Sunday June 2, 2019
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Spencer
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
A taxi stuck in grid-locked Manhattan traffic.
A long and boring airport layover.
A hospital waiting area while your loved one is in the emergency room or under the knife.
The anxious days and weeks after a job interview or a medical test.
An excited child unable to sleep on Christmas Eve.
In-between places. In-between times.
Liturgically, this Sunday falls in an in-between place, an in-between time. Last Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. The Risen Lord, having spent some time showing off the wounds in his hands and side and cooking beachside breakfasts for the disciples, has now departed from them and returned to God the Father. And before he left, he promised to send the Holy Spirit. But, liturgically, we don’t celebrate that reality for another week in the feast of Pentecost.
So, in the world of the church’s calendar, here we are.
In between the two.
Surely, it had to have been an odd and maybe even a hard time for the disciples, this time between Ascension and Pentecost. They had just gotten their Lord back, after all. Risen after his terrible, bloody, violent torture and seemingly hopeless execution on the Cross. The Risen Jesus spent time among them in his glorified body. Eating and teaching. But now he was gone again. And they had been left with a promise that he would not leave them comfortless. In the Book of Acts, we hear that he instructed them to remain in Jerusalem and, as Saint Luke writes, to “wait there for the promise of the Father.” The promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
But, there in that space of in-between time, how did they feel? Hopeful? Excited? Worried? Anxious? Did they trust eagerly in the promised gift of the Spirit or had uncertainty entered some of their hearts now that Jesus was no longer with them in the flesh? Had fear begun to creep back into the darkened pits of their stomachs? Or had everyday life begun to re-establish its hold on them? The anxieties of work and family and the political and social stresses of life under Roman dominion?
Between Ascension Day and Pentecost, they held within them both the experience of Jesus and his resurrection and, perhaps also, other more conflicted emotions. Holding to a promise and all they’d seen and heard in a time of waiting.
When celebrating mass, during the offertory, when I’m preparing the altar and am pouring water into the wine, I often pray a prayer. It goes like this: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
The feasts of Christmas and Ascension are linked. “God became man,” Saint Athanasius wrote, “that man might become God.” At Christmas, God humbled himself and took on the fullness of our humanity in order to fill it with his divinity. At the Ascension, Jesus takes our full humanity back up into the life of God. So that our humanity is incorporated within God’s divinity. Our life, our pilgrimage of faith, is about having our humanity raised up into that divinity too. Our lives are a journey, by God’s grace, into that divinity.
But most of our life isn’t there yet. Most of our life is “on the journey”, on the road. In between our first meeting with the Lord and our eventual homecoming in his divinity. And in between experiences of his grace.
Truth be told, I spend lots of my spiritual life in that in between place. Between the good feelings or mountaintop experiences of God’s grace in my life, the highs of conversions and beautiful liturgies and everyday miracles. And between lived experiences of God and the awaited arrival in my life of the promise of God there is the rest of the time. The space in between. The days of wrestling with life, and fumbling and failing, the days where God seems to have ascended away from me and not yet returned in his Spirit. The in-between days.
“Is this the time you will restore the kingdom?” The disciples ask Jesus before he ascends away from them. “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority,” Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
My spiritual director in Chicago would always remind me - when I was on a spiritual high - to pause there. When I felt the Holy Spirit or the grace of God moving in my life, when I was really feeling God’s presence or when I felt full of hope or inspiration or faith or gratitude, to slow down. To savor the graces. He’d say to me, “Savor the graces. Store them up.”
My grandmother, when I was a little boy, pointed out the squirrels burying acorns in her backyard for winter. So they’d have something to eat when the cold and the ice and snow set in and fresh food was hard to come by.
Author J.M. Barrie apparently once remarked that “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”
The disciples were, perhaps, feeling some in-between-ness there too in the wake of the Ascension and before the sending of the Holy Spirit in all his fire and wind at Pentecost. Waiting. But they had the gift of memory. The memory of Jesus stilling the storm and healing the sick and casting out demons and multiplying fish and bread and perhaps of the way he looked in each of their eyes and loved them and reminded them that God had big plans for them, yes them too, even them.
And so there in the in-between time they hoped. They hoped because they had within their fearful perhaps or anxious or at least deeply longing hearts the buried acorns of the grace of God.
In the agitations of the waiting times, the in-between times of our own doubts and despair, our stresses and struggles, we hope for the consolation of the Holy Spirit. We trust in the grace of God even perhaps especially when it feels most distant, not-yet come.
“Above all,” Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Above all trust in the slow work of God…” do not try to force things, or rush things, when you yourself are in an in-between time, he writes, “as though you could be today what time - that is to say, grace - and circumstances acting on your own good will make you tomorrow...give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
The anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Trusting God in that feeling. In the in between places of our lives. That’s easier said than done.
Trust me, I know it all too well. And so perhaps at the end of the day, we pray that great prayer of the Church: “Veni Sanctu Spiritus” Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Lord Jesus.
Or as Karl Rahner once prayed, “Give me, O God of my prayer, the grace to continue waiting for you in prayer.”
Here in the taxi cabs and airports and emergency rooms and the anxious or excited days of our waiting to receive news. Here in the in-between time of our lives.
Give us, O God of my prayer, the grace to continue waiting for you in prayer. Amen.