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Acts 1:1-11

Luke doesn’t waste any time continuing to tell the narrative of Jesus.  Where his gospel leaves off, the book of Acts picks up, just after the resurrection.  Throughout Scripture, forty days is a significant measure of time, and as Luke begins to weave the tale of the early church, the last forty days with Jesus in their presence has just run out.  The next ten are going to be excruciating.

The truth is, the days between Ascension and Pentecost are really hard for me to process.  I feel as if so many people read the story of the ascension and come out saying, “Yay, Jesus!  You returned to the Father!  Everything is great now!”  But I feel more like Mary might have, when Jesus instructed her not to hold on to him.  My question would have been, “Why not?”

As horrible as this probably sounds, the ascension feels like abandonment to me.  Is this a cruel joke?  Jesus was dead… and then Jesus was alive again… and then Jesus was gone!  Where is the hope in that?  Jesus leaves and then waits a week and a half to send the Holy Spirit.  It seems to me to be the period of history when God is the least present to the people, and I don’t like it.

But let’s hit the rewind button for just a moment:

Acts 1:3-5, “After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.  While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”[i]

This particular instruction to wait (περιμένω (perimenó) occurs exactly once, in Scripture.  It is no ordinary direction. It might be defined as, “remain all-around, i.e. steady (regardless of the obstacles involved); to ‘endure, putting up with surrounding difficulty.’”[ii]  It is a compound word and a complex request, intensified in a way that “wait” is rarely required.  Jesus doesn’t lie.  This is, in fact, not a purely joyous occasion.  This is going to be painfully difficult.

But there is no such thing as a godforsaken town or a godforsaken people.  Sometimes we have to reach way back into the Old Testament, to pre-incarnation manifestations of God, and we find that this is the God we cannot see but who exists with us, nevertheless… always.

The question the apostles ask is a legitimate one: “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom…”[iii]

Even after all they have seen and experienced, they are hopeful that the kind of kingdom—the kind of power—they understand will still come to pass.  It may be the only outcome they can imagine as acceptable, if they have to let go again.  Jesus answers not with detailed plans but with presence, which is exactly what they need, although they may not yet recognize this.  Jesus, who spent significant time during his ministry announcing the already here kingdom, takes one last opportunity to remind the apostles that it is not going to look like they expected it to look.  It is not going to be like they expected it to be.  Yet, the kingdom is right before their eyes and still pouring in.  It is as if Jesus says one more time, “The Kingdom?  I’m it!  And you’re it, too!” and then he disappears.

As the disciples react by gazing up toward heaven, I imagine they needed a moment.  I imagine they are experiencing solitude and silence in a way they have, perhaps, never experienced these things before.  This reminds me of a quote from Dallas Willard:

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways… Silence also brings Sabbath to you… [It] completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life.  It is like the wind of eternity blowing in your face… God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend.[iv]

The men in white robes stand by them and then move them along.  It could be a safety issue: It could be a necessity for some other reason.  And so, with the assurance that the promise will be kept and Jesus will return, they do make their way to Jerusalem, following the instructions of their still atypical king, as they wait for unusual power to fall, to find and be found by the Spirit.

They wait.  And so do we.

[i] Acts 1:3-5, NRSV.

[ii] Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. (4037). Abingdon Press, 1890.

[iii] See Acts 1:6, NRSV.

[iv] Willard, Dallas. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. HarperOne, 2014.