Today the disciples wait for a second Easter.
Back before the first Easter, back when Jesus is captured and put to death, these disciples are left in shock. They scatter, and find themselves together yet alone, unable to understand what is happening, at a loss to piece together their shattered world. They think everything is over.
Though Jesus told them of his coming death and resurrection more than once, his message did not sink in, and so when his body is put to rest in the tomb, the future appears to them as a blank. They do not know they are waiting for Easter.
But Easter happens! Jesus leaves the tomb and takes up residence in the world. He appears to them in a hundred places. He comes back to life, and they come back to life along with him. Again and again he demonstrates that he is indeed alive, and he speaks to them often about the reign of God.
Then the day comes when he is taken from them. A cloud removes him from their sight. The assembled disciples feel their hearts grow heavy as they recognize he is gone. This departure is for them a kind of death. But what happens to them is different now from what happens when he dies on the cross.
Back before the crucifixion, he tells them more than once that what awaits him at Jerusalem is not only death on a cross, but resurrection to new life. They simply do not hear him. He might as well be speaking an unknown language.
After his resurrection, he tells them that what awaits them in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will empower them to be his witnesses right there at Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth. This they are able to hear.
The capture and death of Jesus leaves the disciples scattered, demoralized, unable to pray, unable–almost–to live. They have nothing to hope for. But these same disciples meet the risen Lord. They hear his message. They accept the promise of the Spirit’s power. And their behavior becomes utterly different. They wait for a second Easter.
Just before the first Easter, it is the crucified body of Jesus that lies in the tomb, waiting for resurrection to life. Now, in preparation for the second Easter, these disciples remain in the upper room, hidden away in that place. They await their own resurrection, the Spirit’s gift of power.
Their behavior is utterly different from what it was before. Then, with Jesus in the tomb, they are scattered, demoralized, unable to pray, unable–almost–to live. Now there are three things that characterize them. They stay together. They pray. They wait.
Not only the eleven disciples, but others also, men and women, among them Jesus’ mother and additional members of his family. All these remain in that upper room. It is their tomb, their place of burial, as they wait for a second Easter. And so they stay together. They pray. They wait. And time passes between the ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit falls on them and fills them with new life.
Stay together. Pray. Wait. This sounds easy to do, almost passive, but how much there is in us human beings that leads us elsewhere! Yet these disciples do stay together. They do not scatter. Nor do they remain in the same place only to argue and reject each other. They stay together. The Christ they know is greater than all their differences.
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In an age when commitments are broken like twigs, when “here today, gone tomorrow” is a way of life for many, when there are those who know nothing of the challenge and joy of face-to-face accountability, we can learn from that ragtag group of disciples who remain in the upper room, waiting for a second Easter. The promise for which they wait is not a private satisfaction, but the empowerment of each and every one for the common good and the world’s salvation.
They stay together, and they pray. They are not a collection of human beings who have become too close to each other, and have unrealistic expectations about what they can provide one another, and are sure to end up disillusioned and dissatisfied. This gathering of men and women is open to a dimension beyond themselves, not in theory only, but also in how they live.
Put simply, this is a group that prays. And their prayer is something more than a list of what they want. It comes from some place deeper: it is a cry about what they need. More than that, it is also a listening, a willingness to hear what God tells them in word or action. Can you feel the stillness in that upper room when this group sits in silent prayer? Their silence day after day creates the space inside them for the Spirit to find a home.
They stay together, and they pray, and they wait. This waiting is an act of faith. It is a practical acknowledgment that God is in charge, that the promise of Jesus deserves our trust, that the divine purpose will not go unfulfilled. Their waiting bears witness to the prime Christian belief that all are saved by grace, that we do not redeem ourselves, that everyone who enters gets in on a free pass.
To wait in faith is an affront to this busy, self-important world. But doing this is a sign of hope to all those millions who wait because they have no choice, whose lives are waiting, and who fear their waiting is in vain. Those who hurry are busy with their own concerns; but those who wait may find themselves–much to their surprise perhaps–at God’s service, that service which alone is perfect freedom.
Today’s passage from Acts ends with those disciples still in that upper room where they stay together, they pray, they wait. What they anticipate is a second Easter. The first Easter taught them something. It unstopped their ears so they could hear the promise of the risen Christ. That promise is what enables them to stay together, to pray, to wait. They anticipate a second Easter. Soon it will be here. They can rise to new life, and so can we.
What the world inculcates is the opposite of all this. Rather than stay together, it tells us to strike out on our own in splendid isolation. Rather than pray, it tells us to trust only what you see and hear, what you buy and sell. Rather than wait, it tells us to hurry up and grab what you can, for there are no gifts, only trophies.
In the eyes of the world, they appear as a useless lot, this bunch that stays together, prays, and waits, these people who trust a promise. But they have seen one Easter, and now believe there can be another . . . and another and another. The Spirit hovers somewhere, they have heard, searching for a home. His fire falls only on those who stay together, and pray, and wait.
Using a form from the Celtic tradition, let us cry out to God.
Ascended Lord, you call those who follow you to a time of waiting, that they may be able to receive the gifts you delight to shower on your Church, and to receive the Spirit who empowers your Church. Give us receptive hearts. Make us fertile ground. Take from us obstinate refusals.
Teach us to reverence you at all times.
Teach us to thank you in all things.
Teach us to look for you in all ways.
Teach us to love you in all people.
Teach us to receive you in all your fullness.
[Adapted from Prayers and Liturgies in the Celtic Tradition (St. Aidan Trust U.S.A., 1994), B7, “Ascension–A pattern of worship in the Celtic Tradition,” p. 3.]
Copyright for this sermon 2006, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals.”