What happened between the Ascension and Pentecost?
If you read Acts 1-2, apparently not much. At a recent leadership event I attended, my friend and colleague Pastor Rob Myallis of Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jonestown, PA put it this way:
“The disciples had followed Jesus for years, thinking he was the Messiah. They saw Jesus perform miracles, heal the sick and teach about his kingdom. Then they saw him arrested and executed, as they ran away afraid. Jesus rose from the dead and came to them, had them touch him, as he blessed them and ate with them. Then it was time for him to go and Jesus promised them that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon them and they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. But what was the first thing they did? They filled a vacant spot on a committee. How is that for boldness?”
That sounds like something the church would do, right? We church folk do love our committees. It is how we reassure ourselves that we can do the work set before us.
They sat in the silence.
Acts 1:3 tells us that the Ascension took place forty days after Easter. Pentecost (fifty days) was ten days later. What did the disciples do for ten days? I would like to think that as they waited for the promised Spirit to come the disciples were praying and reading scripture, catching up on the latest Pew research data, doing a demographic study of their neighborhood, and crafting a clear and achievable strategic plan. Maybe they were preparing sermons or learning the skills of community organizing and asset mapping. Perhaps they were busy out in the city talking with people, building up their social networks, seeking potential partners, and taking in the latest “best practices” of other faith communities and non-profit groups. They might have even canvassed local businesses, entrepreneurs and proven marketing techniques for ideas. They certainly could have been doing lots of things. All we know is they filled Judas’ missing spot on the committee of apostles. That way they knew they could do the work.
There is probably good reason they sat in silence. Fear is most likely that reason. Fear causes us to stop, hide, hold back, and refrain from following through on what we are supposed to do. No matter how reassuring the promise sounds, we are afraid the promise is too good to be true. Fear gets the better of us. Fear kept them talking as a committee rather than being the witnesses they were called to be. Fear kept the church inside around a conference table rather than on the streets engaged in the local community. Yet I’m sure they talked about what they were supposed to do. Maybe they planned. Maybe they thought about the logistics. Maybe they reminded one another of what Jesus told them and in the silence of ten days remained faithful.
Then the Spirit came and blew locked doors wide open.
Here we are twenty-one centuries later, and the church in many cases still sits behind our doors. We sit at our own tables, doing our ministry together. At times we might be a little fearful about going outside but we are working on it. We are trying to do the things I hoped the disciples were doing all those years ago: praying, reading scripture, catching up on the data, crafting strategic plans, engaging in community organizing, growing social networks, seeking partners, learning “best practices” and canvasing the business world for ideas. We try to fill our committees, even if sometimes we think that committees are the goal not the means to achieve them. I am grateful the church continues to work hard and remain faithful, knowing our only hope is to rest in God’s mercy and grace.
It is time for us to wait on the Spirit again.
When the Spirit comes the doors will blow open and we will never be the same. The disciples experienced tongues of fire and the ability to communicate with the world around them once the Spirit came. Should we expect anything less?
We are the church in waiting. We are the church of now but not yet. We are the church that hopes for the promise as we do our work silently in the meantime.
What are we waiting for?
Keep praying, “Come Holy Spirit. Come.”
‘So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. 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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 1:21-2:4)