A natural response to loss, change, or ending is to ask “What’s next?” Before Jesus ascends, his disciples ask him how the messianic vision will be fulfilled now that he is gone. Jesus doesn’t refer to the Father who knows all things. Rather, Jesus assures them with these prophetic words: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Jesus returns to heaven, and the disciples stare at the sky until two angelic messengers appear to send them on their way. They head back to Jerusalem to gather in the upper room along with Mary, Jesus’ mother, other female followers, and Jesus’ brothers. What will they do during this time of waiting? They will pray.
Waiting or words with the root wait appear over 140 times in the Bible. It’s a word familiar to the spiritual life. Waiting upon the Spirit is a key to discernment, to speaking the right words to another, to listening well to a spouse, to loving a child wisely. It is the occupation of pregnancy; it is the calling of hospice. It is the heart of prayer.
One autumn, in a very difficult time in my life, the word wait came to me in countless serendipitous ways. A friend wrote to me: “I trust that you are being clearly guided by God, so wait.” Another friend said: “I truly believe that already there are seeds of blessing in this that are not yet visible.” Then butterflies began to appear everywhere I looked. While making a collage, I found the words “good things come to those who wait.” My soul was uplifted; indeed, over the course of a year, my prayers and those of many who joined me were answered.
Like the disciples in the upper room, we are called to prayer, continuously and in times of waiting. We know what the disciples are waiting for, even as they cannot imagine what will come. Pentecost, the birth of the church, is coming.
Gracious God, it is hard not to wonder, worry, and even fear what’s ahead on my path. Open my heart to trust. Guide me on the path you call me to walk. Amen.
Though Jesus has taught his disciples that God’s kingdom is not an earthly one, following the Resurrection some are still expecting him to set up a kingdom on earth. Instead, Jesus ascends into heaven in front of them, being taken up in the clouds. The scene recalls Psalm 68, where the Lord is described as one who rides on the clouds across the expanse of the heavens. In the Gospel reading, Jesus anticipates his coming departure and prays for his followers. Peter talks about a trial—literally a “fiery ordeal”—that is testing Christians. The reference to fire may be specific, for the Roman historian Tacitus records that Nero killed Christians in Rome by burning them alive. The author may therefore be speaking about suffering that is not just metaphorical.
Read Acts 1:6-14. When have you experienced the power of community?
Read Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35. Recall a time when you recognized God’s power with fear and joy. How might that have been a foretaste of God’s kingdom?
Read 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11. How have you walked with faith through suffering?
Read John 17:1-11. What does it mean for you or your congregation that Jesus prayed for unity among his followers?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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