“While staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father”….. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
Acts 1:4; 2:1-2
“Wait there for the promise of the Father.” I am wrestling with Jesus’ mandate to the first believers to go and wait for “the promise of the Father.” Jesus had spent time with his followers after his resurrection and as he ascended to heaven he sent his followers back to the place of pain – to the place where Jesus had been condemned to die on a cross. He sent them back to wait for a promise that seemed undefined – without clarity on what that promise would look like and when it would occur. I’ve often wondered what it was like for them to be gathered back in a place so defined by grief, pain, injustice, fear. I’ve often wondered what it was like for them to experience the reality of those emotions woven together with a spirit of hope and faith born of the resurrection. What would it be like to wait without a sense of real direction or time frame?
Well perhaps today more than ever we, followers of Jesus, can understand the burden of waiting without a defined direction or timeframe. The words of lament – how long Lord? echo throughout our churches as this pandemic has taken more than 100,000 lives in our nation. How long do we wait Lord – as this virus has cheated families from the ability to gather to grieve for the life of one they loved? How long do we wait before we can return to school, to our jobs? How long do we wait until we can safely gather with family and friends? How long do we wait before we can open the sanctuaries of our buildings and fill them with music, prayers and embraces? How long Lord do we wait?
And the response to this echoing question is layered with the uncomfortable silence of the unknown and the uncertain. We try our best to cope with the waiting. We read health department recommendations, government guidelines and mandates. We make educated guesses on what will happen when our counties move from red to yellow – then from yellow to green. We silently keep hoping for a miracle that will provide a charted path forward – but still we do not know how long we must wait.
And as if this season of pandemic was not complicated and painful enough, the anxiety it has caused in the world around us is again revealing the brokenness of our humanity. Acts of blatant racism have shown their ugly heads in ways that make our hearts break in sorrow and anger as we are once again reminded of untenable violence causing the death of innocent and unarmed African Americans. Our voices join the centuries of cries of the prophets and psalmists before us – How long Lord? Our Asian American brothers and sisters have been wrongly blamed for the global pandemic – causing local Asian businesses to close and violence and hate to come upon them and their families. How long Lord must we wait before the color of one’s skin will not be used as a weapon for injustice? How long must we wait? How long Lord must we wait for the senseless violence in our city streets to stop – for our children to be safe – for economic injustice and inequities to be a possibility for all – Lord you know our hearts – How Long must we wait? And what are we called to do as we wait?
I’ve come to understand that waiting does not need to be a season of doing nothing of feeling unempowered or paralyzed. On the contrary, it is a season to reaffirm our identity in the world – in the very Jerusalems of our space and time in the greater Philadelphia area. It is a time to consider what new adventure God has before us as we navigate this complicated season. If nothing else, God has clearly invited us to identify new ways of being community – of connecting far beyond the limits we once imposed on ourselves. God is inviting us to strengthen our witness against injustice and all that would separate us from God and one another by using new platforms and expanding the assumptions we once held dear. God is inviting us to find our voices in new and previously unexplored ways.
As we know from the Biblical narrative, the answer from God to our cries of How long Lord must we wait? has rarely been forthcoming in ways we appreciate. But in the waiting comes the call to renew our witness in the world. In the waiting comes our renewed resistance to forces that separate us from God and one another. In the waiting comes our openness to receive the promise of the Holy Spirit that breaks in like the “rush of a violent wind” empowering us to be the people of God in the Jerusalems of our realities and to the ends of the world. So let us be a people who actively wait – in prayer, in community, in hope!