The Sunday after Ascension Day. The Sunday before Pentecost. Behind us is the life of Jesus, his death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension. In front of us is the unknown, the very new thing that God will do among his people.
How do the disciples feel in this sort of no-man’s land in time?
They don’t know how long they’re going to be there. All they know is that in his physical form Jesus seems to have finally left them – taken up in the brilliance of the light of heaven – and that he has told them to wait in Jerusalem where God will come to them in a new way. I wonder how they’re feeling?
Just think: three or four years ago they were living perfectly ordinary lives, like we do, with families, friends, village or neighbourhood communities and day to day routines that they followed almost without thinking just as we do.
Then this man, Jesus, told them to follow him and they did – they just did. They followed and saw and heard and experienced things they sometimes can still hardly believe.
And they loved him, they still do. All of them at some point or another they all said they’d be willing to die for him yet all of them failed him, some more spectacularly than others.
They lived through the tension, the mounting danger and the terrible execution that ended the life of their Lord in Jerusalem. They’ve lived with that terrible sense of loss and grief when life had no meaning or purpose, and their hearts were heavy, dreading the bleak future ahead of them.
Then the light of resurrection exploded around them. Jesus was alive again, talking with them, eating with them, teaching them. His appearances were unpredictable and sometimes very brief but after the initial shock none of them doubted the reality of his resurrection.
Now he’s left them again and they’re living with a renewed sense of loss. Not as sharp and bitter as the first but hard to bear all the same.
They don’t know what’s about to happen. They don’t know about the great
WWHHOOOOSSHH of mighty wind which will knock them off their feet. They don’t know about the orange and red crackling flames of fire that will fill them with courage and conviction.
They don’t know about the Holy Spirit who is going to breathe new life into them, transforming them into the fullest being of themselves, alive with God’s life and filled with his awesome, mighty Spirit.
For now they are in a “no-man’s land” of time.
We’ve probably all experienced similar times – times that can be filled with uncertainty and anxiety.
Times when we’ve lost someone or left something behind but aren’t yet ready or able to move on into the unknown.
Times between school or college and the world of work and careers.
Times of waiting … for a birth, …. or a death or a medical diagnosis;
life-changing times and unplanned breaks in our way of life.
Perhaps we’re in one of those times now and don’t know where God is going to lead us next.
Robin, Jeremy, Tricia, Ruth and I are reading a book entitled “The Burning Word” by Judith Kunst. In it she describes the time in her life when she and her husband leave the church community they belong to in New York and move south to Georgia because her husband has a new job. This is part of her story:
“When he announced that he’d figured out his office email address, fears about my own new job as full-time mother and homemaker suddenly loomed. ‘What will my address be?’ I asked, and with a chuckle he said, ‘Judithkunst@nowheresville.com’
‘Nowheresville’. It was meant as a joke, but the word ignited all my fears. I’d been a teacher, the center of daily attention in a classroom. I’d been a published poet and the editor of a scholarly journal. Now I’d be a mom in a town where nobody knew me. Now I’d be a housecleaner and cook. In one stroke the cozy life I’d pictured snuggling with my son morphed into a threatening stretch of nothingness populated only by strip malls and lonely housewives.
In many ways, ‘nowheresville’ turned out to be an accurate address, and the fears it triggered in me were not unwarranted – this new life would be harder than any I’d lived before. Yet eventually I would come to see that ‘nowheresville’ marked the precise intersection between my loss and as yet unrealized gain, a word that was at once nowhere and now here.”
When we discussed this chapter of the book we all said that it had had a powerful impact on us and we had all spent time reflecting on it and what it meant for us. For me it said that we can never be “nowhere”, we are always in “now” and “here”, – the here and now – a positive place where God can work with us to create new realities and where we can begin travelling on the new paths he is showing us.
If we have any sense of being in one of those in-between places today perhaps we could spend this week reflecting on that, thinking about what is “now” and “here” for us; considering what we might be needing to put to rest, what thoughts and attitudes we might be needing to give up within ourselves.
Because experience tells me that very often we cannot move forward until we have put down the past or made a decision that we want or need to move on. Just as the wind and fire of Pentecost descended only when the disciples knew that Jesus’ time on earth really was over, so God can only lead us forward when we’ve stopped trying to hang on in an unhealthy way to the past.
I believe that if we give ourselves fully to “now” and “here”, whatever that means for us, on the day of Pentecost, whenever that day is for us, we’ll be ready to go forward again, ready to say yes to God’s plan for us.
And we don’t need to be afraid of saying yes to God. God cares for us and protects us. He will not ask us to do anything he knows we are not yet ready and able to do with his help and guidance.
And God knows about our need for time: time to grieve; time to summon up courage; time to make big decisions. And he will allow us that time.
But sometimes he knows we need a bit of a push or a bit of a wake up call to nudge us into action and he’ll do that for us in ways we might least expect!
He may speak in the whoosh of a mighty wind, in the roar of tongues of flame or in the still small voice in the depths of our being. But he will speak, of that I have become certain, and when he does it will always be for the fulfilment of his loving purpose for each one of us and it will always lead us deeper into his eternal life.
Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 “The Burning Word – A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash” Judith M Kunst Paraclete Press 2006