The “In Between” Time

I’ve often wondered how the disciples must have felt on the Sunday we are observing this weekend. They must have been pretty confused.  First, Jesus had called them to leave everything and follow him on his very difficult three-year journey and ministry. Their hopes had been so high in those days!

But then, it had all come crashing down! He’d been arrested, beaten up, convicted of crimes he never committed, and executed like a common criminal!  They were devastated, So, they huddled together for safety and for support, and then some women of their company brought the wonderful news that he was not dead after all…or rather, he was not dead anymore!

At first, of course, the disciples didn’t believe it, but then they too began to experience his risen Presence in a variety of ways and circumstances and they were overjoyed that it wasn’t over after all! Yet, after only forty days, Jesus’ presence was withdrawn from them again. Something about having to return to the Father…described by our Collect today as “being exalted with great triumph to God’s kingdom in heaven.”

But Jesus’ Ascension must not have seemed like “triumph” to them at first. It must have seemed like another defeat…another desertion!  Where was Jesus now? They remembered him saying something about “going where they could not go.” They remembered something about being told that it was to their “advantage” for him to go way; for if he did not, the “Counsel (their Advocate) would not come to them. (John 17:7)

Well, they had no clue what that meant!  All they knew was that Jesus was gone again. So, they did what they had done before – they made their way back to Jerusalem, worshipped with their fellow Jews in the Temple, and met together once again for safety and for support…and to try and figure out what to do next!

Undoubtedly, they would have pored back over his teaching to try and figure out if there were hints about what to expect. Perhaps they would have focused particularly on things Jesus said to them on that last night…at the Supper. They would have especially remembered what he prayed for…what he prayed for them!

“I ask not only on behalf of these,” Jesus had prayed, “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they all may be one.”  So clearly he wanted them to remain together – to be one Body, one community, not to fragment and splinter apart.

“As you, Father are in me and I am in you, “he continued, “may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So Jesus obviously wanted them to remain connected to him and to his God so that people would believe that Jesus came from God and that he was speaking for God.

And finally, they remembered him praying for something they thought very odd, “Righteous Father, he had said, “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Somehow Jesus was saying that he wanted them to be filled not only with God’s love, but that they would actually be filled with him!  With his very life!  Well, on the one hand, we don’t want to get too far ahead of the story here! Next week is when we will celebrate just how that “indwelling” happened – by the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on those same disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

On the other hand, we already know “the rest of the story,” don’t we? We live on this side of Pentecost, and we know that it was the pouring out of God’s mighty Spirit on Pentecost that changed those frightened “disciples” (learners) into confident “apostles” (those who were sent)!

Not long ago I published a memoir entitled “With Gladness and Singleness of Heart: A Bishop’s Life in a Changing Church. In that little book, I have tried something of my story. And it is surely the story of one who, by God’s grace, has been changed from a pretty uncertain “disciple,” a seeker and a learner, into an “apostle,” into one who has been sent.

It would have been inconceivable to me – as a young man – that I would have been “sent” to all the places I have been “sent” over these last forty years! Absolutely inconceivable. And yet, taking it one step at a time, responding to God’s call one day at a time, it has seemed as natural a progression as one could imagine.

I hope each of you will continue to be “disciples” because learning is a lifelong experience, and we will never exhaust all there is to know about God and about God’s will for our lives. But I do hope that you will also take your responsibility as “apostles” seriously from this day forward. To know that you are “sent out” from this place to be God’s people in the world!

In the family, in school, at the workplace, in our neighborhoods: we are to do exactly what Jesus prayed for those first apostles to do – to remain united to him through worship and prayer and study…to remain united to one another by faithful attendance at worship and by engaging in some ministry in the community…and to know that Jesus no longer has to be “out there” somewhere, some distant Presence or Power to be obeyed and followed.

But that you can always rely on Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel: that the love of God we see so clearly in Jesus may actually be “in here”, in our hearts. And, more than that, Jesus himself will be in us…by his spirit!  What a gift!

What a God we have!

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