Keeping Watch

Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority

It’s Maundy Thursday of Passion Week as I write this, the day we remember that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with the small group of men who followed him for his three years of ministry.  To teach them that they will need  humility to serve others, Jesus himself washes their feet.

Just previous to this, Jesus told his disciples a number of parables that warn them that they must be watchful, must use the time they will now spend apart from him wisely, that they will be responsible to develop the gifts he has given them,  to take responsibility for the welfare of the new community that will spring up after His resurrection.

All those who lead in the church know the weight of this charge.  We are to be like watchmen over God’s vineyard, or like shepherds who watch over the sheep.   In Ezekiel 33, God clearly spells out the necessity for a watchman not only to be alert, but also to communicate danger.  If he fails to do this, the blood of his people will be on his head.  If they fail to heed his warnings, they themselves will be held liable.

In June 2019, as I accepted a new church leadership responsibility, I began to experience frightening dreams.  In one dream, I am driving to visit my mother in a nursing home.  As my friend and I navigate the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Niagara, buildings alongside the road were collapsing because of an earthquake.  In the dream I saw the outside elevator cars on the Skylon Tower flung out on their cables.

As you cross a threshold, fear needs to be dealt with.  In a liminal time, people tend to experience more dreams. Their symbols are like those in classical literature.  Only God can interpret dreams, and so we need Divine help.  Why would the Skylon be chosen as the dream metaphor?  It’s a watchtower over a powerful Falls, but it’s also in Niagara which is a place of orchards and vineyards.  It’s a place that receives visitors from all over the world.

In June 2019, Israeli archeologists and assisting soldiers reported the unearthing of a 2700 year old watchtower, believed to be from the time of Hezekiah.  It was a reminder that now, as it was then, God’s people always needed to be alert, to watch and wait.

Late in 2019 the pandemic began, its successive waves like the aftershocks of an earthquake.  Our seniors in nursing homes were at great risk, our health care systems, economies and political systems shaken.  We have had our eyes opened to the dangers of continuing in this path of greed that is destroying the earth itself.  Travel and tourism has been greatly curtailed.

The Old Testament king of Judah,  Hezekiah, called people back from their idolatrous worship of stone idols to once again serve the living God, restoring the temple to its vital function. He had men collect wisdom literature, the proverbs of Solomon.  He interceded for his nation in prayer when threatened by foreign invaders.  But he also took action to prepare for times of danger by blocking the Gihon spring, channeling the stream down to the west side of Jerusalem.  And he built watchtowers on the country’s border.

In this time, too, the church must live out this watchfulness, ensure that it is prepared so that we can properly care for the welfare of each member and the communities in which we are placed.  It’s not easy to do, as we are isolated physically.   Like the Skylon Tower in my dream, right now we often feel our only connection is far-flung cable.

Still, the body of Christ can be unified in a vibrant way through prayer.  Like Hezekiah, living in dangerous times, we are called to intercessory prayer, to watch, and to take action in whatever way we can.