Today is often called “expectation Sunday” or “waiting Sunday.” It is the day in-between, in-between two other seemingly more important days. On the one hand, Thursday was Ascension Day – the day celebrating our Lord’s ascension into heaven. Christianity teaches that Jesus rose from the dead to live forever. His resurrection wasn’t temporary. Jesus didn’t walk out of the tomb only to live to a ripe old age and die once more. No, after forty days with his friends, the living Lord returned to the Father – all of him, body and soul. As a result, we believe that Christ reunited all human beings with God.
On the other hand, next Sunday is Pentecost – the day when we celebrate the Church’s reception of the Holy Spirit. It is the day when we celebrate the power of God given to the faithful to enable them to continue Christ’s work in the world. However, today is the in-between day, the time in-between Christ’s departure and the Holy Spirit’s arrival. It is a day of expectation for what is to come next Sunday; it is also a day of waiting.
I think many of us spend more of our spiritual lives in this kind of in-between time than we might like to admit. For some of us, while we have faith in God we sometimes feel alone, as if God is absent. We say our prayers, we ask for help, but it seems we have to wait for God to answer us. We feel alone, as if God was here but now is gone. And so we wait for some sign that God hears us, for some sign that God knows our needs.
For others the waiting is different. It is a waiting not to be heard but a waiting to be touched. Many of us have learned about the Jesus of the Bible but to some, no matter how much we study he still seems a distant figure trapped in an ancient text. We have Jesus in our heads but we wait for someone or something to place Jesus in our hearts. In effect, we wait to be personally touched by the power of the living Christ. Today is the day made for all of us who feel as if we are waiting for Godot, as if we are waiting for God.
I wonder how the disciples felt in our lesson from Acts this morning? They have been witnesses to the risen Christ. They have spoken with him, walked with him, broken bread with him. They have shared in his presence for some forty days but now he says he is leaving, and they are still as confused as ever. Even after all this time with Jesus they still don’t get it. They still don’t get that the Kingdom Jesus refers to is far greater than any earthly kingdom. And so they ask Jesus if now is the time when God will restore Israel as a national power. Even after the resurrection they can’t seem to get it through their heads that what Jesus is accomplishing is much grander than national independence. The disciples are fixated on Jewish freedom from the Romans. Jesus wants to give them freedom from sin and death. And so he tells his confused flock that they must wait, wait to understand, wait for answers, wait for the strength they will need to carry on his work. He is leaving, but the Holy Spirit is coming and when it arrives they will have what they need.
It is hard to wait. Yet waiting is part of life. Waiting for a project to be finished. Waiting at the bedside of a loved one. Waiting for our children to get their lives together. Waiting for a promotion or for retirement. There are plenty of times in this life when, like the disciples, you and I have to wait for answers, wait to understand, wait for God to answer our pleas, wait for God to come into our lives. And during those times it feels as if God has left us, as if we are on our own, with no one to hear our pleas.
The other day I heard a story about a Jewish rabbi who was blind from birth. Someone asked him how he was able to get through all the studies and the arduous process of becoming a rabbi, even though he was blind. He said that it was largely due to his mother. The rabbi, it seems, grew up in Manhattan, and when he was six years old, he went for a walk in Central Park with his older sister. All along the way she held his hand, but at some point in their walk they became separated. At first he panicked, walking in one direction and then in another, calling her name. But after a while he realized he was lost. For some time he thought if he sat and waited someone would find him. But after what seemed like hours he decided to find his own way. Wandering forward he crossed Fifth Avenue, stopping traffic. Reaching the other side confused and terrified, he suddenly touched an iron fence that felt familiar. Excitedly, he began to grope his way along the familiar iron and stone buildings. Finally, he came to his family’s apartment, opened the door and walked in. Within a few seconds his mother came in behind him, spoke his name and gave him a hug. She had spotted him three blocks away.1 She explained how incredibly difficult it had been for her to watch her son in such distress. But she also explained that she knew her son had it inside him to find his own way. She knew he could make it through that frightening time. He was lost, but she knew he could find his way home. And although he did not know it, she was right there with him every step of the way.
And here is the point. When you and I feel trapped in that in-between time, when God seems absent, when our prayers feel unanswered, when we feel lost and confused – God has not left us. We may not realize it, but like a loving mother, God is right beside us. Our prayers may not be answered in the ways we want or as quickly as we want – our ways are not God’s ways, and our schedule is not God’s schedule. But they will be answered. God’s grace and love are there for all of us when we are in need. God hears us and will not leave us.
Yes, sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes that means we have to strike out on our own and make our way as best we can. But we are stronger than we know, loved more than we can imagine, and promised that God will never let us go. Amen.
1. Lester E. Smith, Marathon, NY.