For my last exegesis paper as an undergraduate student, I researched the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac found in Genesis 22. The professor of the course had encouraged us to focus on ways in which our texts showed humans wrestling with God, which had been the theme for our course. Whereas Abraham seems to not contend with God and instead comply with God’s odd command, I argued that Abraham was arguing with God through his obedience. Abraham’s ready obedience was a display of his active anticipation and hope that God would follow through on His promises (Hebrews 11:17-19).
As Abraham prepares the altar on which he would nearly sacrifice Isaac, the narrator slows down the narrative and focuses on the details of what is going on. The detail-oriented phrase ‘and he arranged the wood’ also appears in 1 Kings 18 where Elijah is in the midst of preparing an altar onto which he will soon pray for God to send fire. In both circumstances, the people are expecting God to act according to His previously revealed character (Abraham: God will keep His promises, Elijah: God hears and responds to prayer). These are not instances of idle expectation, but rather are acts of active anticipation.
I was reminded of the stories of Abraham and Elijah arranging the wood as they anticipated God to act on my walk to church last Sunday. Like several cities in Estonia, Rapla is preparing for St. John’s Day, the longest day of the year, by building a giant bonfire to be lit that night. I had observed locals coming to the pile and adding their sticks, logs, ladders, fences, and other yard trimmings to the growing pile. They are expecting the fire to be lit based on what they have witnessed in previous years and responding to that expectation by their actions.
What does such active anticipation look like in ministry? In his book Homiletics, Karl Barth describes preaching as being in a chronological place between two poles. The first pole is the revelation of Jesus Christ, which he calls the “unconditional whence.” The “unconditional whither”, the second pole, is the second coming of Christ. This same spot is occupied by ministry in general. We point to Jesus Christ in both directions and expect God to continue to make Himself known to people during the space between the poles.
As I participate in ministry in Estonia, I am arranging my metaphorical sticks and adding them to the pile that is growing here. These sticks include building relationships with people inside and outside the church, learning the language, and finding ways to serve. Like the physical bonfire that is growing in the public park, my sticks are contributions to a larger pile of sticks laid down by people, both past and present, who have this active anticipation and hope, based on the unconditional whence and whither, that God will show Himself to the people here.