Waiting in the Hardest Part

by Rev. Chris Jorgensen

May 24, 2020   

Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/245905966669765/

Scripture: Acts 1:6-14 

In the liturgical calendar, the church calendar, the Feast of the Ascension is 40 days after Easter. That actually was this past Thursday. Today is traditionally celebrated as Ascension Sunday. Now, we don’t always celebrate Ascension Sunday because we tend to be sort of quasi-liturgical in our practice here at Hanscom Park. f

We like to celebrate the high holy days and have our decorations reflect the liturgical season (like purple for Lent and red for Pentecost), but we don’t have any liturgical calendar police around here calling me up irate because we left the red up for more than one week (I prefer a whole season of Pentecost red). And for that I say “Thank You!” Our liturgical rituals are best, I think, when there is flexibility – and we try to make them meaningful. Which is good since we have no choice but to be flexible in these coronatimes.

But today, we are being liturgically correct and hearing the story of the Ascension. You heard the reading. The disciples (the friends and followers of Jesus) have this experience of the risen Jesus not dying but instead being lifted up into heaven. It is difficult to imagine something like this happening. It leaves us with lots of questions: like by what force was Jesus propelled into heaven? Did his actual body go into heaven or did it transform into some other spiritual substance before he took flight? And since we moderns know that the physical universe goes on for almost unimaginable distances beyond this earth, we wonder, “So where, exactly, did Jesus go?” These are all fine questions, but I’m afraid they might miss the point.

The point, for us and the disciples is this: Jesus is no longer present in body and yet he still lives – somehow – perhaps in a kind of timeless and placeless eternity. In any case, he has no body on earth now. As St. Teresa of Avila said it, “Christ has no body on earth but yours.”

So the disciples are left behind. We hear their names: Peter and John and James, etc. etc. Of course, all the guys get ink. But the women get a nod as well, specifically Mary the mother of Jesus and others. This makes sense given the many women who are lifted up as supporters of Jesus’ mission in both the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel of Luke, and Paul’s letters.

But at this moment, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. Jesus has left all of them. He’s left them in an upstairs room in Jerusalem, and they are waiting. They are waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive so that they can get on with pretty important mission. As Jesus told them, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This sounds like a big job. I imagine, for the disciples, it’s pretty overwhelming to think that now that Jesus is gone, they are in charge. They are in charge of sharing the good news of God’s transforming love with not one town or region or country – but the whole world. All of sudden, the whole mission: it’s on them.

I mean, when Jesus was with them, he must have been the ultimate spiritual crutch, right? Not sure about the extent of God’s power? Oh look! There’s Jesus transforming someone’s life! Not sure what again the kingdom of God is supposed to be like? Oh, just listen to what Jesus is saying! Doubting the resurrection? I can just poke my hand in his side. Not sure what to do next to share the good news with the world? No problem! Just go ask Jesus! In fact, let him talk. Piece of cake. 

But now Jesus is gone. Now the disciples have a problem.

We’ve also got a problem. I mean, we’ve always managed without seeing Jesus in the flesh, but we are missing our favorite spiritual crutch these days as well. We have lost corporate worship as we knew it. We can’t get together and see God in each other’s faces and fellowship and hugs. We can’t be moved toward God as we lift our voices together in song. We can’t celebrate communion – the singing of the liturgy, the sharing of the same one loaf of bread broken for all – in the same way. We are not going to be able to do those things for quite some time. 

We’ve lost perhaps our biggest spiritual crutch, just like the disciples lost their enormous spiritual crutch.

photo of man praying

So what do the disciples do? Well, they wait…like Jesus told them to do. They wait together, and they pray. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,” the text says. They didn’t know when the Holy Spirit was going to get there, but they knew they had to be ready. So they prayed.

Friends, the scripture says “It is not for you to know the times of the periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” As my friend Helen Stanton Chapple used to say: “We are not given to know.” We are not given to know what the whole timeline of this coronavirus situation is going to look like. We are not given to know when we will be back to church or what church services will look like. We are not given to know when we will be able to start working again on the big dreams we had for a building renovation and for expanded engagement with our neighbors. We are simply not given to know. We are in a frustrating and perhaps even scary period of waiting. 

So what should we do? Well, I think we should take a page out of the disciples’ playbook. I think we should pray. Now is the time to engage in your spiritual disciplines and growth without the crutch of “normal” church services. Yes, you are here in streaming worship. Excellent! Great start!

But did you hear the scripture? “All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” Constantly devoting themselves. Anybody reach that level yet? Yeah, me either. I think we need to start.

There are things we aren’t going to get spoon fed to us right now. One of those is music and singing. Because of the biology of the virus spreading through singing, we are not going to sing together as a congregation probably until there is a vaccine. 

If music is a major way you connect with God, that is a kick in the gut. It is for me. But you know what, I don’t have to just sit around fretting about that. I can figure out a way to get my hands on some music that will help me grow spiritually and deeper in God’s presence. I have, in fact, just recently begun using an app called Spotify. I made a playlist of many of the worship songs that help me direct my mind and heart to God. I have been listening to music as a way to be in constant prayer and devotion. In fact, I posted my Spotify list on the Hanscom Park Facebook Page this weekend. 

I did that because prayer has been hard for me lately, but I know that these songs encourage me and draw me into God’s presence. They are my most effective way of praying right now. Maybe that’s something you want to do. If you don’t want to use Spotify, use YouTube, use something!

Maybe you could do something else if music isn’t your jam: 

  • get a book of prayers – You can call the Urban Abbey (www.urbanabbeyomaha.com) and tell them what you are looking for, and they will ship one to you.
  • pray the Merton prayer every day that I sent out in this week’s email newsletter
  • got Catholic roots? Pray the rosary. Or Google “Protestant rosary” online and find something that speaks
  • sign up for a daily devotional email – I recommend Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations: https://cac.org/about-cac/contemplation/

I will tell all of you: you can totally call me up and talk with me about what kind of prayer practice might be best for you. I would be delighted to hear from you and chat about that. But after that, the thing I’ve been saying all along is 100 times more true in these coronatimes – whether you stay connected to God and grounded in your faith is up to you. 

Friends, when the day of Pentecost hits, we are going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and we will have work to do. Amazing work! Wonderful work! The work of sharing God’s love in word and deed with each other, our neighbors, our community, and HECK now that we are streaming, the whole freaking world! And we are going to do it during a global pandemic. It’s gonna be awesome, and it’s gonna be hard.

I can tell you… this week, I’m gonna be praying my heart out, and I can’t do this alone. I’m gonna need you to pray with me because the transformation of this world needs all of us.

Next week is Pentecost. That means we wear red. That means we blow bubbles. And that means the Holy Spirit will SHOW UP. 

We better be ready. 

May it be so. 

Amen. 

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