May 21st, 2023 “The in between days"
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
On Thursday the Church marked the Feast of the Ascension. Today our reading includes Jesus’ ascension in front of his apostles and the in between days before our next festival - Pentecost.
This was a time of waiting - almost like when we wait during Advent.
Let’s go back a few moments and review what happened to this first congregation.
The risen Christ had been with them. They were getting used to him being there in some way or form but they were also getting a little anxious about what was to come. They were in a period of waiting. A period of not much happening. Were they restless? Were there some among them who longed to get going - TO DO something - to be people of action?
And then they ask the question - so Jesus - is this the time that you are bringing back the Kingdom of Israel? And we want to ask them - how can you ask that? You who have sat at the feet of the teacher - who have called this man Messiah, Lord - Rabbi. Have you learned nothing from what he taught you?
And Jesus comes close to a rebuke - there are just some things that you are not going to know. There are just some things that you have to leave up to God.
But I will tell you this. I will not leave you alone - there will be another coming - an Advocate. You will have work to do. It will be up to you to take this message of what you have seen and heard and learned and experienced and take it to the ends of the earth. And you will need to tell people the stories.
And then as they watched Jesus is lifted up into the clouds and is gone. And then the young men in white ask what they are looking at and say there is nothing to see here - move along - go back.
And they do. The Apostles - who are named - and Mary - the mother of Jesus and the women go back to an upper room - was it THE upper room of the last supper and the hide out after Jesus’ death? Maybe - the text does not tell us. But it was a place that they could gather - they could be together.
They have become the first congregation. The model for the new Church. One that would begin by meeting in people’s homes. And what did they do there? They spent time in prayer. They waited. Jesus said he would send another. And so they waited. Do you wonder if they hoped Jesus would return? What were they waiting for? What could they expect? Were they being faithful or undecided or fearful?
It was the days and nights in between. A time of suspense and suspension.
They devoted themselves to prayer. This is what people do in uncertain times. This is what people do when they are not sure what to do next. This is what people do when they are not sure if they should be waiting in hope and anticipation or fear.
People turn to prayer. The apostles - the women - Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus’ brothers stayed together and prayed.
People turn to prayer in uncertain times but also in times of discernment. We pray for God’s guidance. We pray for understanding and a glimpse of what God is calling us to do. We pray together and we pray alone.
This text is a wonderful example of the importance of a community praying together. The apostles, the women - Mary - no one knew what was to come. They only knew what Jesus had said, that they would not be alone and that it was going to be up to them to take the stories about him - the teachings about God to the ends of the earth.
It was a hurry up and wait time.
And they were faithful to that. The Book of Acts tells us that they waited in the upper room for what would come next - that they devoted themselves to prayer. They appear to have had patience - something that perhaps we lack when we just want to get on with things!
Jesus said - you will have power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Are we waiting for the Holy Spirit to empower us? Are we devoting ourselves to prayer as we ask what comes next? Are we honestly looking for guidance for ourselves and for our congregation?
The apostles struggled to understand the transition from Jesus’ earthly ministry to what will follow - and we have the same struggles. But the apostles and the women and Mary also had unity. They were united as they devoted themselves to prayer and as they waited for the Holy Spirit. They stayed together. Can we say that we have the same unity as we wait for the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
The story we heard this morning from the Book of Acts is a story of the in between days. The days from when the risen Christ was with this first congregation - to the ascension and then the days of waiting for the Holy Spirit. This passage recognized the central place of community in the life of the Church. They could not do it alone and neither can we. They had to do it together and so must we.
Today we are reminded that Christians are called to be Great Commandment people - loving God with our whole being and our neighbours as ourselves and Great Commission people carrying the Good News of God’s love in Christ to the ends of the earth.