Waiting in Hope, May 24 2020
Waiting in Hope
Today is Ascension Sunday. Yayyyyy! I can hear you all cheering at that announcement.
It’s what? What’s Ascension Sunday?
The joke on facebook this week is that the Ascension is the day when Jesus started to work from home. I like to think of it sometimes as part of the Star Trek series—when Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the away team have finished their work on a planet, they would be teleported back to the Enterprise: “Beam me up, Scotty”.
The Ascension of our Lord is one of the principal feasts of the church. It comes 40 days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. For that reason, the feast is often transferred to the following Sunday.
On this day, we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The risen Jesus returns to the heart of God.
20th century theologian Karl Barth called this time of Ascension a “significant pause” in the life of the church. With the Ascension, we mark a time of waiting. The community of the faithful—aka the church—“lives in this time between” … between the time when Jesus was present on earth, and the time when God’s holy Spirit flows over and into and through the people of God (which we celebrate next week at Pentecost).
It’s a time of waiting.
This year, more than any other, I’ve realized again how difficult that first Easter was for the early followers of Jesus. Resurrection was a time of confusion and fear and doubt. Jesus had been arrested and executed, and in a moment, their world was irrevocably changed
As we live through this pandemic, we share in that confusion and fear. We wonder when, or if, this will end. We’ve learned something about what it means to wait without any certainty. During this time, what does the word of life really mean?
It takes the disciples some time to figure out what’s going on. The church traditionally celebrates the Ascension 40 days after Easter. That kind of timeline makes good psychological sense to me. We need a whole season to be able to understand the good news that death doesn’t have the last word. Indeed, we need a lifetime to grasp this good news.
And what we do in this in–between time, this time between resurrection and the gift of God’s holy Spirit … what we do is wait and pray and reflect. Our waiting time is not and idle or pointless waiting. In this time of waiting, we seek to listen for what God is trying to say. We seek to hear the word of life, and we reflect on how God’s life permeates our lives.
We listen to the Scriptures. We listen for the promise of God that God will be with us even in the darkest times. We listen for the promise that God’s empowering love will flow into our lives. We listen for the good news of life and mission and hope.
Waiting is always a difficult thing to do. We are discovering that during this pandemic. At first, we hoped it would last a few weeks. Then it became months. And now … well, who knows?
This has become a long time of waiting, a long time of staying away, a long time of holding off, a long time of isolating and caring for each other. It’s hard for many of us. It’s frustrating. It’s painful. We feel the loss keenly. I know I do.
So I can resonate with the disciples when they ask Jesus in Acts 1, “Is this the time? Will everything we had hoped for come to pass now?” Wouldn’t you just love it if we could have a
clear answer to that question? Is this the time when we can come out of our homes and into our churches and shopping malls and parks? Now? Please?
Patiently and compassionately, Jesus responds that we can’t know the time. The times are always held in God’s hand.
But here’s the thing, says Jesus. We will not be left alone. That’s the promise of God. Holy Spirit will come over you. “You will be empowered …” says Jesus, and then he is lifted from their sight. As the disciples stand there watching, two men in white appear and ask, “What are you doing here, looking into the sky?” It’s as if they’re telling us, “Don’t stand around guessing or speculating. Get out there and show God’s love in your lives.”
As we hear the promise of Jesus, we glimpse a way forward. It is not a way out of how we have to live during this time. God doesn’t magically erase the pandemic. Rather, during this time, during every time, God promises to be with us, and entrusts us with the work of living out the good news of God’s love.
We tell the story of God’s dream. We participate in God’s dream of a world which embodies justice and peace and wholeness for all people. God entrusts us with the work of mission and ministry.
We may not be able to come together as the church for worship and praise these days, but we can live in the world as the church. I listened to a recent online mini–sermon, in which the preacher said that “we have been learning about the difference between ‘going to church’ and ‘being the church’”. We can’t go to church. But we are still being called and invited and charged to be the church in the world.
A few days ago, Dr. Bonnie Henry (St. Bonnie), British Columbia’s Chief Medical Officer, said, “Let’s make this our summer of care and consideration for our families, our communities and our province.” It touches my soul to hear those words. I would dearly love nothing more than to gather together for worship, for singing and prayer, for eating and drinking. But St. Bonnie points to a way in which we can actually be the church in this time of waiting.
And as we wait, as we live as the church, we learn to trust Jesus’ promise more deeply. As he ascends into the heart of God, he promises that we are not being abandoned. Rather, God’s holy Spirit empowers us. God comes into our midst to strengthen, encourage, and motivate us to reach out in love, to live in love, to act in love, to speak in love. God’s holy Spirit infuses us with life. God revives our lives and making us more than we could ever be on our own. God’s life courses through our veins so that we can share the good news of God’s powerful love and loving power with the world.
We can live the dream of God, even in this time, because we trust that God is up to something good and life–giving in us and in our world.
As Jesus ascends, we wait. This story of the Ascension of our Lord is a transition story, an interlude. The church is waiting. The early disciples don’t know how long they will have to wait. Neither do we know how long we will have to wait. A time of waiting is a time of uncertainty, and it requires trust and hope as we live through it.
We wait in hope, trusting deeply that God is preparing something new. God’s dream is being born.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 28, 2017 (7th Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday)
Acts 1: 6–14
Luke 24: 44–53