Florence Martus was a young lady who lived in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1800’s. She was in love with a sailor. The two were planning to wed. But, the sailor’s ship left Savannah harbor before they could get married.
He promised that he would be back, and that they would become husband and wife as soon as he returned. She, in turn, promised to wait for him.
And wait she did.
Her waiting was not a passive activity. Her house was near the harbor, and every day she would go out to the harbor and greet each ship. By day she would wave a cloth, and by night she would wave a lantern, all in the hopes that her sailor was on one of the ships and he might see her and know that she had waited for him.
The years went by. Every day and night, Florence continued to wait…waving her cloth by day and her lantern by night.
But, her sailor never returned.
Of course, her presence at the harbor was a welcome sight for sailors who spent much time on the sea, and wondered if anyone ever cared about them. They would go out on the decks of the ships and wave back, happy to see her as she enthusiastically greeted them.
But none of those sailors was her sailor. Her ship never came in. The marriage never happened.
Today, there is a statue in Savannah harbor of a woman waving a piece of cloth, with a dog waiting beside of her. It is dedicated to Florence’s memory. Tourists in Savannah come to see “the waving girl.” Couples even get married in front of the statue. And ships, entering the harbor, still sound a salute to the statue with a blast of their horn.
What a terrible thing it is to wait for a promise that never comes true.
The people of God who had returned from Babylonian exile were in a state of waiting for God to be fully revealed to them. They had rebuilt homes and lives and had even rebuilt the Temple, but it somehow still seemed that God had forgotten about them, that God was far away from them.
We have all felt that way. The struggles of life invade us and tempt us to lose hope and faith, and sometimes, we do lose hope and faith.
But, God is always near.
The prophet Isaiah reminds the people that God had always loved them and been on their side, even when they chose not to trust and obey him. He says, “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things…you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat…” (Isaiah 25:1,4, NRSV)
The people of God were looking for God’s redemption and salvation. They were looking for God to intervene in their circumstances. They were waiting.
We spend a lot of our lives waiting. It has been said that waiting causes one of two things: we either find ourselves becoming impatient, hopeless, joyless, even violent. Or it can create in us a hope and faith and anticipation that cannot be shaken.
What I have experienced is that for myself, and maybe for most of us, hope and faith didn’t come until after we had gone through the season of impatient and hopeless waiting!
Remember in the 1970s, when Heinz Ketchup tried to teach us that good things can come to those who wait? The child opens the bottle of ketchup, and the thick, rich combination of “tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, corn syrup, salt and spices” seems to take forever to fall out of the opening. But, you know it’s going to be worth the wait.
God does not leave his people waiting on the shore, waving cloths and lanterns. The message of Easter is that God comes, God restores, and God saves! It is worth the wait!
Death, “the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all the nations, has been swallowed up forever.” (Isaiah 25:7)
Jesus, on the cross, bearing our sin, saying “Father, forgive them!” puts death to death. He puts sin and evil and violence to death. He puts anxiety and hopelessness to death.
And three days later, when Jesus arose, all those things stayed in the grave. They no longer have power over us.
If God can take the execution of Christ and turn it into Easter, think what he can do for you and your situation!
For those who have waited, for those who still wait, the compassionate God, who wipes away all tears from our eyes, is offering us an invitation to a feast…a celebration of rich food, and well aged wines, a celebration that began 2,000 years ago when Jesus rose from the dead. It is a celebration of life and abundance, a celebration for those who have waited.
Let’s picture ourselves, going up the mountain of the Lord, along with countless numbers of God’s redeemed, singing Easter’s song:
“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9, NRSV).
He is risen! Amen.