Waiting is not something I do with skill or aplomb. I do not like waiting whether it is in line at the bank or in traffic or for some action that must take place before I can do something.
This time between Ascension Day and Pentecost always reminds me that the apostles in the upper room were waiting… Jesus had left them to return to the father and they were to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” as I recall the quote. In essence stay put and wait. Why were they waiting? Why wasn’t the event by which they received the empowerment of the Spirit that day or the next? We cannot know but I suspect there was purpose in the wait.
Waiting may not be such a bad thing (did I just say that?) if the wait is fruitful. And for the apostles it was a time of getting their heads around the new situation. No longer were they just followers, following the master’s instructions. They were now in change of the mission – of telling the story and reaching out those around them in need. They had to figure out the what, when, who and why. And they had to do it as a community. No one of them was the boss… they had to figure out how they were going to go from a frightened band of followers to a community of witnesses and advocates publicly sharing Good News.
The Gospel gives us a good picture of the diversity of these men & women who were Jesus disciples. The stresses and strains are apparent as James & John want to be Jesus’ most important friends – Philip not quite understanding the needs of people wanting to see Jesus – Thomas needing to see for himself – brash outspoken Peter & his quieter and more serious brother Andrew… Just as diverse as any group of followers. They did not know how to be this community they were going to have to become to fulfill the commission Jesus had given them.
If you think about it we can readily relate to that as so often we do not how to “be church” to become that community that carries on the work of Jesus in our corner of the kingdom. It takes time and effort to have the conversations, to make the decision, to open ourselves enough to be influenced to move in directions that are not innate to us. We are not told of the apostle’s conversations, their discussions, their compromises in forming themselves into a new kind of community with a new identity and purpose. But Pentecost could not have happened if they had not had that interim time to do the work they needed to do to be ready to be empowered for the next phase of their journey with God.
The end result was transformed people who understood the difference between unity and uniformity. They were united in Christ to accomplish a purpose greater than themselves – but they remained individuals with differing, skills, gifts, understandings and abilities. The mission was more important and had greater value to them than staking out their individual territory.
The portion of the Gospel from John came to reality of their achieving a deep unity – not because the decided on uniformity. One of the gifts of the Episcopal Church is this differential understanding. We do not insist we all become alike in belief or ministry in order to be part of this community of faith. We are not bound together by philosophical understandings, political stances or even a single theology to which we must vow allegiance. What unites us is Christ and the task we have been given.
Waiting is not a bad thing when there is purpose to your waiting – and when you use the time to become ready for the task for which you will be empowered. It matters HOW you wait and what you DO while you are waiting.