The Semana Santa, or Holy Week in Spain, is a week-long series of parades and festivities that culminate on Easter Sunday. Particularly notable in Sevilla, Spain (though held throughout the country and in many other parts of the world) the entire city converges. In fact, Semana Santa week is so vibrant and extraordinary in Sevilla that tourists from around the world often come to partake in these festival days.
One of the notable aspects of these celebrations is the parade floats of Jesus and his mother, Mary. Depicting the events of the last days of Jesus’s life, the statues are the main display of every float that traverses the parade route through the city. The statues themselves are from the seventeenth century and are housed in area churches. I was able to see two of these statues in the historic Church of the Savior on a recent visit to Spain.
Perhaps more notable than the floats themselves is the way in which they are carried through the city streets. Every afternoon during the week, these floats are paraded through the streets for hours and hours. The pace is slow and deliberate, sometimes barely moving inches at a time, even as they are gently moving to the sonorous and doleful tones of the accompanying music. The point of the slow pace, which for the uninitiated seems almost ridiculous, is out of reverence for this historic tradition and the events represented in the life of Jesus.
I couldn’t help but parallel the slowness of these parade marches to the hurried pace of my own life. Always in a hurry to get to the “next event,” I am almost uncomfortable with any form of staying still. I remember when I was a child, I couldn’t wait to be a teenager. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be in college. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to be a graduate student. When I was a graduate student, I couldn’t wait to be a professional. I look back on those hurried days now and lament that I rushed through them so quickly.
Of course, a society that values efficiency above everything doesn’t help to slow us down. Ours is a world in which “instant” becomes more and more important. The increasing speed of technology only adds to our impatience when things are not achieved instantaneously. I recognize that my own propensity to hurry, coupled with a society that moves at ever-quickening speeds, can be very detrimental for any kind of intentional slowing or cultivation of a reflective life.
The lives depicted in the Bible couldn’t be more different from our hurried lives. More importantly, and perhaps to our great frustration, the God revealed in the biblical stories is rarely in a hurry. Abraham and Sarah, for example, received the promise of an heir twenty-five years before they actually laid eyes on Isaac. Joseph had a dream as a teenager that his brothers would one day bow down to him. Yet it was countless years and many difficulties later that bring his brothers to kneel before him, asking for food. Moses was approximately eighty years old—long past his prime of life—when God appeared to him in the burning bush and called him to deliver the children of Israel. David was anointed king by Samuel as a young boy tending his father’s flocks, long before he finally ascended to the throne. And Jesus spent thirty years in relative obscurity, and only three years publicly announcing the kingdom and God’s rule that had come in his life and ministry.
From a human perspective, it is difficult to understand why God wasn’t more in a hurry to accomplish the plans for these individual lives as a part of the larger narrative of redemption. The Messiah was prophesied hundreds of years before he actually arrived on the scene. We cannot help but ask why God seems to move so slowly?
In Peter’s second letter, what is considered his last will and testament, he discusses the slowness of God in relation to the second coming of Christ. Many arose even in Peter’s time asking why God was so slow when it came to delivering on his promise of an eternal kingdom. They began to mock God assuming that “as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.” Not so, Peter argues, for the slowness of God is in fact our salvation. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance… Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation.”(1)
The long, slow, journey marked by many Christians in the season of Lent towards Easter morning, can be arduous for those of us who find ourselves constantly racing towards what’s next—even rushing to get to the resurrection without stopping to ponder at Good Friday. These forty days can serve to remind all who hurry of God’s great forbearance and patience with us, even as they issue a call to slow-down and wait with Jesus. These days intentionally slow us and create space—what theologians call liminal space—making room for those of us with a tendency to rush—to wait and rest in the “in-between” and the “not yet.” Waiting for God in this liminal space gives more opportunity to be patient, looking, as Peter says, at the patience of our Lord to be salvation.
Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.
(1) 2 Peter 3:9, 14-15.