Ascension and Pentecost: Between the Ups and Downs

"While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” [...] Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stayhere in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:36, 45–49 (NRSV)

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When asked to write about Ascension and Pentecost, I was immediately drawn to the space between those two momentous events. There’s a trough, a low space, between Christ’s ascending and the Holy Spirit’s descending. This is a space of holy waiting, explicitly commanded by Christ in his last earthly words before ascension.

Waiting is difficult. How do we know the difference between procrastination and holy waiting? How can we wait when so many things seem to demand action or response? How long must we wait when we’re promised something wonderful?

Christ puts the waiting before the receiving. He tells the disciples to wait, then says that they'll receive the Holy Spirit. Christ could’ve more expedient, breathing on them with a “Receive the Holy Spirit” before leaving them. But instead… he told them to wait.

God brings us into the waiting for specific reasons. He wants time to minister to us in the waiting. He wants to prepare us. He wants to give us safety, unity and wholeness when we wait for him. When the fire falls our hearts will be ready for this new call and direction because of the formation experienced while waiting.

So what do we do in this waiting? Suddenly bereft of Christ, the disciples had nothing to do but wait. What do we do when the God we’ve pinned all our hopes and dreams upon suddenly ups and leaves? What do we do when all we have left is a promise? What do we do when there’s nothing left to do but wait? Perhaps how the disciples waited will give us some direction for our own times of waiting. Here are some themes I noticed while reading Luke’s account of their waiting in Acts 1.

  1. Find Space for Remembering

"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying..." (Acts 1:12–13a).

This is the upper room where that fateful and revolutionary Passover Feast—the first communion—took place. There are memories here, lingering glimpses of Christ's presence, desperately needed now in his absence.

In one corner is the bowl and towels for foot-washing, a memory of Christ stooping low, half-naked, washing the world’s mud and manure from their feet. The pillows and low table where Jesus sat and lifted up the cup, “This is my Blood, the New Covenant,” and where Jesus broke the bread, “This is my body, broken for you.” They remember him raised up and broken on the cross. They remember him raised up and whole in the sky. Memories of food, fellowship, God with them. They remember the late night after that meal full of conversation in the vineyard, God’s Word speaking words of teaching and promise to them. So here they wait, remembering him in a space that evokes his presence.

When waiting, find these places of remembrance and sanctuary. Such a place can be as small as a candle in a dark corner of your room or as grand as the Oregon coastline. Sit down at a table or picnic blanket with some bread and wine to pause, breathe, taste and remember. Those memories can give us strength and hope to wait.

2. Wait with Community

"Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers" (Acts 1:13b–14).

Waiting can be lonely. One of the best ways to wait is to wait with someone else. Time shared is time halved.

After coming to the upper room the apostles gathered with the other believers—all 120 of them. Together, with unity, they prayed. What did they pray for? Did they share memories of time spent with Jesus? What was the emotion in those prayers in that room? Waiting in prayerful community isn’t meant to be what passes for a mid-week prayer service at church—busy with formal invocation, announcements, lesson study, and perfunctory prayer. What I’m getting at is to be genuinely with someone else as they wait, or to ask someone to be with you in your own waiting—or to even wait together.

Community helps us remember, helps hold us up when we’re too tired to wait anymore. When we’re waiting for tongues of flame, we might need someone else to look at the shiny things that want to rush our consummation. We can more easily discern though their eyes the dust motes drifting in sunlight: beautiful, but not yet what we were promised.

3. Heal

“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. […] So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:16–17, 21–22).

The apostles were left bereft by more than just Christ's absence. They'd lost one of their own, the treasurer Judas. The twelve had become the eleven. Where Judas had been there was now a broken gap. They’d been hurt and betrayed by a man they’d loved and trusted. They begin to wait while wounded, but during the waiting they find someone to take Judas’ place. They restore and heal what was broken.

When we’re waiting, we often have lots of time to think. In those moments, do you find yourself thinking about people who have hurt you? Experiences that left you with a wounded heart? Did a trusted friend betray you? Did your beloved leave you behind? Or is there just a dull ache, a general feeling of incompleteness that is brought into focus by the waiting? God commands us to “Wait!” so that he can heal those wounds, so that he can fill what has been left empty.

Listen to what you hear and feel while waiting, both in private moments of remembering and sanctuary, and in the conversations with companions: do you feel afraid? Impatient? Do you feel abandoned or do you feel hopeful? Acknowledge what is in your heart and ask for a personal Pentecost. Remember that the Holy Comforter is with you. “Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.”

Christ asks us to wait so that he can heal us. When he heals us, he brings us to a fulfillment much greater than we have experienced before. Gardens grow in our deserts. The betrayed places in our hearts are filled anew with trust and friendship; we are brought into a loving community of brotherhood, sisterhood, trust and prayer, and we live safe in him, resting in his upper room, surrounded by the beautiful and sustaining memories that live anew.

And around the corner are tongues of fire…

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A Hymn for Waiting

In 1846 Horatius Bonar, a Scottish minister and poet, wrote “Come, Lord, and Tarry Not” about waiting and longing. The hymn reflects the millennial longing of mid-19th century Christianity, a longing certainly found within the Adventist movement of the time. I’m at a loss as to why we don’t have a setting of this hymn in the Adventist hymnal. During my last few months as the worship pastor for the Hollywood Adventist Church, this hymn was in regular rotation.

I’ve adapted an arrangement by Red Mountain Music [http://redmountainmusic.bandcamp.com], a folk-worship ensemble from Birmingham, Alabama specializing in new settings of old hymn texts. I’m accompanying myself with a baritone Appalachian mountain dulcimer:

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Scott Arany is a wandering minstrel, contemplative photographer, liturgical artist and freelance graphic designer.

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