We are in the midst of yet another transition. It seems as though we are merely turning from one pivot point into the next… and sometimes it feels as though we are attending to multiple pivot points at the same time. No wonder we may feel off-balance or without equilibrium! Our politicians and government bodies… and likely, also our family, friends, and neighbors… are sharing conflicting beliefs about how to move forward into expanding social circles with safety and confidence. We are wondering what shape our “new normal” will take as individuals, family units, workplaces, Church bodies, and communities. Additionally, I would like to remind us that we are also in the midst of another transition… a transition of Spirit, in the life and wisdom of the Church.
This Sunday is Ascension Sunday and the Gospel readings these days frequently mention the coming of the Holy Spirit (which, in the Church calendar happens next week, on Pentecost Sunday). But this week, we… along with the disciples… have the experience of the Ascension of Jesus. I can only imagine how this must have felt to the disciples:
- If I were one of the first disciples, having walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry, I would have thought I had become an “expert” in transitions already. I would have experienced my previous way of life, then had an encounter with Jesus that turned my world upside down, and then re-acclimated to a new way of being as I walked and talked with Jesus on a daily basis. Perhaps I would have thought that I had achieved “expert status” in following Jesus.
- Then Jesus was killed. I would certainly have felt that my supposed “expert status” in the way of Jesus had been revoked. I would no longer know what it had meant to be a follower of Jesus. Was that just a thing of the past? Was it really only for a few short weeks, months, or years, that I was meant to walk with Jesus? I would very likely have been hiding in the upper room with my friends, scared, confused, and filled with questions, anxiety, and despair.
- THEN Jesus rose from the dead… wait, what??! And, he came and went with no rhyme or reason, he appeared and disappeared in and out of locked rooms, he was both recognizable and completely unknown. This new experience of Jesus was mysterious, uncertain, and tremendously exciting. Perhaps if I had been one of these first disciples, my days would have been filled with the quiet anticipation and hope of seeing the Risen Christ.
- And now we come to the doorstep of the Ascension. Jesus tells us that he is leaving us once again. Do you feel it… a deflation in your spirit at this news? There is now another period of impending uncertainty. We read in one of the daily Gospel readings this week that, “Jesus said to his disciples: “Now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts” (John 16:5-6). Jesus could sense their deflation, their grief, perhaps even their spirit of giving up. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t even ask Jesus for details. Jesus went on to say to the disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
And herein lies our hope. Because, like the first disciples of Jesus’ day, we are in transition. Transition in the world, most certainly. And also a transition of Spirit in our hearts. The disciples, at this time, only had Jesus’ promises in mind. They did not yet know what it meant, or how it would happen, that Jesus would leave them to return “to the one who sent” him. They did not know what this “Advocate” would be. They did not know, in practice, how this Advocate… this new (to them!) Spirit… would change and empower them.
Much was still unknown. But they had hope… and a deep and abiding trust in this one, Jesus, who loved them. They had their lived experience of Jesus to remember and from which to draw comfort and increasing levels of understanding. They had the trustworthiness of Jesus’ words. And, most importantly, they knew in their hearts that they were a transformed people. They knew… and I know… that Jesus’ love is real and that it has changed my life.
So, as we move forward in this continued time of personal and communal uncertainty in the (hopefully!) tail-end of this pandemic, let us move forward with confidence and joy, trusting along with the first disciples, that God’s Spirit will guide us with all wisdom and power as we walk, one step at a time, into the ongoing unfolding of God’s Kingdom.