“Wait,” “stay here,” “don’t leave,”
Jesus gave the disciples these instructions: “wait,” “stay here,” “don’t leave”. Jesus had ascended, gone to be with his Father. The disciples were left in the middle of this incredible gap. They had witnessed the death of their beloved friend and teacher; experienced the death of all their hopes and dreams. Only to be astonished by his appearances with them in the breaking of bread, and as they were gathered together in prayer.
In Acts, Luke says that Jesus was with the disciples for 40 days “appearing to them” and “speaking about the kingdom of God.” And during those 40 days, Jesus gave those explicit instructions: “wait,” “stay here,” “don’t leave,”
Wait. Stay. Be patient. It’s not what most of us are good at. It sounds rather like ‘Stay home, Protect the NHS’ Most of us need certainty in our life, we dislike the unknown, we can’t cope with the not-quite, the not-yet, the “soon.” Watch any child at bed-time on Christmas eve.
We want to know what to expect. And we want to know now. “Is it now?” Is this it? “Is this when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus responded with a little reprimand and a promise. “It’s not for you to know, BUT you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes.” We share the same expectation of Pentecost, which we celebrate next week, and an expectation of being set free from the lockdown. Stay here, wait for the Holy Spirit. Remain in the unknown. Remain in the world.
We live in the gap. We live in the constant tension of the “already,” and the “not yet.” Between Easter and Pentecost. Between the Ascension and the fullness of time when all things will be restored in Christ…
On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see the real-world possibilities of a life free from the virus, a vaccine and freedom of movement.
We also see a world at war, but we have known moments of peace; VE day just remembered and VJ day to come. We see the racial and religious divide, but we have known moments of unity. We see suffering caused by unjust sharing of the world’s resources, but we have known moments of material and spiritual sharing, especially in the last weeks and months. These possibilities are not wishful dreams or fantasies: they are realities that we have witnessed in our own lives. We have seen communities rallying in support, and prayer, and calls for action.
No doubt we will hear voices saying the Government didn’t deal with the Pandemic fast enough, didn’t prepare early enough, voices needing to speak their version of truth…Voices seeking to assign blame…Voices grieving, and lamenting, and raging…
We’ve heard voices of mostly women—friends and strangers— speaking truthfully and painfully about living daily with fear; dealing daily with threats of violence; and the everyday sexism that, yes, all women endure. We’ve heard the voices of grieving fathers calling for action…we’ve heard the voices of the cynical and powerful claiming nothing can be done.
And these are just the latest voices echoing in the tragic gap between the world “as it is” and the world as it could be…the world of God’s dream.
It’s hard living in between dream and reality. We want to believe that all these voices mean more than just a momentary pause in business as usual. But we hear concerned voices saying: “being hopeful is the only way I can get out of bed in the morning, but I’m also exhausted because I can’t change things.”
Our constant challenge is not to allow the tension between reality and possibility to pull us one way or the other because we human beings are more than capable of holding two possibilities at the same time. The pandemic is ravaging the world now but the world will overcome it eventually. We arm ourselves and prepare for war, and work for peace at the same time.
We must stay home and wait, be patient, be in the world. Jesus prayed: “Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Jesus is no longer in the world, but we are.
There are people who say “its just the way things are right now…” There’s a fair bit of idealism too saying, “it would be so much better if everyone just did what we are told.” Both of those pull us out of the action. Stop us from engaging in, and with the world. Perhaps the worst form of cynicism is the kind that says, “It’s too hard.” “There’s nothing I can do that will make a difference. I can’t get rid of the virus.”
Jesus is no longer in the world, but we are. We shape the world by our actions in it, by all of our actions. By what we say and do, and by what we let pass what goes unsaid…
The loss of life we see around us is not an accident. But then, neither is the fact that you and I have been placed here and can do something about it.
We have to stay in the action. Those who need to must stay at home, those who can, must go to work. We are in the gap. Living. Praying. Listening for the Holy Spirit. And faithfully aligning ourselves with it, listening for the Spirit and faithfully engaging the world by answering these questions: “are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? “Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they ask of us?
“Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? “Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds?
“When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: like doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.
Full engagement in loving our neighbour requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives. For now we can see the future only in imagination, so we must continue to dream of wellbeing, freedom, peace, and justice for everyone. Meanwhile, we live in the present moment, with its tedium and terror, its fears and hopes, its incomprehensible losses and its transcendent joys. It is a moment in which it often feels as if nothing we do will make a difference, and yet so much depends on us.
In this unprecedented time let our pray be: Come Holy Spirit. Empower us to be your faithful, hopeful people in this world and in the world to come. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 24/05/2020