This Sunday after the Ascension, before Pentecost, is an in-between time; a waiting time. Christ has ascended, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet shone up. And so we wait. And we pray: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit.
I found myself, in pondering this prayer during the past week, thinking about some of the waiting times in my own life. Perhaps you will identify with some of them:
- Do you remember waiting for the first day of school—for kindergarten—with a mixture of hope and fear? More appropriately at this time of the year, can you remember counting off the days until the last day of school, waiting for summer vacation to begin and longing for lazy summer days of wiffle-ball and sand castles and long bike rides and kick-the-can?
- I remember waiting, after graduating from Wallenpaupack Area High School thirty years ago, with that same mixture of hope and fear I felt in elementary school as I thought about moving from a small town to attend college in a big city: saying goodbyes to friends I’d known my whole life and wondering what my life would be like apart from the life I’d known forever, waiting for that next chapter to begin and wondering, and trying to let God carry my anxiety.
- I can remember waiting for my wedding day, and waiting for each of my two kids to be born—counting the days. I remember waiting to hear about each job I’ve held—especially this one, as Hathy and I waited for the search committee to decide, to make a decision, even if it was no; praying it would be yes. While it feels a long way off, I can imagine waiting for retirement...
- Many of you have waited to hear back about test results, and I've been at enough bedsides to know that there is also another kind of waiting—waiting for death. I pray that like our patron, Francis, that when death comes for me it will come like a sister or brother, like a friend who is not to be feared.
There are times of waiting in every season of our lives. I imagine these last ten days of Eastertide as something like some of these other “waiting times:” a time of expectation; a time filled with no small amount of anxiety and fear about what comes next. Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.
We worry, or at least I do, through transitions that life will not go on—that somehow we will never be comforted. Change can be scary, and it brings with it a sense of loss and a sense of anticipation. But there is also that experience of powerlessness, the kind that makes us realize we have no choice but to “let go, and let God.”
Notice what the disciples do in the first chapter of Acts, after Jesus leaves at Bethany: they went back to Jerusalem, to the room upstairs: Peter and James and John and Andrew and Philip and Thomas and Bartholomew and Matthew and James and Simon and Judas and some certain women. (Luke doesn’t seem to remember all of their names; maybe there were just too many of them to list! Or maybe Luke was a sexist pig who doesn’t think their names are important enough to list; except of course Mary, the Mother of Jesus.) Either way, these women and men devoted themselves, constantly, to prayer. They prayed and they waited.
We can do that; we need to do that in times of waiting, in times of transition, in times when it is unclear what the future will bring. The liturgical calendar is not an end in itself, of course. It’s a guide that helps us to reflect on the journey of faith. It helps us to reflect on how God is at work in our lives and the life of the Church and the life of this world. These last ten days of the Easter season—this time between Ascension Day and the Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost—is a time for prayerful waiting.
“Wait for the Lord,” the Psalmist teaches us to pray. “…be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) And again:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning,
More than those who watch for the morning.
We try to wait with wide-open eyes and with ears that hear. We wait for God to send that Spirit of Comfort, the Counselor, the One who will lead us through all seasons of change toward deeper truths and new insights: that Spirit who gives us strength and courage for facing whatever challenges may come our way. In order to embrace the new we have to learn to let go of the old. We have to navigate our way to a new “normal.” By God’s grace, in part what times of waiting can teach us is that God is always about doing new things. And that God will never leave us comfortless. What we pray for, as we mature in faith, is not that everything will stay the same, but rather, that our times of waiting will lead us to new places and to new insights and new possibilities. Those, I think, are gifts the Holy Spirit brings—whether She comes like a mighty wind or as a gentle breath.
Come, Holy Spirit…breathe on us, breath of God…and fill us with life anew. Do not leave us comfortless. Come and empower us for the work of ministry. Come and renew us, and renew the face of the earth. In the meantime, help us to wait: sometimes expectantly and patiently, sometimes pacing back and forth with our blood pressure rising. But always trying, with God’s help, to more and more put our trust in You, the One who has created us from the earth, in You, the One who has redeemed us through Jesus Christ, in Your, the One who sustains us through Her very own breath. Amen