Scripture: Luke 24:44-53, Acts 1:1-11
When I lived in Moscow, Russia during my high school years, I had the chance to go on a school trip to the Ural Mountains for a week as part of Discovery Week at my school, which was a program designed for us to explore parts of Russia we wouldn’t normally see.
The Urals aren’t a particularly high set of mountains, but they are the divide between Europe and Asia which is their claim to fame and as part of the trip we took a trip up on of the peaks of the mountain range. I’ve never been a huge fan of heights, not terrified or anything, but not a thrill seeker by any means, and the day trip entailed taking three chair lifts up to the top before the hike began.
Having never been on a ski chair lift to that point in my life, I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of taking three of them especially since a lot of Russian infrastructure was from the Soviet era and wasn’t well maintained, but it was part of the experience and I got on.
The first two rides were uneventful if a tad rickety, and despite being in the summer, the view was beautiful. As we got off the second chair lift, I was pretty excited about getting to the top, especially since it had been uneventful up to this point…. but boy was I wrong. On the third ride however as we started to move up to the peak of the mountain the chair lift grinded to a halt (and not just the kind of stop to let people on) and the chairs gently swayed in the air – it felt the like I was a million miles up in the sky.
There I was, not particularly fond of heights, suspended in the air waiting for whatever was the problem to be resolved. Although it seemed like hours at the time, it was only a few minutes at most however during that time I was literally suspended between heaven and earth, hanging in the air not really sure of what was going to come next; suspended between the creeping sense of fear that I would be stuck helpless in mid-air and the beauty of the mountainside vista around me.
The disciples in our reading from Acts this morning were also caught hanging between heaven and earth. For forty days following the Resurrection they had seen Jesus – he had offered them peace in the upper room, he had broken bread with some of them on the road to Emmaus, he had shown Thomas his hands and side, and now he had gathered them and brought them up the mountainside near the town of Bethany.
All appeared set for the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom, all seemed set for Israel to be restored to greatness. But instead Jesus tells them that it isn’t their place to know when the kingdom will come, but instead that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes and that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the Earth.
And immediately after Jesus finishes saying this, he is lifted up and taken out of their sight.
One can imagine that the disciples would have been eager to go with Jesus wherever he was going; they would have been eager to move on from the city of Jerusalem, which for them had become a symbol of betrayal and death – and yet there is nowhere else to go. In our Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus expressly tells the disciples to return there, to wait, to stay in the city until God’s action is complete.
In a week’s time we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will celebrate God’s definitive action in coming to Earth once more, this time as fire and wind to enflame the disciples and turn them into apostles – but in the meantime the disciples are left to wait, they are left suspended between heaven and earth. Between the world they knew and the new world that Jesus had revealed to them.
Like the disciples in our two stories from Luke and Acts, the church today is suspended between heaven and earth. We are caught between the world and God’s Kingdom, struggling to find out place, uneasily straddling the divide.
Many of us know the experience of waiting, of being caught between two realities: whether it is waiting for a diagnosis to come back, waiting to hear about an interview, waiting for a loved one to return home or waiting for the results of test or exam at school. Waiting isn’t fun, it’s hard to remain patient for good news, let alone if it is bad news we expect.
The Church often sits uneasily between the world and God’s Kingdom; between the first coming of Jesus and his promise to make all things right in the end. Waiting for the fulfillment of all things in Jesus; waiting for signs of new life in a culture which seems intent on relegating the church to the history books; waiting for the Spirit that will revive the soul of the Church, waiting for the Spirit that will enflame us, waiting for the Spirit that will spur us on to proclaim release to the captives, set the oppressed free and proclaim good news to the poor and the downtrodden.
We cannot set our eyes only on heaven, for if we do the church becomes almost ethereal, merely spiritual and removed from the world that God cared so much for that he sent his Son for. We must long for heaven, but not as an escape from the world, but rather for the sake of the world.
On the other hand we cannot identify too closely with the world, with its cultures and ways of doing things – because if we do we run the risk of losing sight of our goal and blowing every which way in the rapidly changing winds of culture. The Church must be in the world, but not of it. We may live in the kingdom of this world, but we are citizens of another tasked with heralding God’s kingdom.
And so we wait. But not idly –
The disciples, as they left the mountaintop, began worshiping God and returned to Jerusalem in great joy where they were continually in the temple praying and worshipping; praying and worshiping in expectation of God’s action, praying and worshiping in preparation for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, praying and worshiping for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
And that is what we must do too. Can you imagine if the whole Church, throughout the world began praying fervently and expectantly for an experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – how amazing would that be for the good of the world? Can you imagine if the whole Anglican Church in Canada prayed to be enflamed and enlivened by the fire and wind of God, and what that would do for our churches and our country? Can you imagine for a moment if each and every one of us here at Grace Church prayed earnestly to be filled with the Holy Spirit and trusted God in his promise – what wonders we might see here in this place, what wonders we might see here in this community of South Scarborough.
And so as we wait suspended between heaven and earth, we give thanks that Jesus has bridged the gap; we give thanks the Spirit has guides us, challenges us, strengthens us for the task of proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth, by word and deed.
I challenge us all over the next 7 days between now and Pentecost to pray for the renewed and abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the life of this church and in the life of the community which we minister in. I challenge you to trust that God fulfills his promises and that he will fill you with his life-giving spirit, that he will revive your soul and enflame your heart. Take time every day to pray, and not just for healing or for your various concerns and those of others, but for revival, for awakening, for renewal of mind, body and spirit.
We wait, and we pray: with our words and with our deeds.