If we have the ears to hear all the readings this week we might be equally excited and disturbed, enthused and exhausted, hopeful and disappointed! (Easter Seven. Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 5; and John 17:1-11. )
You may like to read what I wrote for Ascension three years ago.
The time between Ascension and Pentecost is a liminal time of emptiness and readiness to be filled with the Spirit, it is a time of letting go and being available to what might be, and it is time to see clearly how things are in our world and to be open to how the kingdom might come. But because Ascension is on a Thursday and many faith communities skip it or celebrate it instead of the Seventh Sunday, it is a time that we are tempted to skip over and avoid. But like Holy Saturday it is an important part of the process of Easter and prepares us for Pentecost.
Like the disciples in Acts we want to know when Jesus is going to make things right here on earth – when God plans to make the world be the place it is meant to be. For the first century disciples that was “When is God going to rescue and restore Israel? Jesus you cannot leave us until we know when this is going to happen!” For us it is more generally when are you God going to do something about the state of our world? And yet the response is – not only do we not get to know the time but that we are going to be empowered and therefore we need to get on with our part of it! And worse still, the letter of Peter warns that the emergence of the kingdom will not be met with gladness and acceptance but with resistance and even violence! But thank God – praise God! – the gospel of John reminds us our calling is not to strive on our own but to join in the loving flowing life-energy of God. The same love that infused the life of Jesus is now being given to us so that we too can breathe, live and move in the presence, or glory, of God.
At this point in the Easter journey we “lose” Jesus again, as it were. For the first disciples they had lost their teacher, friend, leader in the terrible events of his arrest, trial, death and burial. Then he returned to them and they experienced an amazing forty days of time spent with the risen one. Only to lose him again in what we call the Ascension. The response of the disciples is to spend this time of waiting in prayer together, preparing themselves for what was coming, for the gifting of the Spirit which we celebrate at Pentecost.
What such an in between-time invites us to do is to hold two different truths in tension and allow whatever holy third, or new, thing to emerge in us. On the one hand we experience the absence of Jesus as he withdraws from his disciples and from the physical world. On the other hand we “overhear” with the disciples the parting prayer of Jesus for his disciples that we are to be included in the very flow and life of God as Jesus was all his life. On the one hand our desperate question as to when is this world going to be restored to all it was meant to be is met with the statement that this is not for us to know. On the other hand we are promised that we will be empowered with the very Spirit of God that infused Jesus all his earthly life. On the one hand we are left to live life much as it was before Jesus graced us with his presence. On the other hand we are promised that all is grace, all is gift, and all is given to us that we need.
By describing these ideas and insights from Scripture as being on one hand or another I am not suggesting that they are opposites and certainly not that they are irreconcilable! Rather by speaking of two hands, each holding a different insight or perspective, I suggest that both are essential and are truth. By holding two apparently different truths (although really it is more usually that they are just different angles or aspects of one much greater truth) we make ourselves open to a third and higher way beyond binary simplistic thought and rules.
The idea of a third way, or unifying response to matters that at first appear either/or, is an ancient aspect of the spiritual path. Jesus himself was often put in a position where people expected him to respond one way or the other but his response was often a third or unifying one. “Who sinned – this man or his parents?” “Neither sinned but rather it is an opportunity for the glory of God (loving life force and light) to be seen at work.” “This woman was caught in adultery! She should be stoned shouldn’t she?” “Let the one who has not sinned be the first to stone her.” St Paul also often presents two arguments that lead to a new and more unifying truth for the followers of the risen one to incorporate. “Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – all that you think of as separate and opposite – are now one in Christ.”
This week our texts challenge us to move beyond our question (often uttered with great despair and earnest desire) as to “When oh Lord are you going to fix things?” and the promise that we will be empowered to get on with it ourselves, to a third and higher way, a unifying understanding. And that, I believe, is that we are invited into our own Pentecost experience of becoming part of the dance, the group embrace of the Father and the Son, of being bathed in the Spirit and becoming a conduit to that Spirit so that God’s love flows into and through us for our healing and our helping build and birth the kingdom here and now.
When we understand the spirit of God as flow and energy and presence then we are more able to experience God all the time and in all places. Including those times and situations when it might not look God like – when there is pain and confusion, when there is brokenness and destruction, when there is the deafening noise of bombs or sirens and when there is the silence of extinct species and hurt withholding, or where there is such excitement that we might think for a moment God is surplus to requirements.
And when we experience God in all places and times then we will not wait for God to fix everything that is wrong with the world but perceive that the world is already full of God’s grace and awaiting our partnership, our participation! And we shall rise up from our pews, from our lounge chairs, and go sit with the broken and be broken open ourselves to the joy and possibility of this world; we shall rise up even in our sick beds and place a look, a hand, of gratitude on the hand that tends us; we shall rise up from our meditation stool and dance with the morning song birds and the night owls. We may even be moved to thank our Lord Jesus Christ for leaving us behind with an emptiness that can only be filled by the spirit that invites each one of us into the holy family of God.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come beckon us beyond what we can see and understand and fill us with the same spirit that infused your life and death and resurrection.