Sunday, May 4, 2008

RCL - Easter 7 A - 04 May 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mrs. Suzette Cayless, AHC
RCL - Easter 7 A - Sunday 04 May 2008

Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

The period between Ascension and Pentecost is a time of waiting - and today’s lesson from Acts finds the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, together with Mary Jesus’ mother and other women, and Jesus’ brothers. They are waiting, as they had been told to do, for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Waiting is never easy and I suspect that there must have been many questions asked and much debate in that upper room. It is interesting that this group gathered together for the waiting time. This is something that humans tend to do when situations are confusing and uncertain; being in a group offers support and encouragement.

Waiting is a common experience: waiting for examination grades, for the results of medical tests, for a telephone call, for a relative to come home; waiting for a vacation to start, for a pay raise, for a jury verdict, for the birth of a child, for the death of a sick friend - the list could go on and on.

As I was reflecting on the business of waiting two instances in my own life came to mind. I grew up in Coventry, England during World War II. It struck me the other day that my older granddaughter is now just a year younger than I was when that war started. I remember how, each night, for many months, we waited for the air-raid sirens to begin sounding the alarm that would send us to the air-raid shelter. To sleep in our own beds for a whole night was a rarity. Usually we were hustled by our parents down to the bottom of the garden and into the air-raid shelter that had been constructed there. We were joined by neighbors from adjoining houses and as we tried to rest we listened for the planes to come over and for the explosions that signified the landing of bombs. I don’t recall being particularly frightened - I think I was probably more angry than anything at the disruption of my life. Looking back I am amazed at how we all functioned! The grown-ups in my life went to work each day; we children went to school and managed to receive a good education. The sense of community was strong; we gathered together during those air-raids and looked out for each other, all the time looking forward to the day when the war would be over.

The other recollection of waiting is more recent. My second granddaughter was due to arrive in mid-March this year. A couple of weeks before the due date, she turned herself round into the wrong position and so the obstetrician decided that a Cesarian section was necessary. The date was fixed. My husband and I drove to North Carolina to take care of the older child and to be there to help out while the mother recovered. On the set day preliminary tests were done only to discover that the baby had turned again making the Cesarian unnecessary. This meant a further period of waiting and uncertainty. We returned home to West Park and waited. A couple of weeks went by. Then a sudden phone call at lunch on a Saturday that our daughter-in-law was having labor pains sent us hurriedly into the car for another drive south. We arrived - and we all waited. Nothing further seemed to be happening. Frustration was growing on all sides. A time was set to induce labor but on that day as our son was just about to drive his wife to the hospital there was a call to say that due to many admissions during the night there was no bed available. So we waited some more. Finally our daughter-in-law was admitted and the baby duly arrived. But the waiting was difficult to cope with.

I want to read a short story that illustrates a fundamental reason for the difficulty of so many waiting situations. It is one of Arnold Lobel’s tales called “The Garden” from the book “Frog and Toad Together” and it goes like this:

Frog was in his garden. Toad came walking by. “What a fine garden you have, Frog,” he said. “Yes,” said Frog. “It is very nice, but it was hard work.” “I wish I had a garden,” said Toad. “Here are some flower seeds. Plant them in the ground,” said Frog, “and soon you will have a garden.” “How soon?” asked Toad. “Quite soon,” said Frog.

Toad ran home. He planted the flower seeds. “Now seeds,” said Toad, “start growing.” Toad walked up and down a few times. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head close to the ground and said loudly, “Now seeds, start growing!” Toad looked at the ground again. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, “NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”

Frog came running up the path. “What is all this noise?” he asked. “My seeds will not grow,” said Toad. “You are shouting too much,” said Frog. “These poor seeds are afraid to grow.” “My seeds are afraid to grow?” asked Toad. “Of course,” said Frog. “Leave them alone for a few days. Let the sun shine on them, let the rain fall on them. Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

That night Toad looked out of his window. “Drat!” said Toad. “My seeds have not started to grow. They must be afraid of the dark.” Toad went out to his garden with some candles. “I will read the seeds a story,” said Toad. “Then they will not be afraid.” Toad read a long story to his seeds. All the next day Toad sang songs to his seeds. And all the next day Toad read poems to his seeds. And all the next day Toad played music to his seeds. Toad looked at the ground. The seeds still did not start to grow. “What shall I do?” cried Toad. “These must be the most frightened seeds in the whole world!”

Then Toad felt very tired, and he fell asleep.
“Toad, Toad, wake up,” said Frog. “Look at your garden!” Toad looked at his garden. Little green plants were coming up out of the ground. “At last,” shouted Toad, “my seeds have stopped being afraid to grow!” “And now you will have a nice garden too,” said Frog. “Yes,” said Toad, “but you were right, Frog. It was very hard work.”

What makes waiting so difficult? I think that basically it is the fact that so often we are not in control of a situation. For Toad, the growing process of the seeds was quite beyond his power to direct. As a child I could not control those bombs. As a grandmother I could not control the timing of my grandchild’s arrival. I wonder how the apostles coped as they waited? Were they impatient, like Toad? Were some of them angry? Were they frustrated because they were not in charge? We do not know the questions raised and the exchanges in that upper room.

In his commentary on “Acts,” William H. Willimon says that the apostles “... wait as those who are still dependent upon the Father’s faithfulness, those who have no control over the timetable of a beneficent God who graciously allows enough time to accomplish the work begun in Jesus.” The apostles could not imagine what or who the Holy Spirit was and when he, she, it, would arrive. One thing we do know is that they devoted themselves to prayer. This was not a time of idleness. They remained faithful and did what they were able to do, while not understanding what the outcome might be. “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.”

This is the kind of community support that we can always engage in and generate regardless of impatience, anger, frustration, or a feeling of helplessness. Prayer is a mark of the Christian life - both individual and corporate prayer. As we proceed through this year’s liturgical period of waiting before the Feast of Pentecost let us determine to use the time for renewed and deepened prayer - for ourselves, for each other, and for the world around us. Let us look anew for the promise of the Father and open our hearts for the coming afresh of the Holy Spirit to equip us for the call to witness in God’s world. Let us always remember that God is the God of the unexpected. We cannot control God’s moves - as Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:8), “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” We can only be patient, pray, and wait for God to surprise us - as He always does.


1 comment:

Felicity Pickup said...

This will seem a frivolous comment on your weightier theme, Suzette, but I was fascinated to read your memories of the nights Coventry was bombed.

All my life I (a War Baby) have been hearing the phrase The Night Coventry was Bombed when people talked about "what we did in The War."

My mother remembered it as her wedding night, spent in Oxford when it became clear, after long waits aboard a crowded troop train, that their honeymoon trip to Coventry had come to a halt. And how they didn't learn till some time afterward that "Coventry had been bombed."

It never occurred to me that there were many nights that Coventry was bombed!