“A Significant Pause”
Mt. 28: 16-20 & Acts 1:1-11 ~ Rev. G. Scot t Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ May 24, 2020
Matthew 28: 16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1: 1-11
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After 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. 4While 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; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But 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.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
“A Significant Pause”
Mt. 28: 16-20 & Acts 1:1-11 ~ Rev. G. Scot t Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ May 24, 2020
The daffodils and tulips have bloomed; the temperatures have teased us by moving into the high 20’s for the occasional day or two. Summer has been tempting us with its coming arrival. You remember summer don’t you? Summer, whose arrival brings rest, summer that brings camping trips, explorations and reunions, summer that provides time for leisure activities. Yet, as we anticipate summer this year, our anticipation is unlike any other time. What we crave; what we await; what we yearn for this summer is very enigmatic, indeed. What we yearn for is a return to the ‘normal’ in life: gathering with others ~ friends, family, church family. We yearn for the return to normal. We yearn for the loving embrace of others ~ the embrace that is not possible over the telephone or internet connection. We yearn for the warmth of hugs and kisses and handshakes that only ‘being together’ can allow. We yearn for the return to ‘normal’. We are less than one month away from the June 20th commencement of summer; however, our anticipation this year is unlike any other time.
Over the past 10 weeks, we have experienced a significant pause during this pandemic time and we yearn for it to be over; we have experienced a significant pause and we yearn for Dr. Bonnie Henry to declare the glorious words that ‘it is over’ and ‘all is well’ again. I would like for us to spend our time together this morning speaking about the concept of ‘the significant pause’ because long before we began experiencing this, the biblical witnesses faced this challenge and their faith led them. Indeed, our faith has a lot to teach us about dealing with the anticipations that arise during a significant pause. Long before we began dealing with this time, scripture provided a template for living amidst the ‘significant pause’ times in the world. So, let us explore living in the ‘significant pause’ time as people of faith. Let us find God’s Word in the significant pause.
As we turn to this morning’s two texts that Barbara read for us this morning, we notice that the language they use ~ rather than ‘the significant pause’ is an inquiry into God’s timing. In the Acts section, the apostles ask the question “Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” Is this the time? Is it time yet? Is this the time for the promised renewal? Is this the time that we will see you in all your glory and power? Or in the language I am proposing: is the ‘significant pause’ over?
Long before our times of waiting, our ancestors had been faithfully waiting ~ living in the pause: waiting in Egyptian chains, waiting as slaves in Babylon, Assyria, waiting under the oppressive Roman rule. They had waited…received glimmers of hope…and waited…and waited….and waited. They knew about ‘the pause’ well. Read all the songs of lament in the book of Psalms. Listen again to the focus texts this morning: When will you restore the Kingdom of Israel when we will be free ~ free to worship, free to love, free to be? Does this sound familiar to any of you? It does to me. This is the language that I have been hearing ~ our deep fears, our sincere prayers, our desire for release: As we find ourselves socially distancing ourselves from one another, it has brought with it an element of imprisonment. As we find ourselves staying home to ‘slow the spread’, we have felt an experience of lockdown. As we find ourselves separated and isolated, we have felt the yearning for freedoms lost, for connection and the restoration of all that was normal. We collectively sing of our yearning, of our hope, for an end to this ‘significant pause’ and the new beginning. We shout with the disciples: when…when…when. When will the Kingdom of Israel be restored?
So, what strategies have we been using to deal with this pause time? There are, of course, a range of them. I will offer what I am observing. I’ll offer them without judgement, and encourage us to remember these as expressions of our humanity. You may see yourself in some or (more than likely) parts of yourself in all. (I know I do) In no particular order, firstly: One might employ saintly patience during this ‘significant pause’ time. This person employs an ‘all will be well’ stance and adopts the patience of Job in their outlook. They have become adept at placing their faith in our leaders, never complaining or fearing over how this is unfolding or when it will end.
Apart from a saintly patience, there is an attitude of distraction. In a long car ride, with children asking “are we there yet?”, veteran parents distract impatient children with games and songs and snacks. In our situation, distractions have allowed us to pass the time and make this period more palatable. We have received this as a ‘gift of time’ to tidy up, to bake, to garden, to read, to…do the things that we never seem to have the time to do. We are so busy in the world doing, this approach has become the gift of ‘self-time’ that has allowed us to get through while feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Apart from patience and distraction, there is attitude of just ‘going with the flow’. It is one of pushing through each day over the past ten weeks, and the challenge is in geting lost in the flow. In an extreme example, this is seen in the movie “Groundhog Day”, where the characters find themselves stuck in a repeating vortex of the previous day. It becomes an unending period which seems to repeat day after day after day. And we proceed through and wonder when it will ever end. What day is it today, we ask? With the absence of any rhythm of the week to keep us on track, we lose ourselves ~ no designated workdays, schooldays, church-days, volunteer-days, activity-days we increasingly find ourselves lost in the vortex where each day flows into the next. If you are like me, you probably find how you have dealt with your experience of this ‘significant pause’ time to be a combination of all three. At times, we have exhibited saintly patience; at others distraction and activity were shown; and at others, we found have ourselves lost in the repeating vortex of this odd time. As you find yourself asking the question “Lord is it time?”, do you see yourself among these three responses?
There is a fourth option that arises from a faithful reading of the text in Acts. As the reading continues, after the Apostle’s question to Jesus: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” comes Jesus’ response that has the potential to inform our faith during uncertain times. Jesus replies to their question: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (and then an assurance) “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.” What I would propose as being a timely function of this text is its pointing towards a receptive posture, ready to receive God’s Spirit and the potential for a deep growth in our faith. This is time for a growth, perhaps, like never before in our very lives. The title of my reflection this morning, “A Significant Pause”, comes from a term which I credit the great Swiss theologian of the last century, Karl Barth. Barth introduced the concept of the “significant pause” as a challenge for all the faithful who wait upon the arrival of God. The pause is “significant”, precisely, because it speaks to how people of faith choose to live in the uncertainty. It is significant because it speaks to how people of faith live in the unknown, how we live in the times of waiting. It is a “significant pause” when we our active and faithful waiting for the promised arrival of God’s Kingdom comes through our participation in it. Embracing this time as a “significant pause” allows God to be alive, and at work, in this time.
This Sunday brings us to the conclusion of the 50-day season of Eastertide. This Seventh Sunday of Easter, or Ascension Sunday, lifts up the text’s reference of Jesus’ ascension to the heavens. The ascension is an assurance of our full connection with God through the eternal connection established in Jesus. Now, we certainly don’t have the same understanding of a 3-tiered universe that was prevalent back in biblical times as we read of Jesus ascending into he heavens. The original writers conceptualized of God exclusively located in the heavens above; the reality of our human existence here in our earthly plane, and the presence of a hell below. Yet, as we consider the meaning of Jesus’ ascension today, this text can still speak to us in fresh ways. It reminds and assures us of the connection Jesus establishes for us with the promised return of God. And it not only assures of our connection with God in Jesus; it also does the reverse. The ascension challenges us of God’s connection through us, and what that means. The text concludes: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go.” Think about what this means, and how it calls us into faithful living! We are being called to live on the ready; we are ones who need to live with hearts open to receive the coming Spirit. This is not just a void time of simply waiting. It is to be an active and significant time. It becomes a “significant pause” time as we prepare for the birthing of the Kingdom to come.
One of the most faithful articulations of living the “significant pause” was offered by 16th Century Christian mystic Teresa of Avilla. In this blessing, she calls us to make this pause time significant by living on the ready. And we close our conversation with her blessing: “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. Yours are hands; yours are the feet; yours are the eyes. You are his body. Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.”