In the story of the Ascension of Jesus there is a dichotomy of sadness and joy, a fear of the future and an anticipation of something wonderful that is about to happen. Ever had that experience? It’s like when you have an ache of sorrow in your heart, but at the same time a sense of awesomeness that you really can’t explain.
I’ve had a number experiences like that. One that I can remember so distinctively happened a long time ago…that is, a long time ago for Naomi and I. We had been married for maybe two and a half years. I was going to Bible school in Portland Oregon. Naomi was pregnant with our first child Nathan. My father’s younger sister, Aunt Delma, (known to us as Aunt Sis) lived across the Washington State line in Vancouver, a little town on the Willamette River. Two of her daughters were also pregnant, and all three were expecting a child within weeks of each other.
Aunt Sis had been a real encouragement to me in my younger years, especially when I stopped in to visit with her as I was traveling the coastline of California between San Francisco Portland after I graduated from High School. She was there for me when I needed TLC, shelter and patience. Now, three years later, I was back with wife and a child on the way. It was during this time of anticipation among her expecting daughters and Naomi that the doctors discovered that my aunt had incurable cancer.
I don’t remember how long she had to live, but it couldn’t have been long. We only lived in Portland for a little over a year. We began spending more time with her. I would spend time talking, praying, crying and laughing. She had that uncanny Madsen humor even in the midst of adversity.
Aunt Sis made it known to her family that when it was her time to go, she wanted Naomi and me in the room with her. Her time came unexpectedly. We had sent her family home to get some rest, and Naomi and I agreed to stay a few hours until others came in. It was during this time that the nurse told us to call the family because they did not expect her to last the night. We did, but the family did not get there in time. Both Naomi and I were in the room. I sensed a sorrow and an ache in my heart, but I also experienced a deep peace and an unusual presence of God that was beyond my understanding. I was joyful knowing that my aunt’s pain would soon be over, yet so sad and already missing her. I felt like I understood the psalmist when he said: “Weeping may come in the night, but joy comes in the morning”. (Psalm 30:5) Many of you have had similar experiences when facing death or near death situations of loved ones or family members. I’ve talked with other chaplains and pastors and they too have witnesses this merging of sorrow, but recognizing a deep peace of God’s presence at the same time.
There is an atmosphere of sadness as the disciples are walking Jesus to the outskirts of Bethany. They know now that He will be leaving them. But, then he tells them, I want you to go to Jerusalem and wait. You will have a unique experience with the Holy Spirit, and you will receive direction about what to do next. So they went back encouraged, and they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They were continually in the temple blessing God. As our psalm for today so beautifully affirms: “Clap your hands all you people. Shout unto God with a voice of triumph. Hosanna! Hosanna! Shout unto God with a voice of praise! Praise Him! Praise Him! Shout unto God with a voice of praise”. (Psalm 47:1) So that’s what they did. They waited.
We are instructed to wait as well, to stay where we are at. And to occupy our time by praising God and waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to us, as the Sprit came to the early disciples at Pentecost, waiting for the Spirit’s direction in our lives. It is not always easy to wait for direction. It’s much easier if someone tells us what to do. It’s much easier if someone writes it down for us with detailed instructions. “Wait for me. Don’t get ahead and don’t fall behind. Wait, and you shall receive guidance from the Holy Spirit. It’s a promise. You will be my witnesses to all parts of the world”. (Luke 24:44-53)
Wait! Waiting on God is not easy. We live in a culture where everything is instant; instant potatoes, TV dinners, Campbell’s soup, tossed salad in a bag and Domino’s delivered pizza delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free. We like routine. We like sameness, things that go on day after day, things we are accustomed to, things we can relate to, things we can count on. Most of us don’t like interruptions in that sameness. It makes thing go off course a little bit. The message of the Gospel passage is this: “At this time of the year, during the last few weeks of Easter before Pentecost, wait! Wait!” (Luke 24:44-50)
How many of you feel like you have learned lessons by not waiting and jumping into something before you should have? And, later you realized you jumped too soon and should have waited. I think most of us have done that. We can officially refer to that as the ‘school of hard knocks’. Sometimes as we get older we think we have learned that lesson, but I still get impatient. I want to know the answers now. I get nervous about the unknown. But, even in the unknown, God says to wait.
Our epistle reading today says: “Open the eyes of your heart. Allow the Spirit to give you understanding.” (Ephesians 1:15-23) In our collect this morning we prayed “that we may dwell in the resurrected Christ. We are the Body of Christ. We are to wait individually, yet collectively.” (Ascension Day Proper) As a congregation, as a church, to wait from the promise on high. Pentecost is coming. Listen attentively as you wait.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
(Scriptures references: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53)
The Reverend Dr David Madsen