In The Meantime…

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Seventh Sunday of Easter: June 5, 2011
Acts 1.6-14; Psalm 68.1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4.12-14, 5.6-11; John 17.1-11
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

Jesus is gone, but we know him through our witness to one another and through Scripture. We are given to one another to continue to pray with one another and speak of the promises and hope we have in God. “The ascension beckons us beyond the anxiety of not knowing what is next into the divinely established purpose of life in the meantime (Feasting on the Word, Sean White, p. 520).”

Grace to you and peace from the one who has ascended and prays for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It might seem like we are always in a period of waiting. We wait in lines, at red lights, for a letter, phone call or e-mail, for a pay check, for news…good or bad, for war to end, for nicer weather, for crops and gardens to grow, for next levels at YCC in order to go home, for a job, for flood waters to rise and recede, for purpose, for healing, for forgiveness, for eternal life, for Jesus to return to earth. I think this covers a pretty good list of things and that you get the picture. There never seems to be a point in our lives on earth where we “arrive.” We are always changing, growing, longing, waiting…

There can be so much anxiety in the realm of the unknown. It is hard to know what to do in the meantime of waiting, especially being in prison, awaiting flood waters, being unemployed, anticipating a death. For the most part, our futures are a mystery and unknown. How can we possibly have peace in the midst of anxiety and the waiting?

This weekend at Synod Assembly I heard a story of a colleague of mine who is a pastor in Bismarck. He said that when he was a little boy he usually had the chore of doing the dishes. One evening he was taking every one of his mom’s plates out of the dish washer. He took them out and piled them high one by one onto the counter. Every plate of his mother’s was in his nice and neat stack. Now, being a little boy, he had a tendency to overestimate his strength. All he had to do, he thought, was move the large stack of plates three feet from one counter into the cupboard in which they belonged. He carefully picked up the pile of his mother’s plates and within seconds the pile started to wobble and move and it didn’t take long before all the plates dropped and shattered all over the kitchen floor.

Shards of glass were everywhere and he, unfortunately, just happened to be barefoot. The first thought that went through his mind was that he was going to die…not from the shards of glass, but from his mother. It took a matter of seconds before his mother came bursting on the scene to find out what the loud crash was. Eyes wide looked at her little boy and said, “Don’t… move.” Without another word she got a broom and began sweeping up the broken glass that lay all around her young son. When the shards of glass were no longer a threat to her son, she gathered him in her arms and said, “It’s okay. I love you.”

There may be some of you who have never felt this kind of love and grace in your life, and if you haven’t I pray you can have a glimpse of it through my friend’s story. Now what he didn’t share as part of the story is that when my friend was a young adult (he’s about 35 now), his mother died from cancer. It was so moving for me yesterday to hear the story of the expression of his mother’s love for him, knowing that she is no longer physically on this earth. She still lives in him and continues to share her love and care with him through the way she lived her life even beyond the boundaries of death. What I also know about my colleague is the hope he has to see his mother again, and I know his hope is grounded in the promises (and prayers) of Jesus Christ.

A few days ago in the life of the church, Ascension Day was celebrated. A word like “ascension” might seem like a foreign language for some or many of you, like it was for me when I first heard it. We don’t talk much about Jesus “ascension” into heaven (Luke 24.48-53, Mark 16.19), probably due largely to the fact that we don’t really understand it or think about it for that matter.

Acts 1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Just like that…the Jesus the men and women came to know and love…gone. Just like that, my colleagues mom…gone. Just like that, rising flood waters come. It seems like every day you and I need to hear the words from the reading in 1 Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him, because ‘Jesus’ cares for you (1 Peter 5.7).”

It wasn’t until the last few years in which I have started thinking more seriously about the ascension. Throughout Jesus whole ministry and even after his death and resurrection, he continually reminds his followers that he will not always be with them, and there is a purpose for that. If Jesus was still on earth in bodily form, he can only be in one place at a time, being with whoever was around him. If we wanted to talk with him or see him we’d have to physically go wherever he was. From a practical standpoint, it makes no sense for Jesus to stick around. The purpose of the ascension is so Jesus can be anywhere and everywhere any time through the power of the Holy Spirit, and this is a gift to us.  The more complex question here is how do we get to know someone who is not physically here?

Well…there are a few ways. A very powerful way to know Jesus is to read the stories in the Scripture. Today in the Gospel of John we heard Jesus pray for his disciples. Jesus knew that he would not always be walking on the earth and he asked God to care for those he loves. If we can just stop and think about this more a minute…have you ever thought about Jesus praying for his disciples…Jesus praying for you?
It is probably not hard for us to think about our own prayers and praying to God, but what about the other way around…God praying for us, for you and for me? What a powerful statement about prayer. If Jesus were to pray for you, what would you want him to pray for (please don’t say a million dollars)?

In the Gospel reading Jesus prays that his disciples would know God and that he was sent from God. He also prays that God will protect them and that they might be one. The word for “protect” here has more of a meaning of “keep” or “hold dear.” When we think of protection most often we think about physical protection, but that is not always what it means. Jesus asks God to keep his people in God’s care, which can also mean protection even in death.

It is also in our Gospel reading that Jesus speaks about eternal life. There are many times in our lives that eternal life and Jesus can seem so far away. Eternal life is often thought about as something that happens after we die. But Jesus so clearly says in the Gospel of John when he prays for his disciples that “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing the love and grace of God is already eternal life, here and now in this place, even in the anxiety and the waiting. You don’t have to wait for eternal life, but rather it comes to you now, even in the physical absence of Jesus, and continues into your future that can be filled with hope, anticipation, and expectation.

My colleague’s mother is gone, but I feel as if I know her in a way. I know her love for her son and her gracious forgiveness. Jesus is gone, but we know him through our witness to one another and through Scripture. We are given to one another to continue to pray with one another and speak of the promises and hope we have in God. “The ascension beckons us beyond the anxiety of not knowing what is next into the divinely established purpose of life in the meantime (Feasting on the Word, Sean White, p. 520).”

As people of faith we know that Christ has come and will come again. We live in both the presence and the absence of Jesus.
So what do we do in the meantime of waiting in all of the other unknowns? Well here are a few suggestions:
Sandbag, pray, worship, make meals, garden, write letters, read, go through addiction counseling, paint a picture, learn skills in school, enjoy grand kids, appreciate life…

(Hymn of the Day: Day by Day #790 in the ELW)