The Rev. Canon Peter F. Grandell
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” goes the old song. In light of the today’s reading from the book of Acts, I’d like to add to that list “Betwixt and Between.” With this addition, I think these words pretty much sum up where the disciples found themselves right after the ascension and just prior to Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples have experienced the breathless roller coaster ride of the Paschal mystery–the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. They have held on for dear life. But with the first resurrection appearances behind them, things seem to settle down. The various Gospels tell us about fishing in Galilee; Jesus grilling for them on the beach; and his gift of peace in the Upper Room. Good times, I suspect. Times in which Jesus and the disciples renewed their bond of trust and enjoyed each other’s company. There were serious times, as well, I am sure. Times of teaching and questioning. Luke writes at the beginning of the book of Acts that “he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Things, it seemed, were going well. It was a bewitching time. A special time of fellowship and community. No wonder that as they sat and talked and listened to Jesus that Sabbath Day on the Mount of Olives–the disciples pressed him for an answer–pressed him to tell them when he would restore the kingdom of Israel (v.6). They longed to capture the moment, to know with certainty that these enchanting times are what the future held.
But “[Jesus] replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 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.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They 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.’” (Acts 1:11)
And so, on we go to “bothered and bewildered!”
Just when the disciples though, yet again, that they had things figured out, they are forced to remember the words, “We make plans, and God laughs.” Just when they had rebuilt their trust and friendship–Jesus is gone. He, who was died, but now lives, is now gone from them, again! Most certainly bothering and bewildering.
The disciples have found themselves in that place where each of us has been, where we most certainly will be in the future (life being, well, what life if) and where I suspect, our graduates, and our senior chorister and acolytes now find themselves, the betwixt and between time. The time when we have left the shore on one side, but have not yet landed on the next one. The time that lives and moves and has its being between what we knew on the one hand and, the brave new creation, yet to be discovered, on the other. This time of in-betweeness that this post-Ascension, pre-Pentecost period–the ten days period between the physical departure of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit–calls to mind, is a time of adjustment and transition. In his work Transitions: Making sense of Life’s Changes, Dr. William Bridges, says that there are three components to the transition process. Every change begins with an Ending. This, however, should not confused with finality. Recognizing endings is the way in which we can mobilize our resources to move on and through change. But without recognizing endings, it is hard to move forward into new beginnings. This second stage is called the neutral zone. Here, during this time of transition, we often feel confused and disconnected. It is a time of “lostness,” if you will, in which our disorientation needs to become reorientation. When this occurs, we can move into the third stage–that of New Beginnings. We start over. The power of the new takes hold. Doors open. New rhythms and patterns emerge. Hope returns. The future–and life itself–once again feels exciting.
What did the disciples do after Jesus left? Luke tells us that they recognized the ending. With the help of angels, they no longer gazed up into heaven looking for Jesus (Acts 1:11). He was “gone” and they knew it. No denial here. In their transition time, what were they doing? Luke says that they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (v.14). They used this time of disorientation as a way to gain a reorientation. They weren’t victims. They banded together. They prayed. They relied on each other and on their spiritual connection to see them through. When a new beginning came, they were ready.
So what about us. How do we move through our transitions and gain reorientation? Why, the same way those early disciples did. By praying, by worshiping and by relying on our life in Christ and our connection with those in our faith communities to see us through. Just as the disciples were called to believe and wait, so are we–called to believe and wait. But we have a leg up. We are already recipients of the Spirit, and in that guidance we see and know Christ present among us just as he said he would.
In his farewell discourse and high priestly prayer, part of which we hear in our Gospel today, Jesus speaks of his imminent departure and at the same time tells us of the new way will see him–manifest by the Spirit in sign and symbol. Jesus is present with us in the community of faith that is the body of Christ, He is present with us in the baptismal water of life, in the bread and cup that are his body and blood shed for us; and he is present in the word of Scripture that keeps alive all that the Lord Jesus is and does for us. The remember Jesus is to call on his Spirit, without whom we can neither love nor serve God. To meet Jesus in word and symbol, in sign and sacrament is to know him; and to know him is to be empowered.
No matter how bewitched, bothered or bewildered we may be in the twist and ‘tween times of our corporate transitions or our personal ones, we are not left alone. Guiding, leading, steadying us, God in Christ meets us in word, in bread and wine taken, blessed and shared, and he meets us in our gathering and coming together as the body of Christ. The One who is “the way, the truth and the life” empowers our corporate life as he empowers our personal life, sending us forth to discern and do God’s will as that body. So we believe, and watch and wait, steadied and strengthened by the love of God; ready to follow where he has shown the way.
“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect in your name those you whom you have given me, so that they may be one, as you and I are one” (John 17:11).