“Christ is Risen…Now What?”
Matthew 28:16-20 & Acts 1:1-11 ~ May 16, 2021
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Most of us will not need to draw upon our memory banks very deeply to remember back to those four impatiently shouted words amidst summer road trips. Impatient children (and sometimes even us impatient adults) longing for the arrival of the ‘hoped for’ destination and these words resonate throughout the car. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? As the journey feels too long to endure, these words will be offered. Are we there yet? As one questions if the driver’s GPS has led them astray, the frustrated words ‘are we there yet?’ are repeated over and over and over. With travel restrictions keeping us safe amidst the third wave of the pandemic, we will likely not be taking any trips; however, I think these sentiments are still very much alive. We hold a collective exhaustion amidst this pandemic wondering…hoping…praying…for the arrival for the return of normalcy. “Are we there yet?” is the collective call for the return to the communal connections we once took for granted…connections that we dearly want back. Over this past 1 ¼ year, so many feel alone…some dear souls have died in hospital wards…separated from their loved ones…alone. Many seniors living in Care Homes, shut off from their family feel alone; birthdays…milestone birthdays have been celebrated…with so many loved ones absent; anniversaries…golden anniversaries celebrated without all who dearly wanted to be there; holiday feasts celebrated alone. And we offer the collective cry… “are we there yet?” C’mon God…when?
Shifting to this morning’s scripture texts, I would suggest that these were the sentiments in the minds of the apostles. They don’t exactly say “are we there yet”, but you can feel it in their words. In Acts 1:6 the apostles ask the question “Lord is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” Is it time yet? Are we there yet? When will the Kingdom of Israel be restored? Lord, you have died and risen…isn’t now the time for you to restore the Kingdom. Are we there yet? The reading reveals that Jesus had been with them for the past 40 days showing himself to be alive, giving convincing proofs and speaking about the Kingdom of God. Just like Moses on the mountain for 40 days being instructed by God on how the Israelites should live, surely now must be the arrival of the fullness of time. There is a powerful term coined by 20th Century theologian Karl Barth who names this in between time: “the significant pause”. The “significant pause” is the time between Christ’s promise to restore the kingdom and the church’s waiting for this to come to fruition. They want justice to roll down like a mighty river; they want recovery of sight to the blind; they want the captive set free. They are waiting for the Kingdom to be ushered in. And they are more than ready for it. “Lord…is this the time? is this the time? Are we there yet?”
Coming back to modern time, it is helpful to think about our position in the church year. We in an ‘in between time’ on the church calendar, as well, aren’t we? Today marks the conclusion of the season of Easter ~ the season of Jesus’ resurrection / our reflecting upon what this means to be ‘Easter People’ of New Life and resurrection. Yet we find ourselves waiting…“are we there yet?”…for God’s sending of the Holy Spirit. We are ‘in between’ and I do not know anyone who enjoys the uncomfortable tension that is found here? Are we there yet? ~ says the frustrated child in the backseat. Lord, is it time yet? ~ say the frustrated apostles who have been waiting and waiting. Are we there yet? ~ echo the chorus of us pandemic people who yearn for the return of what we long for!
Getting back to our road trip. To those questions that the driver receives from the impatient traveler, what does one say in response? Well…there are a variety of responses that may be offered. One might calmly explain that there are still another two hours left until arrival ~ but, let’s be honest, there are only a few saints like that among us. After countless ‘are we there yet?’ requests, many will try other options. We might try and distract the questioners…which is how the games: “I Spy” and “would you rather?” originated. And there is always the, ever popular, option of ignoring the complaining parties: turning up the radio; or initiating yet another car karaoke outburst. But…how does Jesus respond? Jesus’ reaction to the disciples’ question is instructive for those of us who impatiently wait for the Kingdom. The text reports him saying “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that God has set”. But … in the meantime “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. In Jesus’ response, there is a kind of movement away from the imminent return of Jesus to a focus upon a new reality that is forming. This was the call to the early church. As it was waiting for the Kingdom to come, decades prior to this writing in Acts, Paul writes to the Corinthians saying that the “form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7) ~ not that we are expecting the world to end soon, but that the world view, as it had been, the methods and values for determining worth and significance in the world are ending. There is now a new reality.
The central question for us today, then, centres around our ability to live into this new and unknown reality? Asking ‘are we there yet?’ is not the right question. The faith challenge for the apostles, and for us, is ‘can we live in the uncertainty?’ Can we live in what Barth calls the ‘significant pause’? Or will we find ourselves impatiently asking the question: “Christ is risen…now what?” The challenge is not about coming to a place of ‘knowing’. The challenge is about coming to place of trust. A trust that all will be well. And when I think about you…when I think about God’s people, and who we have been throughout the ages…that is exactly what we are good at. God’s people, since the beginning have been a people of trust…we have been a people who live with a promise…we are people who live in anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth. I think this modern time in which we live is one when we are truly called to live the faith that has been deeply embedded upon us since the very beginning!
There has been a lot of conversation about the future ushering in a ‘new normal’. They say things will not return exactly to as they once were. And, isn’t this generally the case when we take a long break from the normal routines…? We cannot go back to ‘normal’ as we, ourselves, have changed and so has the normal that we have been distant from. What will the ‘new normal’ look like? Well…for example: some of us may not wish to give / receive handshakes, or hugs or any form of embrace that were the norm in the past. Yet others will be craving them more than ever before. In the ‘new normal’, it will become very important for us to be sensitive to one another’s comfort levels around embracing the other in the future. The new normal will change how we practice communion. It will change how we attend worship, and our worship committee has already made plans for us to include an online viewing option where we will stream our Sunday services. This will give people the option of attending in person…or attending a virtual service as we are today. It has been interesting to see how some of our church meeting groups have actually preferred attending a nighttime virtual meeting, rather than driving to the church during the rainy evening in the winter. On a visioning level, I would suggest that it will be time for us to revisit our overarching vision of what it means to be ‘Northwood’ in the coming chapter. Just prior to my arrival, you structured a 5 year vision of the call to be this church. As the 5 years have now concluded, it is time to revisit this plan and shepherd the church into the brave new vision ahead. Tailored alongside this is the new reality that you had foreseen: the option to reevaluate the usage of our church building and how it is allowing us to exercise our ministry of embracing the community with the love of Christ. With the new city plan of a rapid transit line along Fraser Highway, new options are coming available. We will need to decide…if changes need to be made…remaining as we are…or making some changes to our physical presence. We ARE in a blessed place with many options, indeed!
The most hopeful part of this text, I find, is in Jesus’ promise given to the impatient disciples. He instructs them to wait at the place of God’s great works: in Jerusalem. They are instructed to wait there…for in their waiting they will receive power. The power which Jesus refers is the Greek word: dynamis, which is where we get the word ‘dynamic’ from. The power that we wait for is that robust force at work that all will see and feel. It will inform our tasks, inspire our words, uphold our works, and move our leadership…if we open ourselves to this presence by waiting. This ‘are we there yet?’ time was their training time as patient apostles received the power of the Spirit. This ‘are we there yet?’ time is OUR time to receive that same Spirit that will birth a new normal…a new heaven and a new earth as we are commissioned to be God prophetic, pastoral, pilgrims.
May we find comfort in this uncomfortable time through the faith taught by our ancestors…the faith that is in each of us…that faith that will birth the ‘new normal’…the new heaven and the new earth.
Thanks be to God. Amen.