You would think that after 40 years as an Episcopalian, I would pretty much have this “Liturgical Calendar” thing, the “Church Year” down. But after spending my first formative years as a Southern Baptist, I can still find a surprise or two.
As they say, even a blind squirrel finds SOME acorns.
Today, 25 May 2017 is the Feast of the Ascension. The day we Christians observe Jesus as ascending into heaven, following the resurrection on Easter Sunday. This last stage of Easter lasts for 10 more days, ending at the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday, 4 June.
In some parts of the Church, primarily in the Orthodox world, this feast of the Ascension can be an even bigger event than Easter. We in the west tend to see it like the wrap-up of an old western, like “The Lone Ranger” where the outlaws have been vanquished, peace and justice restored, and the hero rides of into the sunset “Who was that masked man? I only wanted to thank him!”
We think of the Ascension as, all the really valuable stuff having been done, Jesus goes back to heaven.
The orthodox, though are likely to proclaim that this is instead the real point of triumph, where the victorious Jesus returns to His rightful place in Heaven, but taking his Humanity with him. He did not leave his body here to be buried again. But is united with the Father while still in his humanity, and thus we humans are brought into our full restoration, as our nature as human is now part of the Triune nature of God. And will be forever more. This moment is the point of the whole thing, and is what Adam lost.
It is a heady thought.
But there is another part that speaks to me through the calendar.
And that is the next bit – from now to Pentecost.
Pentecost is what we celebrate as the time the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church. That which had previously been only for the prophets, and perhaps only for a time, was now lavishly supplied for us, “God with us” is fulfilled, and the ancient prophesies in Joel and elsewhere are fulfilled – as a foretaste of what is to come. It is a “Very Good Thing” and much thought of in my particular edge of the Episcopal Church.
But the peculiarity of the calendar, and of the timing of these two events in the Bible, is that they are not just one right after the other. The 10-day gap.
The disciples had just gotten over the shock of Jesus – the one they expected to set everything right – leaving them by dying, and being buried.
Three days later, he is back. But now, 40 days after that He goes again, saying that they should wait.
How long? Who knows! But wait until… .
While the Romans and the religious authorities are getting edgier all the time. Just wait. For something.
And God is gone.
Jesus is gone
They are on their own, with the only instruction being to wait.
It must have been a looooong 10 days!
And then, it all breaks loose. Tongues of fire – speaking and hearing in a way that reversed the ancient curse at “the Tower of Babel” New life in commitment to Jesus all over the place.
Part of the point for me is that “abandonment” or what must have felt like abandonment in the absence of Jesus. Not Jesus. Not “another comforter” whom the Father was to send. Just nothing. But wait.
I don’t know about you, but I have sometimes felt long empty times. Sometimes that is because I have let myself get involved too much is things that don’t give life, things I do so I feel alive, rather than things that actually bring life. I do that. But sometimes in my life with God, I just feel alone.
It helps to see these others, who were told to wait.
Something is coming.