Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
RCL - Easter 7 B - Sunday 24 May 2009
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
First I must note the liturgical oddity of this day. The calendar says today is the seventh Sunday of Easter, the season of Resurrection joy, but we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord last Thursday - the Christ of Easter is gone. And Pentecost is not for another week, so the Holy Spirit is technically not present in the fledging Church quite yet. During the Easter season we are invited into the great joy of the living Lord present with us. During Pentecost we are invited into the deepening of our understanding and faithfulness in being and living as the Church in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. These ten days are neither - and both. The old is gone - Jesus in body is gone. But the new, the Spirit, has not yet blown through, it is not quite Pentecost yet. Where are we? Who are we? Who’s in charge? What is possible?
This is a weird in-between time in the calendar and for the community Jesus left behind. The texts don’t explain exactly what’s going on and speculating on the theology of these ten days is probably pointless. The beauty and power of the liturgical cycle is that it just gives us the awkwardness, just lets it be. If God were going for efficiency, perhaps the Ascension and Pentecost would have happened simultaneously like a relay race where the Son passes off to the Holy Spirit and says “It’s your deal now”. But that’s not what we get in the story. What we get is a kind of ten-day limbo. And in Scripture in-between times are always times to wait. Not to passively sit around doing nothing, but to actively and attentively wait in what is - to look back and remember and look forward and prepare. To use the stillness of a given period of time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
Waiting is often harder than doing. I’m sure it is for me. On my recent pilgrimage to Italy the hardest part was not the walking, but the waiting for those behind to catch up. I was usually gung-ho in front and had to remember that we needed to stick together as a group and be patient for those who were walking more slowly. We often found ourselves standing around and waiting for nothing - everyone was here - but we had gotten so used to waiting that it was beginning to seem natural. At the Ascension Jesus asked the disciples to wait. To wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. That command is the overshadowing of these days. Perhaps we too are called to wait. To reflect on the lessons and insights of this Easter season and to prepare ourselves for the long march of Pentecost ahead of us - neither moving backwards or forwards but attending to both the past and the future while we stand still. We are so conditioned to find value in doing and moving forward that we forget that deep remembering and preparing requires some waiting - contentment in the power and value in being in a still place The gentle reminder that God is active in us often beyond our doing, controlling, or even conscious knowing.
The lessons appointed for today have the common theme of reflecting on and processing what has been and preparing for what is to come. It’s a time of transition when we’ve stepped out of Easter and are not quite at Pentecost.
Acts lesson: The disciples are asking How do we understand Judas’ death and how do we go forward as a community?
1 John: What does it mean to shift from being companions of Christ to those who live and proclaim His message and testify to his spiritual presence?
Gospel of John: As Jesus prepares for his glorification on the cross, he reminds the disciples of the message of the last three years and prepares them to live in reliance on the Holy Spirit as he moves toward his Ascension.
Waiting happens between things and these events in our spiritual lives are often intense, important, mysterious, and life-changing. Time is needed to properly digest the experience of the past and to again become open and receptive to the gifts of the future. Waiting is one kind of grace that is also a response to a different kind of grace. Rather than use the word “experience”, I have begun to see the power of a traditionally Roman Catholic term for encounter with God - grace. This term puts the emphasis on God as the giver rather than on me as the receiver and invites me into a posture of open receptivity rather than skeptical defensiveness. Being a witness to the Resurrection and Ascension was for the disciples a profound grace. And Pentecost was still to come. Through the rhythm of the church year and our own entering into the stories of Scripture we can share in the spiritual meaning of these events. We share in them but as much as we love them and look to them for meaning and inspiration, they are also taxing and draining graces which push the limits of our finite and weak human capacities to bear. Therein is the conflicting desire within each human heart. We do truly long for an experiential encounter with God - a grace from God - this is what we were made to do, to receive - such is the innately human yearning of every soul. Yet at the same time graces are out of our control and are, at least for me, often more terrifying than exhilarating. We can’t turn God off and on like a faucet. Particular graces of God’s presence are gifts that are to be received and not controlled. The attitude is one of gratitude and wonder, not fear and withdrawal.
What we see in Scripture is a rhythm between grace moments of enlightenment and intimacy with God and grace periods of reflection and integration. God could have had the Ascension and Pentecost be one big event but that likely would have overwhelmed the limited human capacity of the disciples to digest and process so God gave them the time and space to be able to gather themselves between graces.
While graces are God’s gift, they are gifts planted in rich soil. And the tending of the soil of our souls is our work. A waiting time such as this one allows us to check-in with our lives in God and note what’s happening. What is open in us and what is resistant? Where is peace? Where is fear? How is growth taking place? How might even deeper growth be welcomed?
No matter how long we’ve been on the Christian journey, we are always traveling into both the known and the unknown. The known is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The unknown is what will happen through us and in us to remind us that God’s love is close. We know what happens in chapter 2 of Acts but for us it is still the unknown and unchartered territory. We know the story but we don’t know how it will unfold anew in us. The danger of over-familiarity and comfort with the story is very real. If we get too cozy with the text we’re in trouble. If we think “Oh, yes, this again”, we’re in danger! In this waiting time let us recover a sense of wonder and freshness in our spiritual lives. Readiness for the journey is as important as the journey itself.
It’s impossible to predict the future other than to say God is and will be there. We can’t anticipate every possibility, but what we are called to do is to tend our souls in such a way that God may find a home in us, may find no obstacles to our ongoing conversion and transformation, and that our readiness, our expectancy, our openness and aliveness to God’s presence and activity is the goal toward which we strive with every moment.