2020 - 1st Sunday of Advent - Setting the Table with Hope
Setting the Table with Hope
Kenna Arana and Catherine Wagner - Associate Program Directors, ACE Teaching Fellows
Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for Christ’s arrival, and this Sunday’s Gospel sets the tone for the season. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to be vigilant: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” In Jesus’s words, and imagining the mindsets of Mark’s first readers who were expecting Jesus’ second coming “any day now,” we cannot help but recognize a parallel in the uncertainty surrounding the timing of his second coming and the uncertainty of this year.
When the pandemic began and we started to work from home in March, we were, ironically, in the middle of Lent. Like Advent, Lent is also a season of anticipation and preparation. Smack dab in the middle of Lent, Christ’s same message rang loud and clear: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We didn’t know for how long we would be working from home and isolating ourselves from our coworkers and friends, so we had to focus on one goal: maintain hope for the future. That meant at first being vigilant in preparing for Easter. At the end of each workday, we started to take walks along the St. Joe River to feel connected to the outside world and rejuvenate our spirits. On these sometimes hour-plus walks, we talked about our families, asked each other random “Would you rather” questions, and shared our hopes for the future. Our beloved walks became a sign of hope for us and sometimes even brought us a joyful sighting of a familiar face — someone from the office, or even Mayor Pete!
As we entered Holy Week, we challenged ourselves to draw even closer to Christ, especially as it became apparent that we would not be seeing our family and friends for Easter. Adapting one of the most cherished devotions of our Church, we turned our walking path into a Stations of the Cross, walking in silence and stopping at various points along the path to pray and reflect on each station of the cross. On Holy Thursday, we watched Mass on TV and closed the evening by washing each other’s feet. Despite the pandemic’s endurance, we found ways to respond to Christ’s challenge: “Be watchful and alert!”
Of course, after Easter, time really began to drag on and it became harder to sustain our hope, to wait expectantly and welcome Christ’s Resurrected presence in our lives. It’s not so different from where we find ourselves today, as the pandemic has persisted way longer than we imagined. For the last several months, the challenge of getting through the semester, like our Stations of the Cross walk, kept us watchful and alert as we meet daily challenges. Now that students have left campus and we, too, prepare to head home to our families for the holidays, we have been reflecting on this year. And as we enter this Advent season, we are roused from our weariness again, to the time of eager anticipation and excitement we experienced in the spring.
This year, our kitchen table has been a symbol of hope and community. It is where we laid out the Easter spread we so joyously prepared, where we have diligently labored for several months, where we gather for Sunday brunch each week after Mass, where we sit now to write this reflection. As we’ve waited – first through Lent, then through the pandemic, and now with Advent hope in our hears – we have come together at this table, to pray and to grow in community, in communion, with each other.
Here at this table, we share our lives—fears, hopes, disappointments, happiness—with each other. At the end of telling a story about something we’re hoping for but not feeling too hopeful about, a common refrain for us this year has been, “But God is in control and I’m not, so I want to trust in His timing… but I want this to happen soon.” Jesus’s words in this Sunday’s Gospel – “You do not know when the time will come” – are a much-needed reminder that God’s mysterious timing should be cause not for despair, but for expectant action.
We do not know when the time will come—when we’ll be able to embrace our loved ones again or travel to the corners of the earth or when God Himself will return to welcome us all home. The arrival of Advent is a reminder that we are in a time of preparation for a greater reality than the earthly one we currently find ourselves in. Now is the time to pray, to be vigilant in our duties, and to turn to God’s words as a source of hope:
“Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”