I sat looking out the window of the train traveling from Wittenberg to Naumburg last week. I knew I had only 5 minutes to make a connection to a second train to Frankfurt once we arrived in Naumburg and we were already late. Just as I began to feel anxious, the comforting voice of the omniscient female announcer came on and said, first in German, then in English: “Our train will be 10 minutes late coming into Naumburg. But rest assured, all connections will be made right.” I felt a wave of relief wash over me. She was assuming responsibility for making sure passengers got where they needed to go, by either holding a train until they got on it, or making sure another train would arrive within a reasonable amount of time. She was assuring all of us on the train that, whatever time we arrive, it will never be too late.
In real life there is no assurance that connections will be “made right” just because we have paid for a ticket. There is no assurance that things will be made to happen at the right time to get me where I want to go on time. In real life sometimes I have terrible timing. In real life, sometimes I arrive too late.
The man in the seat next to me on the plane home from Frankfurt to Dallas shared his newly found passion for researching his family’s history. He said, “I waited to get interested in genealogy until all the relatives who knew our family history were dead.”
On a recent trip to the eye doctor I told the doctor I wanted to think about Lasik surgery, only to have him tell me “You are no longer a good candidate because your retina is too fragile. You should have done it 10-15 years ago.”
A woman waits until her spouse, stricken by Alzheimer’s, no longer recognizes her to tell him how much she has always admired and respected him.
A dad waits until his children are grown before he realizes that parenthood is a sacred privilege and vocation and decides to spend more time with them.
A man waits until he has arthritic hands to decide to learn to play the guitar.
Sometimes it is too late. Sometimes by the time your train arrives at the platform, there are no connections to be made. And you stand there with your suitcase and your backpack and your passport with nowhere to go.
The Bible doesn’t come over the intercom and assure us that if we just stay on the train and do nothing, we’ll never be too late. It rubs our nose in the fact that there will come a time when it is too late. Time and space don’t allow me to do more than offer a couple examples of people in the Bible who reached the station too late for the next train. “You screwed up, Moses, and it’s too late to get an “admit one” ticket to the Promised Land. You can stand on the mountain and look over at it, but you’re not going in.” “Nicodemus, you never confessed your faith in Jesus while he was alive. How satisfying is it to pack his body with spices now that he’s dead?”
The prophets repeatedly warned the people that, though repentance and forgiveness were God’s hope for them, if they didn’t change their ways, there would come a time of reckoning.
The prophet Isaiah warns “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them” (Isaiah 55:6-9)…. Woman Wisdom presents her limited time offer in these harsh words in Proverbs 1:24-28: “Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded, I will mock when panic strikes you… Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer.”
Jesus’ teachings depict prodigals forgiven and barren trees given another year of fertilizer, but Jesus also presents scenes of the separation of the sheep and the goats and bridesmaids locked out of the feast for neglecting to keep their light shining.
While the Bible assures us that God is with us on the journey and awaits us at the end, it reminds us that, in between, we have lots of choices. And postponing positive actions is never a good one.
So if I want to learn to play the guitar, the time is now while I have limber, pain free hands.
And if I want to tell my husband how much I admire and respect him, the time is now, while we both have our wits about us.
And if I want to learn about my family history, the time to listen to loved ones’ stories is now.
But there is good news, even if you are no longer a candidate for for Lasik surgery, have to cough up $120 for an annual subscription to Genealogy.com and will probably never play the guitar well. Despite all those limitations that result from your lateness, there is something you are not too late for.
That is turning to God and asking God to forgive you for missed opportunities in the past, to bring good things to others through your presence in the world, and to bring you a measure of joy and peace in the process. However late it is when your train pulls into the station, that one will be waiting for you.