I waited for you (Luke 15:20)
During last Sunday’s Poetry Church, we reflected on one of Jesus’ best-known parables. That of a man whose son takes his inheritance early, squandering the lot in a distant country, only to find himself with nothing. We read, “he had spent everything… he had nothing… no one would give him any [food]… dying of hunger… no longer worthy…” Eventually, when the son comes to his senses, he decides to go home to ask to be put to work there. Arriving home, he confesses, and receives an unexpected welcome. “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” his father says. There is a celebratory feast, a robe, a ring, and sandals to wear. I wonder, had the son lost even his sandals on the journey home?
You know, some stories are so well known to us that we don’t stop to ponder, we don’t take time to step into the story and let it speak to us in a new way.
As we always do at Poetry Church, we reflected simultaneously on a contemporary poem – on this occasion, the lyrics of Daniel Norgren’s song “I waited for you.”
“I burned out my eyes on the horizon
Sunups in the east and sundowns in the west
I watched them all for just one reason
Sun came up or down, I couldn’t care less –
I waited for you
All the way through,
All the way down the line
I waited for you”
I meditated on the father in Jesus’ story, who spotted his son while still far off in the distance. I considered how it wasn’t by accident that the father spotted the figure of his son. I imagined that every day he had been watching the horizon, with longing and hope for the day his son might return. We read that he ran to meet his son. So eager for reunion. “Quick!” he shouts to the servants, don’t delay in bringing the robe and the sandals. Quick now, I’ve waited long enough for this moment. I burned out my eyes on the horizon watching and waiting for this moment… Like the poem says, there were sunups and sundowns – beauty and wonder in the heavens to see, but I wasn’t mindful of that – I was waiting for you.
For the father, there is a sense of cost in the waiting – “I burned out my eyes…”
There is a sense of the time spent in waiting – sunups… sundowns…”
And there is a sense of constancy in the waiting – “I watched them all…”
Jesus’ story reminds me of the verse in Isaiah that says, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you, and waits on high to have compassion on you” (Is 30:18). A longing God. A God who misses us, and longs to be in communion with us. Imagine that! And we see this throughout Scripture, from God’s “where are you?” in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:9) to Jesus standing at the door knocking and wanting to be invited in (Rev 3:20).
I’ve always loved the line “you’re a candle in the window on a cold dark winter’s night” from one of my favourite band’s most popular songs. But the father in Jesus’ story hasn’t just left a candle in the window as a welcome home. The father is not passively waiting. He is actively scanning the horizon.
In my late ‘20s, I began a decade away from the church. It was a lack of welcome and embrace that had kept me away – a tale perhaps for another day. But for all my own wandering, God was never distant. I remember one moment in particular: I was climbing the steps up to Rocamadour on the French pilgrim trail. How I was suddenly overwhelmed by the impression that God was bigger than time; that my connection to God and to all pilgrims over the centuries on those steps, remained true, deep, and unaffected by the comparatively short time that I’d spent away from the church and God’s people in one congregation; and that God was surely as close as the air – I only had to reach out in that moment to reconnect. Like Paul says, “God is not far from any one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-8). I think it was St Catherine of Siena who also said, “God is closer to us than water is to a fish.” Like the Psalmist says, “if I make my bed in the depths, You are there… if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me.” (Ps 139:8-10) That day in Rocamadour was the start of my own coming to my senses, and my awareness that God was still watching and calling me.
I believe God watches and longs for us all. I believe that God is always calling us back home. I believe that God has done more than simply place a candle in the window. And I know that there is a welcome waiting for everyone – my own story testifies to that.
Poetry Church is our weekly contemplative hour, every Sunday at 6pm.