Last weekend, our family went to the Six Flags Great America amusement park. My wife organizes those day trips so well, and we had a great time, although I feel that I’m getting a little too old for those rides that turn you upside down.
If you’ve ever been there, I’m sure you’ve seen the little red signs that tell you how long you can expect to wait to get on the ride. Depending on the size of the crowd in the park, the sign will say 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes… sometimes an hour.
As helpful as those signs are, the bottom line is always the same – all rides have a wait. And none of us likes to wait. In a world of instant gratification, we are all guilty. Think of the longest car ride you have been on with your family. And to be honest, last weekend we chose our rides based on the length of the line, and not the actual ride.
The early Church didn’t like to wait, either. And so, when Jesus told His followers He would return in a Second Coming, the Parousia, right before His Ascension… they thought He would be right back. Probably in a few day. Maybe, a few weeks.
But that’s not exactly what happened.
By the time Luke writes today’s Gospel, years later, the hope of Jesus’ immediate return has faded. Many have abandoned the faith, too impatient, wanting to see the Second Coming right now. Luke is looking at the first real crisis of the early Church… when is Jesus really coming back? And he responds brilliantly.
Some twenty years earlier, St. Mark wrote “Those who wish to follow me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But Luke, knowing his audience, prayerfully adds… that they should “take up their cross daily and follow me.” That one added word, daily, is extremely important. Here’s why.
Luke insists we don’t have to wait until the Second Coming to see Jesus, to see the Reign of God. Our very lives are a Parousia. It’s why Jesus can assure the good thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in paradise” — not at some future date. That one word changes everything for the community of Luke. And what a game-changer for us as well!
For example, you might pray that your bid on a new house will be accepted, but Luke is saying that God was right there all along, peeking over your shoulder, the day you found the listing.
High school lasts four years. So does college. But on the day you graduate and are rewarded, remember that Jesus was there, in the middle of the night, when you were stressing about finals.
Pregnancy lasts nine months, and there isn’t a bigger reward. But we know there is no real waiting for life to begin. With the Blessed Virgin Mary so close, all new moms have no greater advocate. Each and every exhausting day.
At sixty-five you can retire, and finally decide what you want to do with your day. But as you look at your gold watch, be thankful that the Eucharist was being celebrated in hundreds of Churches throughout this city every day you commuted to work, for all those years. And Baptisms. And Weddings. And Confirmations. Our Church was right here for you, the doors always open.
I like that saying “life is a journey, not a destination.” But, as Luke reminds us today, so is heaven. So is suffering, for the love of Christ. St. Paul, in our second reading, says “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”
What do we do as Church, clothed in Christ each day?
You know, waiting in line at an amusement park isn’t all that bad. You get to see the ride up close, before you get on. You can rest a little on the railing, instead of walking around. You can enjoy a bottle of water. Take a break.
But for me, the real blessing, the Kingdom of God moment… was waiting with my family. We got to hang out, uninterrupted, for 30 minutes. To talk about dinner, to joke around, to talk about the last ride we went on. Just us. Nothing profound. No teachable moments. No Dad being over-bearing, or cranky.
In all seriousness, waiting in lines is the fondest memory I have from last weekend. Like the car rides, when I was young. Jesus would have it no other way.
Tich Nach Han, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, said “If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.” As God has given us the presence of the Holy Spirit, maybe we need to consider how present we are to others. To remember the reward for hard work, for waiting, sometimes is hidden in the hearts right before us.
Not at the end of time, but right now.