Sunday, June 01, 2014

While We Wait

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 1, 2014

Year A: The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68: 1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

While We Wait
            Well, believe it or not, today is the Seventh Sunday after Easter.
            We’re actually still doing pretty well with the Alleluias but otherwise things have mostly returned to normal. The Easter lilies are all long gone. My wife Sue planted some of them on the church grounds and a few others remain in their pots on the rectory porch. Whether in the ground or on the porch the lilies are waiting – they are in-between Easter joy and what is yet to come.
            For many of us, let’s admit it, even the memory of Easter is beginning to grow faint. We’ve long since pretty much returned to our normal lives and our everyday routines.
            Yet, it’s still – just barely – Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            We had quite a week here at St. Paul’s.
            As many of you know, the installation of the air conditioning here in church was completed. It was a major project that will improve our common life here at St. Paul’s – and it’s a real vote of confidence in our present and future ministry sharing Christ’s life and love in our little corner of Jersey City.
            On Wednesday we had our monthly healing service at the Liberty House nursing home on Montgomery Street. This is a new ministry that we’ve been doing for the past five or six months. Although we haven’t spoken too much about it, and only a few of us have been involved, I think it’s an increasingly important and beautiful gift that we are giving to the residents over there – many of whom, I suspect, don’t get too many visitors and don’t have too much light and joy in their lives.
            Instead, they spend much of their time waiting – in-between a happier past and whatever is yet to come.
            As it happens, this month we had the biggest crowd yet – about 30 residents were there - and it was just Ace Case and I leading the service.
            Ace’s singing and guitar playing shot a joyous ray of light penetrating through the mental fog that enshrouds many of the people there. I wish you could’ve seen their faces as he played and sang… and played and sang…and played and sang… as I made my way through the room anointing each member of our congregation with Holy Oil and saying a short prayer.
            And then we said our goodbyes for another month. But before we left, one of the women there asked us to pray for them. I said something that I’ve said many times before in similar situations,
            “OK, let’s make a deal. I’ll pray for you if you pray for me.”
            This captured her imagination and she repeated it a couple of times, including one last time when we were waiting for the elevator. Although that time she admitted that after a couple of days she’d probably forget.
            I didn’t say it, but I thought, me too, probably.
            And then on Thursday it was Ascension Day – that principal feast forty days after Easter when we remember Jesus being taken up from heaven, leaving his disciples standing on the mountain, staring up into the sky.
            Ascension Day doesn’t get too much attention around here. I think that’s partly because Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday and partly because it’s hard for some of us to wrap our minds around the idea of Jesus – the physical, resurrected Jesus – ascending into the heavens.
            Not too many people were in church on Thursday, but that’s OK because fortunately we get the story again in today’s first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles.
            Notice up there on the mountain the apostles ask the Risen Jesus if this is the time when Israel will be restored. Is this it, finally? Will our wait finally be over?
            Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
            But, first, more waiting. The apostles are waiting in-between Jesus ascending into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit ten days later on Pentecost.
            And what did the apostles do during this time of waiting? We’re told they were together – men and women - in the upper room “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
            During that in-between time, while they waited, the apostles prayed.
            According to the church calendar, today you and I find ourselves in an in-between time. Easter is receding into the past, Ascension was a couple of days ago and next Sunday we’ll celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
            On Pentecost, we’ll have a raucous celebration with different languages spoken, lots of Holy Spirit music, a bunch of baptisms and a wonderful picnic.
            But, beyond the church calendar, in a deeper sense, we live in an in-between time.
            We live in the in-between time after the Resurrection and before the return of Jesus at the end of time.
            And what are to do during this in-between time?
            Well, there’s certainly a lot to do – plenty of people in need – many people hungry, homeless, despairing who could use our help.
            But, like the apostles who left the mountain and returned to the upper room in Jerusalem, first we are to pray.
            We are to pray, especially together here in this beautiful, old, holy and, yes, now air conditioned place.
            During this in-between time, we are to pray for all the suffering people here with us today and out there in our community and around the world.
            While we wait, we are to pray for the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria only because they wanted to read, study, learn and improve themselves.
            During this in-between time, we are to pray for the thousands of victims of gun violence – to pray for all the frightened people who feel the need to arm themselves to the teeth – to pray for the deranged people who get their hands on these weapons and do horrible things – to pray for our broken society and dysfunctional government that grieves each time this happens but has little interest in doing anything about gun violence, or any other kind of violence for that matter.
            While wait, we are to pray for unity – unity in our own church, unity among all Christians, unity among all of humanity. Let us pray Jesus’ prayer that we heard in today’s gospel lesson, that we may be one as he and the Father are one.
            During this in-between time, as the Easter lilies rest in the soil, as the apostles we gaze up into heaven, as we await the great feast of Pentecost, let’s make a deal – let’s make a deal to pray for the residents at Liberty House, to pray for the patients at Christ Hospital, to pray for each other.
            During this in-between time, while we wait, let’s make a deal. I’ll pray for you if you’ll pray for me.
            And if we pray while we wait, God will use our prayers, slowly transforming us and the world into what God has always dreamed we could be.
            God will use our prayers to build a world where each day will feel more like Pentecost – a world where every day can be a little Easter.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!