Do anyone of us not know what it’s like to experience an 'in between time' in our life? That uncomfortable stage when we know things are going to change but we have no idea when or what that’s going to look like?
If happens when you’ve lost a job or left one for a better offer. Maybe life circumstances have required a move to a place you’ve never lived. Or when your children have just graduated from high school, college or grad school, anticipating what comes next for them. Perhaps you are going to become a parent or grandparent or you have just retired. The 'in between time.' It comes with the beginning of every new chapter in life – that uneasy, up-in-the-air, mysterious period when we just don’t know how life will turn out and we may feel anxious and very much alone. I think this is particularly relevant as we trudge through the seemingly endless 'in between time' of COVID-19.
The 'in between time' is where we meet the followers and friends of Jesus—his disciples—in the reading from the Book of Acts we heard today and the feast we observe this morning. Those witnesses to the Ascension of Jesus might have stood there staring into space for hours or even days were it not for the admonition and challenge they received: Why do you stand looking up to heaven? Translation: There’s more to come so get ready!
The Ascension may seem to be other worldly but it does not direct our focus upward but rather downward and to the reality of what is happening in this life—not the next. Two thousand years ago, a small band of women and men decided to follow a teacher who preached a very different perspective about God and faith and life than the old time religion to which they had been accustomed.
They lived in community and traveled with one another for three years, witnessed the marvelous signs and healings Jesus performed, scratched their heads a lot after he had told a puzzling parable or two, and eventually trusted him enough to be sent out on their own to spread the Good News.
Now they were in that very uneasy 'in between time' knowing that something big was going to happen but totally unsure of what it was or where to find it. All they could do was to return to Jerusalem as they were told to do…and wait. And pray. And be restless. That’s what our 'in between times' are all about, aren’t’ they?
In our anticipation of that new job or move or retirement or start of our career or as a new parent, we never know what’s coming our way next. We can plan well and far ahead. We can make provisions. We can make the best decisions. But we never really know what’s ahead. We all have our stories that bear witness to the truth that we never really know what will follow those 'in between times' in life. Perhaps the uncomfortable truth about those times is that we are not in total control of our future, that we can’t have things all figured out, and that we never really know what’s literally right around the corner. The disciples, those first followers of Jesus didn’t; neither do we.
The good news is that the Ascension is about promise—the promise that God’s power, not the world’s power, will reign. When we wait, we wait in the wings of that promise and with eyes open to discover the evidence of the Spirit’s gifts all around us—often where and when we least expect them. People are not interested in looking up at the sky to see where heaven is, they want to sense in some small way God’s presence in their earthly lives.
So, what do we do as a faith community in this 'in between time?' As a wonderful blend of people with an assortment of outlooks, perspectives, beliefs, and levels of faith, our common thread is our humanity and our capacity to love one another and to share that love with a broken world. In some funny, unexplainable way there is power among us here in this community and it many others that feels like God at work. There is power in the words spoken here and the work done through each of us.
In his book, The Scent of Love, Keith Miller writes about how the great movement of the early church was how it transformed people. They were not trained in theology, were not skilled preachers and had no degrees that would impress others. What they did have was an experience of the Risen Jesus, a generous outreach, and a depth and quality of common life—together. As Miller says, “The way they lived together gave off a kind of haunting spiritual scent which drew people to them.”
In those 'in between times' of our lives, in this 'in between time' of the new normal of COVID-19 we may not know what’s around the corner. We may be anxious. We may fret. And so, like the disciples after the Ascension, we wait. And pray. And wonder. What’s next? What will the church be like at the other end of this pandemic? What we can be sure of is that when we carry a 'scent' of love and generosity and a depth and quality of common life which draws others to ourselves, we will discover together the One who is at the center of it all. And it will be totally life-giving. And God will surprise us.