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Acts 1:6-14
“Stay,” an Ascension Day blessing by Jan L. Richardson 1

        What if we’ve got it all wrong?

        What if the church was born not on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit blew in with all the subtlety of a tornado, but during the 10 calm, quiet, confusing days before that—days of grief and anticipation, prayer and waiting, togetherness and fear?

        What if transformation and new life begin not in a blaze of glory but in the courageous commitment to walk open-hearted through this world of hurt?

        What if growth comes not only from clarity but also from making peace with not knowing, and progress is achieved not only by hard work but also by surrender?

        What if, for all Jesus’ charisma and healing power, for all his growing multitudes of followers and that whole, um, resurrection thing, the Jesus movement would not have spread throughout the world if Jesus had still walked the earth?

        What if, during those 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost, when Jesus’ closest friends, family and followers were hunkered down in an upper room, the Holy Spirit was just outside the door—waiting until they had made peace with their feelings, until they understood that the kingdom Jesus  promised had less to do with the nation of Israel than the wide-open heart of God, until they were willing to step out in his name?

        What if the Spirit was waiting until there was sufficient room in their hearts, until they were ready to receive a power greater than they could imagine and share a love stronger than death?

        What if the Spirit is waiting on us? What if the Spirit needs us to make a little more room in our lives before she can get down to the healing-and-transformation business? What if she needs nothing more than our full-hearted attention?

        These are not questions to put to the grief-stricken, the abandoned, confused, the lost and bereft. I cringe a little when the Ascension story speaks of two men in white robes (angels, apparently). Jesus has barely left the scene when they show up and give the disciples the what-for.

        “Hey, guys,” they say, “don’t just stand there. He’s gone. Get over it. Move along. Get to work.”

        Wow. I mean, maybe the disciples needed a little nudge, maybe they needed to begin to come to terms with their loss and what it meant, but this seems a little too harsh, a little too soon.

        On the other hand, it encouraged them to get about the business of waiting and healing. It reminded them they were not alone and sent them to gather with the rest of their community—the women who’d been with them all along, Jesus’ mother and brothers. And there, in that upper room, they began to become the church.

        They stayed together. They prayed. They waited with a mix of sadness, fear, anticipation, and hope.

        This makes sense to me.

        If you have ever been left, if you have ever lost someone you love, if you have ever had to accept a change you didn’t want, if you have ever had to let go of a dream, if you have ever been forced to face an empty bed or an empty nest, if you have ever wondered how you could possibly go on without this beloved one or that dream, this story is for you. This focus on those days between the loss and the moving on, the period between the charge and the change, is for us. All of us.

        Because that is where healing happens. That is when God does her best work. That is when and where and how new life takes root.

        There is another, more upbeat version of this story at the end of the Gospel of Luke. But here in the Acts of the Apostles, when Luke tells the story for a second time, it’s as if he he is able to be a little more honest about what really happened. In this version the joy is missing. Here Jesus’ friends gather not in the public temple to worship but in a private room to pray their hearts out. In this telling each disciple is mentioned by name, as if to remind us that each one of them made the decision to keep the faith, and that they stayed together.

        Sometimes staying together and staying open is all we can do. And it’s always a good thing to do. And it is, at least in the gospel version, what Jesus tells his friends to do:

        “Stay here,” he says, “until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Something good this way comes. Wait for it. Make yourselves ready to receive it. Yes, you will be my witnesses; I am passing the holy baton to you. But don’t try to do it on your own. Stay. Stay together. Prepare the way.

        Friends, this is good news!

        And yet it can be hard to stay with our grief and our doubts, not having and not knowing. It can be excruciating to sit with our outrage and our desire for justice, waiting for clarity and power. By golly, we are people of action! We want to do something!

        But what if we begin becoming who we are meant to be in the hard, in-between places, in the times when we are too tired or sad or confused to do anything but pray, when all we can do is trust and listen, watch and wait? What if that is how transformation begins? If that is how healing happens? If that is how we make room for Spirit power? If that is how we discern what we are called to do and gather the strength to do it?

        What if we more fully understood that it is the community of broken people gathered together, sticking it out together, praying together, receiving God’s blessing together, that goes on to change the world?

        Might we not realize that just as Jesus had to leave to make way for the church, sometimes we have to let go of what was to make room for something new? Might we not be more accepting of the in-between times? Might we not find peace in the waiting? Might we not be ever on the look-out for God, wondering where he will show up and what she will do next?

        “You are my witnesses,” Jesus says. You are my hands and feet, God’s human agents of transformation. But first, you must be transformed. First and always, you must allow Spirit to work within you. Don’t try to do it on your own!

        The community that stays together, prays together. The community that prays together, listens together. The community that listens and waits and watches will be filled with Spirit power. And the Spirit-filled community will find itself “ablaze with blessing,” empowered to do amazing things with great love.

        Thanks be to God!


1

Stay
A Blessing for Ascension Day

I know how your mind
rushes ahead
trying to fathom
what could follow this.
What will you do,
where will you go,
how will you live?

You will want
to outrun the grief.
You will want
to keep turning toward
the horizon,
watching for what was lost
to come back,
to return to you
and never leave again.

For now
hear me when I say
all you need to do
is to still yourself
is to turn toward one another
is to stay.

Wait
and see what comes
to fill
the gaping hole
in your chest.
Wait with your hands open  

to receive what could never come
except to what is empty
and hollow.

You cannot know it now,
cannot even imagine
what lies ahead,
but I tell you
the day is coming
when breath will
fill your lungs
as it never has before
and with your own ears
you will hear words
coming to you new
and startling.
You will dream dreams
and you will see the world
ablaze with blessing.

Wait for it.
Still yourself.
Stay.

Jan L. Richardson

to receive what could never come
except to what is empty
and hollow.

You cannot know it now,
cannot even imagine
what lies ahead,
but I tell you
the day is coming
when breath will
fill your lungs
as it never has before
and with your own ears
you will hear words
coming to you new
and startling.
You will dream dreams
and you will see the world
ablaze with blessing.

Wait for it.
Still yourself.
Stay.

Jan L. Richardson
http://paintedprayerbook.com/2013/05/05/ascensioneaster-7-stay/