What If Gandalf Doesn’t Show?

(a Lection Reflection on Psalm 130 and Mark 5:21-43)

There is a scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Gandalf is leaving Aragorn to go get help. As he mounts up and prepares to leave, he says

“Look to my coming, at first light, on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East.”

And with that bit of foreshadowing, Gandalf gallops away.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the rest. The orc army attacks Helm’s Deep, breaks through the defenses, and is poised to massacre all the forces of good — when, at the darkest moment, the sun rises on the fifth day, Gandalf appears in shining white, and with him is an entire army on horseback, ready to turn the tide and win the battle for the good guys.

What brought this sequence to mind is a verse in this week’s Psalm (Psalm 130):

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.

Many of us have watched for the morning, both literally and figuratively. I once worked as a security guard at a mothballed chemical plant. When you are all alone in an abandoned plant in the middle of nowhere from midnight to 8, you definitely watch for the morning.

Of course, the “dark night of the plant” is nothing compared to the dark night of the soul. When your world is in turmoil, when all hope is lost, when there seems to be no way out — THEN what? What do you do then?

The cheesy easy answer is “then God shows up!” It’s the fifth day, Gandalf arrives with reinforcements, your hemorrhages stop, your daughter comes back from the dead, and all is well.

For some people, some times, this is the right answer.

Here’s my question, though — what if it’s the FOURTH day? What if Gandalf doesn’t show? Jairus’s daughter was raised from the dead … but not Saul and Jonathan. The one woman who touched Jesus’s robe was healed; what about all the other people in the crowd?

It seems to me that there are four possible points to make here:

1. Gandalf doesn’t always show up. At least, not in the way we would expect. Bad things happen; people die; the forces of evil and death sometimes win. This isn’t a movie — it’s life, and life isn’t always to our liking.

2. And yet, other times, Gandalf does appear. Jesus comes to your village and heals you. The morning comes, and what you’ve been waiting for actually appears, perhaps in a form you never expected. God acts, and suddenly the path forward is clear, and cleared. This, too, is part of life, and to deny that it can happen is to deny that Jesus can come to your village.

I do not have a good answer as to why either of these things happen. The problem of theodicy is as old as Job, and a Lection Reflection is the wrong vehicle within which to try to unpack it.

However, my original intent was not to ask and answer “why?” It was to address “what do you do?” And for that, we go back to our verse in the Psalm:

3. When you are in that dark night, and not sure what’s next, you follow the Psalmist: “I wait for the Lord, and in his word I place my hope.”

When we are in that dark night, we wait for the morning. When we are in that dark place, we wait for the Lord. Sometimes the miracle of healing and light and life happens, and we rejoice. Sometimes the darkness continues, or even seems to win … and still we wait, and hope.

4. And, you act. Even in the darkness, even when all looks hopeless, we act. The soldiers in the movie didn’t sit down and wait for Gandalf to appear. They took up the battle and fought the forces of evil. Is Gandalf coming? Will he actually show up? We trust so, we hope so, but we don’t give up while we are waiting. We do what is in front of us to do, and we keep confidence in the promise.

Why? Because we know, in our deepest self, that in the end, life IS like the movie. In the end, Good wins. And the God of the Good is trustworthy and knows what God is doing. God is the god of the morning, and the god of the darkness; the god of the healing, and the god of the waiting.

Wait…act…hope…act…wait. The cycle of faith. Let’s be honest about the waiting, and the darkness, and life. But let’s also call each other to act, and to hope.

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