course the answer is no. He isn’t operating on our timetable! Firstly, he hasn’t left us! Jesus is with his people – among us – challenging, rebuking, guiding, sustaining, consoling, enriching, strengthening, forgiving, blessing – through his Word and Sacraments. And secondly, Jesus came into this world ‘at the right time’ (But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5 ESV) and so it sim-ply stands to reason that he will return at the right time.
And in the meantime we live each day with joy and confidence, repentance and faith that Jesus has given us life (his life) with him – and that’s the best reason to be thankful. –GS