Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
As a young boy, I can remember being taken to the train station in Alexandria, Virginia, to take a trip all by myself for the very first time. My mother bought my ticket, gave me a few dollars for a hotdog and a coke, and promised me that my Aunt would be waiting for me when the train arrived at its destination. I remember so clearly my feelings as the train began to pull out of the station. I was on my own and for a few hours alone in the world. Even though I tried to be tough, I found myself wondering what would happen if my Aunt was not there at the end of my journey? Would she be able to find me? Would I be able to find help? It was a strange time, a time between, between being left by my mother and picked up by my Aunt.
This past Thursday the Church celebrated Ascension Day, the feast that marks the moment when Christ returned to the Father. After the Ascension, Peter, James and the others must have found themselves oddly and terrifyingly alone in the world. Their master had gone, and they were on their own. Jesus promised them that the Holy Spirit would come to be with them. This giving of the Holy Spirit would happen on Pentecost, a day we celebrate next week. But there was a span of days, between the Ascension and Pentecost, when the disciples must have felt very alone, caught and caged in a period “between.” Like my train ride as a child, they were on a journey between two points of safety. And all they could do was hold onto the promise that they would be met at their destination, that Christ would not leave them. All they could do was move forward and hope.
Sometimes in our spiritual lives we find ourselves in a similar state of limbo. Times when we ride the train of life between two destinations seemingly without support. These are times when it seems that we are without Lord or Spirit, times when we perhaps feel a heaviness, a coldness, that God is very far away from us. The mystics called this the “dark night of the soul,” and all of us who pursue the spiritual life must go through it sooner or later. The problem is that some of us think that we are always supposed to be able to sense God’s presence, and if we can’t, then we must be doing something wrong. But the fact is, the disciples didn’t do anything wrong in those days between the Ascension and Pentecost. They were simply told to wait and to hope and not to despair, because even though they felt alone they were not forgotten.
For all of us, there are those times when we seem to be without Lord or Spirit. But the important thing to remember is that we have not been abandoned. Like my long and lonely train ride, sometimes all we have to hold onto is the promise that someone is coming to meet us, that we won’t be alone for long. The secret is that at those times we just have to live with nothing more than a promise. The promise that there has been an Ascension and there always is a Pentecost. The truth is, sometimes all we have to hold onto is hope. But hope will be enough if we place our trust in the Lord. Amen.
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)