Vicissitude of Watching for the Kingdom

Waiting for the kingdom is an experience of keeping the Watch with Jesus through out the lonely hours of the night as Maundsly Thursday transitions into Good Friday.

It’s 1pm on Good Friday and I am awakening after four hours of fitful and intense sleep following the long night’s Watch with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In our Anglican Liturgical Tradition watching is enacted symbolically before Jesus’ sacramental presence placed in the symbolic Gethsemane, a corner of the Church which remains decorated with flower, silks and linens, lit with lamps and lights in the midst of an otherwise interior stripped bear of its usual ornament.

What is Jesus watching – waiting for? What is he inviting us to watch and wait with him for? The answer is: Jesus is watching for the emerging contours of the Kingdom of God. Contours, emerging into reality, anxious minute by anxious minute, long hour by long hour.

The Watch, is a confrontation for each of us with our individual experience.  I observed some coming for their hour and then leave, a tinge of regret that the relentlessness of life demands takes them away. Others arrived for their allotted time and stayed on, unable to leave. Although, appearing not always clear about what continued to hold them, they communicated the look of those who know they can be no where else for that moment. Still, others came for their allotted time, leave, and then returned, some times more than once throughout the long watch of the night.

That this experience is spiritually purposeful to those companioning me through the long transition from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday is, for me, beyond any doubt! I expect over the coming days some will confide their experience to me, while others will treasure the experience in varying mindsets of palpable incomprehension of the sense of connection, in a moment there and then gone, but never absent.

Yet, what is my sense-making of my own experience of waiting with Jesus, watching for the Kingdom?  My spiritual memory locks me into repeating this event each year. Yet, this year, as priest in sole charge, without other priestly colleagues to share the load, I am there because I feel a responsibility for the safety of those who will come and go. This functional explanation helps and hinders me throughout this night. It helps to have a rational explanation for doing something apparently absurd. It hinders me, because it distracts and insulates me from experiencing the pain of my deeper spiritual need to wait, watching without knowing exactly what I wait and watch for.

There are moments when I am able to surrender to that which is just beyond the boundary of my conscious awareness. These are moments of calm. There are many more moments of frustrated agitation, in which to stay is to know that Jesus also is beside himself, agitated by the dawning enormity of what is unfolding for him. The dawning, a double entendre, of the Kingdom makes me desperate. I sit, like some 3rd leg relay runner, gripping the baton at times in the hope of colleagues who will come and take it from me, letting me leave this long and exhausting race. Knowing they will arrive for Morning Prayer at 9am, I hang on only long enough to meet them arriving in the car park as I take flight under the pretext of fatigue. Like the first disciples, eventually I cannot bear any longer the waiting and the watching with Jesus for the coming of the Kingdom.

And yet, as I awaken from the imagined respite of four hours of sleep to repare for the coming Liturgy of Good Friday, even though I taste the bitter ego failure of having taken flight, I know I have seen the Kingdom of God coming through the agency of my Jesus who, sometimes in agitation, other times in calm certainty endures the violence of the kingdom of this world, a violence that implicates me, in order for another kingdom, God’s Kingdom to invite me-in.

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