After his suffering Jesus presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the Kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many
days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, when do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come the same way you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:1-11
Jesus had appeared to his apostles and to others for forty days after the Resurrection. Now he has left them, admonishing them to wait in Jerusalem where they will receive power from the Holy Spirit so that they can be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
But even as Jesus speaks, he is lifted up and disappears into a cloud above them. (There are many paintings of the Ascension, but my favorite is one in which the lower half of the picture is of Jesus’ closest friends staring bewildered into the sky. The top of the painting is of Jesus’ feet, disappearing into a cloud. There are several such paintings. Google it and pick your favorite). As they stand open-mouthed, two angels try to redirect their attention, much as angels did for the women on Easter Day.
“Don’t just stand there!”
The followers of Jesus were living in the time between Resurrection and Pentecost, not sure what to do next. It is unsettling to dwell in the time between. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many places, and have flattened out or started to fall in others, I am uncertain what to do. I feel the stress of living in a time “in between.”
One big question we face these days is, “What will the world look like when this quarantine is over?” or, put another way, “What next?” and as we draw closer to the “what next,” I know that I tend to be anxious. Every major catastrophe causes the world to change. Hurricanes have changed building codes. 9-11-01 changed the way we board aircraft. How will this time have changed us? How will this time
have changed the church? We can never be exactly as we were before, and that is unsettling. But I think that just as Jesus told his followers long ago to wait until they received power from on high so that they could be effective witnesses for him, we may also need to take these remaining days of waiting to watch and pray for the Spirit to empower us anew, and show us what to do next as his witnesses.
Most holy and powerful Lord, I admit that I am anxious, and am unsure what is next. Help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today or tomorrow or ever that you and I together can’t handle. Help me face the future without fear, knowing that you are ever beside me. And please help me to be still when the days are lonely or scary, and hear you whisper to me that you will be with me, guiding
me into the “what next” days. Amen.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who to Jesus for refuge hath fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
for I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
upheld by thy righteous, omnipotent hand.”
Pastor Rachel Moser