June 1, 2014

7th Sunday after Easter
 
Before Easter when Jesus is captured and put to death, the disciples are left in shock.  They scatter, and find themselves together yet alone, unable to understand what is happening, at a loss to piece together their shattered world.  They think everything is over.
 
Though Jesus told them of his coming death and resurrection more than once, his message did not sink in, and so when his body is put to rest in the tomb, the future appears to them as a blank.  They did not know they were waiting for Easter.
 
But Easter happens!  Jesus leaves the tomb and takes up residence in the world.  He appears to them in many places.  He comes back to life, and they come back to life along with him.  Again and again he demonstrates that he is indeed alive, and he speaks to them often about the reign of God.
 
Then the day comes when he is taken from them.  A cloud removes him from their sight.  The assembled disciples feel their hearts grow heavy as they recognize he is gone.  This departure is for them a kind of death.  But what happens to them is different now from what happened when he died on the cross.
 
Before the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that what awaits him at Jerusalem is not only death on a cross, but resurrection to new life.  They simply did not hear him.  He might as well have been speaking an unknown language.
 
After Jesus’ resurrection, he tells them that what awaits them is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will empower them to be his witnesses right there at Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth.  This they are able to hear.
 
The capture and death of Jesus leaves the disciples scattered, demoralized, unable to pray, unable--almost--to live.  They have nothing to hope for.  But these same disciples meet the risen Lord.  They hear his message.  They accept the promise of the Spirit's power.  And their behavior becomes utterly different.  They wait for Jesus’ promise of the Spirit.
 
Just before Easter, it is the crucified body of Jesus that lies in the tomb, waiting for resurrection to life.  Now, in preparation for the coming of the Spirit, these same disciples remain in the upper room, hidden away in that place.  They await their own resurrection, the Spirit's gift of power.
 
Their behavior is utterly different from what it was before.  Then, with Jesus in the tomb, they are scattered, demoralized, living in a kind of paralysis.  Now there are three things that characterize them.  They stay together.  They pray.  They wait.
 
Not only the eleven disciples, but others also, men and women, among them Jesus' mother and additional members of his family.  All these remain in that upper room.  It is their tomb, their place of burial, as they wait for a second Easter.  And so they stay together.  They pray.  They wait.  And time passes between the ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit falls on them and fills them with new life.
 
Stay together.  Pray.  Wait.  This sounds easy to do, almost passive, but how much there is in us human beings that leads us elsewhere!  Yet these disciples do stay together.  They do not scatter.  Nor do they remain in the same place only to argue and reject each other.  They stay together.  The Christ they know is greater than all their differences. 

In an age when commitments are broken like twigs, when "here today, gone tomorrow" is a way of life for many, when there are those who know nothing of the challenge and joy of working through our disagreements and failures together, we can learn from that ragtag group of disciples who remain in the upper room, waiting for the Spirit.  The promise for which they wait is not a private satisfaction, but the empowerment of each and every one for the common good and the world's salvation.
 
They stay together, and they pray.  They are not a collection of human beings who have become too close to each other, and have unrealistic expectations about what they can provide one another, and are sure to end up disillusioned and dissatisfied.  This gathering of men and women is open to a dimension beyond themselves in how they live.
 
Put simply, this is a group that prays.  And their prayer is something more than a list of what they want.  It comes from some place deeper: it is a cry about what they need.  More than that, it is also a listening, a willingness to hear what God tells them.  Their silence day after day creates the space inside them for the Spirit to find a home.
 
They stay together, and they pray, and they wait.  This waiting is an act of faith.  It is a practical acknowledgment that the promise of Jesus deserves our trust, that the divine purpose will not go unfulfilled.  Their waiting bears witness to the prime Christian belief that all are saved by grace, that we do not redeem ourselves.
 
To wait in faith is an affront to this busy, self-important world.  But those who wait may find themselves--much to their surprise perhaps--at God's service, that service which alone is perfect freedom.
 
Today's passage from Acts ends with those disciples still in that upper room where they stay together, they pray, they wait.  What they anticipate is the coming of the Spirit.  Easter unstopped their ears so they could hear the promise of the risen Christ.  That promise is what enables them to stay together, to pray, to wait.  
  
In the eyes of the world, they appear as a useless lot, this bunch that stays together, prays, and waits, these people who trust a promise.  But they have seen one Easter, and now believe there can be another . . . and another and another.  The Spirit hovers somewhere, they have heard, searching for a home.  God’s Spirit falls on those who stay together, and pray, and wait.
  
May we follow their example and experience the coming of God’s Spirit anew.

Amen.