Easter 7, Year A, 2014
All Saints’ Church
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.
The disciples have had quite a wild ride the past few weeks. First, the triumphal march into Jerusalem, followed by Jesus’ arrest and execution. Then, Jesus is raised and reappears, much to the disciples’ joy and confusion. Jesus has been among them for forty days. Ring any bells? Forty days in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, and then forty days among the disciples at the end of his ministry. Jesus has taught his closest followers as much as he can, and it is time for him to leave.
"When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, 'Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?' "(Acts 1:1). It cracks me up that even at the end, their last question to Jesus shows that the disciples still don’t get it!! “Guys, don’t worry about the future or when things are gonna happen. I’m leaving, but not for good. I’ll be back, but in the meantime, the Holy Spirit is gonna come down and give you the strength you need to continue where I left off. It’s up to you to tell my story to everyone.”
Then, in one of the most epic leave-takings in all of history, Jesus is lifted up and whisked away on a cloud. Remember the pillar of cloud protecting the Israelites in the wilderness, or the cloud that came and covered Jesus’ face on the mountain top, making his face glow? I imagine this is event is somewhat similar.
The disciples stare up at the sky until they can’t see Jesus anymore. And then they keep on staring, long after he’s gone. At this point, two “men in white robes” (a.k.a. angels) tell the disciples to snap out of it and get to work (v. 10): “Don’t just stand there all slack-jawed and wide-eyed! Relax; Jesus is gonna come back. Now get to it!”
The disciples have found themselves in in-between times, or as some people like to call it, the liminal space. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s power is in their future, but it has not yet arrived. What do the disciples do in the meantime? First they go back to the upper room, their home base. Then, joined by women and Jesus’ mother and brothers, they pray “constantly” (v. 14).
We face these liminal spaces in our own lives. How many of us have felt lost or confused during in-between times? In the process of transition, it can be disorienting; we are no longer fully in our current place but haven’t quite reached the new place either. It’s the same already/not yet that is repeated throughout history. God has defeated the forces of evil for good, but we are still feeling the effects of evil now. Jesus came to earth already, but he has not yet returned. The kingdom of God has already come, but it has not yet been fully realized.
In the face of these contradictory realities, we are given a choice: we can gaze longingly at the sky like the disciples, clinging desperately to the past and the way things have been, or we can turn our faces toward Jerusalem, bravely taking the first tentative steps of the journey ahead.
The disciples show us that prayer is an entry point for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, the one who provides the prophets with their compelling words. Next week we’ll hear how the Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (v. 8).
The disciples may have to wait, but the Holy Spirit is already among us. At our baptism, we are baptized into “new life in the Holy Spirit” (BCP 858). We invoke the Holy Spirit during confirmations and ordinations. And it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to discern where God is calling us.
What the disciples are teaching us in Acts is how to make the most of the time that we’re given. If you think about it, our whole lives are one big liminal space. One author puts it best with this subtitle: “I live in that awkward stage between Birth and Death” (Full Bloom by Mark T. Green). We are given a finite amount of time on this earth, and it’s up to us to make the most of the time we have. It may sound daunting, but remember that we are not alone. Besides each other, we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now that doesn’t mean that we will all of a sudden become clairvoyant, knowing all the right answers and predicting the world’s end—we, like Harold Camping (see song about him below), are not privy to that knowledge. But it does mean that God will be with us as we make our way through life. When we are reunited with estranged loved ones, God celebrates with us. When we say our final goodbyes to a dear friend, God mourns with us. The God who loved us so completely that he took on our sin and died for us, conquering death once and for all, did not abandon his disciples. God will not abandon us now.
image found here
Audio of Nickel Creek's song "21st of May" (about Harold Camping) found here