Second Sunday of Easter
Easter is a day, a given Sunday, but it is also, for the Church, an in- between-time. There is the day of Resurrection, that awesome, amazing, terrifying, yet joyous morning when Jesus first appears to Mary, Peter, & a few other women and men. Then, for 40 days, the Risen Son of God sets the future aside, remains nearby, meets with his disciples. His appearances are unpredictable, surprising: Jesus meets his friends here, in a locked room around a meal; there, while walking on the road; out there, on the beach after fishing.
As five sabbaths go by, the disciples continue to encounter the Risen Lord, realizing with each successive meeting that something new, something even more astonishing is on the horizon. Coming soon. As if Jesus’ rising from death, emerging from the tomb, showing them his scarred hands and side, eating fish wish them, were not enough.
Something more is coming, and the disciples try to wrap their minds around it all, try to prepare themselves. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Is this the time you’re going to kick Caesar’s army out of David’s land, the twelve tribes’ land, all the sons and daughters of Judah’s land? Kick them out? How about crush them under foot?
All along, Jesus has taught about the kingdom of God. Even now, even after all of his parables and explanations, the disciples’ knee-jerk understanding of God’s kingdom is something geographic, something political, something indomitable—the return of Judea and Galilee to the twelve tribes of Israel, the Jewish people. Sovereignty, self-rule, prosperity. God’s kingdom might mean something greater yet—the creator of the earth and heaven might in this season have grander ambitions than a tiny footprint at the far-eastern edge of the great sea— but at the very least—restoring Jewish rule to Jewish lands.
“Lord, is this the time?”
But Jesus directs them away from the calendar (is this the time?), and away from geopolitics. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” Jesus acknowledges the territory with which his followers are familiar—they will be witnesses in Jerusalem, which is where they are currently staying. But he widens the circle to include all Judea and Samaria. Yes, exactly what they thought! The historic lands of King David! The south and the north! The hills and the plains!
And then he widens their focus further still, beyond any boundary of their imagining: “and to the ends of the earth.”
You will be, what, captains? No. Governors? No. Caesars? No. Witnesses. You will be witnesses. You will tell what you have seen and heard. You will give witness to who Jesus is, what he has done--conquered death-- and what he continues to do: live, heal, feed, lift up, and bring peace.
That word, witness, in Greek martyr, means not only to tell, as a witness speaks out in a courtroom. It also means to do. The followers of Jesus will preach the Good News of God’s Kingdom, the word that they have heard from Christ. But they will also do those things that Jesus has done: perform healings, gather large crowds, feed people, and set the people whose lives they touch on an unlikely path toward goodness and thanking God, toward wholeness and thriving.
This is the promise Jesus makes to the apostles. They’re called apostles now, not disciples. At first, they were students, learning from Jesus, following Jesus. But now, they are apostles, the ones chosen by Jesus, the ones called out to be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as he has been, to carry the Holy Spirit, in every direction.
But first, they are to wait. Don’t leave Jerusalem. Wait there for the promise. Wait there for the Holy Spirit.
While Jesus is talking to the apostles, the ones he has chosen, on the Mount of Olives, clouds come in, so very close, like a fog rolling over. In the Hebrew Bible, there are several stories in which a cloud on the mountain accompanies God. The cloud may not be God, but it belongs to God. Here, the cloud of God reaches out and lifts up the Son of God, the one who has taken human form, and takes him into Godself.
When the cloud lifts, Jesus is gone, and two men in white robes—two angels—remain. “Why are you standing here? Why are you looking up to heaven? Jesus will return to you, the same way you saw him taken away.”
Vision over. Class complete. It’s time to get back to Jerusalem, but to do what? To wait. For a time, just wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit to come with power.
Have you been thinking--as you wait for this viral season and the accompanying quarantine to pass--have you been thinking about other seasons of waiting you have endured?
I have. I’ve been thinking about my stories of waiting and they give me hope. I have had to wait before, and it didn’t hurt me. It made me wiser, more patient, more mature. I thought I might tell some of my waiting stories to you, but then I thought better of it. I’m sure you also have had seasons of your life that included waiting, not knowing the outcome of the waiting. Some experiences end well; others, don’t end well at all. I would love to hear you tell about how you got through it, and what happened when all was said and done.
Maybe we can talk about that after church, during our Fellowship time, or on Tuesday, when Bill Rourke hosts a coffee chat at 10 in the morning.
On the other hand, if someone calls you up, at the end of their rope, because they can’t take this quarantine, this isolation, this joblessness, this anxiety, one minute more—you probably should not take that moment to tell them how you have had to wait in the past. Simply listen. Bear with your family and friends in this waiting time. It is hard. It is a burden. Let’s not gloss over that. Practice the best listening skills that you have ever had. Just let people tell you how they’re hurting, without turning around and telling them how well off they really are. Use your ears, not your mouth, to give comfort.
But at the same time, what stories do you tell yourself? What stories of encouragement, of wisdom, of humor and of grace?
The disciples—now the apostles—went back to that upper room in Jerusalem, gathered with their closest friends men, perhaps that many women, too; and the brothers of Jesus. 20 or 25 people, that’s all.
They rehearsed the stories Jesus had told. They reminded each other of his miracles of healing. They thought about how Jesus reached out to people no one else would touch, or even notice, and give them a new lease on life. They practiced being witnesses, bearing witness, while they waited for the promised Holy Spirit to come with power.
In a conversation this week, one member of Prince of Peace told me, “I’ve picked up a book I haven’t read in quite awhile—the Bible. I started with Matthew, and I’m just reading through.”
That’s a pretty good way to wait.
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