Sunday, October 30, 2016
All Saint’s Day
“I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will answer…” (Hab. 2:1)
A few months ago, our family took a road trip to Washington D.C. to celebrate with a friend who was retiring after thirty-four years serving in the U.S. Navy. The Navy loves its rituals; its ceremonies are practically liturgical, and events that take place on dry land retain the shipboard vocabulary of the Navy. (Even our local Navy hospital has “decks,” not floors!) When a Sailor retires, whether from a ship or from a shore command, he or she is officially relieved–for the final time–from the duty of standing watch.
Watchstanding keeps the ship, and by extension, the Navy itself, secure. Watchstanders are ready to troubleshoot, to respond to emergencies, to receive messages, and to keep everything literally shipshape, day or night. On ship or shore, there must always be someone standing watch; watchstanders must never leave the post until they are relieved at the end of the shift, and then a shipmate is already standing by, ready to assume the duty.
When a Sailor retires, relieved for the last time from standing the watch, the question arises: Who will stand the watch?
The prophet Habakkuk stood the watch; not on a metaphorical ship, but on a metaphorical rampart. Patiently, day and night, the prophet awaited a word from God, a response to the prophet’s cry for help. When the Lord’s answer was slow to come, the prophet knew he could not leave his post, for how can vision come to one who abandons the watch? The prophet Habbakuk is gone now, long since retired from the duty of watchstanding, yet we still cry out to God for help. We still suffer, ourselves, and we still experience heartbreak on behalf of the suffering of others. We still await the fulfillment of the Kingdom vision, a world put to rights.
At our friend’s retirement ceremony, the master of ceremonies asked the traditional question: Who will stand the watch?
And throughout the auditorium, one at a time, young Sailors–who had been supervised, mentored, taught, maybe sometimes yelled at, and most certainly cared for by our good friend–stood and responded, simply, “I will stand the watch.” The ship is in trustworthy hands, thanks to the Master Chief’s careful training.
The prophet’s duty of watchstanding has been handed over to us. Who will patiently await the word of God on the decks of our ships, on the ramparts of our city walls? Who will keep awake in the darkest nights? Who will stay alert in the deepest silences? Who will guard over us, never abandoning the post? Who will accept the great responsibilities that those who came before us carried so bravely for so long? Who will call out to God on our behalf, and who will listen–as long as it takes–for the Lord’s reply?
We have heard the traditional question, the liturgical question: Who will stand the watch? Thanks to the careful training of prophets, of disciples, of ancestors, of teachers and preachers and beloved friends and all the saints who surround us, this ship is in trustworthy hands: ours. And we will stand the watch.