As We Wait (Reflections for Leaders on Ascension Sunday)

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I recently read a quote on Instagram by an unknown author: “Love cannot be measured by how long you wait, but how well you understand why you are waiting.” When we are in crisis, it’s often the uncertainty of what happens next that creates the most anxiety and fear. In this age of covid-19 we are in so many ways all apart and together. Waiting. Waiting for re-openings, waiting for vaccines, waiting for unknown answers. In many ways, it feels like we never got out of Holy Saturday, this awful stuck space in between grief and whatever is next.

As I read through the ascension scriptures, I’m struck by how differently I hear them this year. I’m struck by the words of the Gospel writer of John, as he speaks to his community through the words of Jesus (John 17: 1-11). He talks to them about glory. When the Jewish traditions of the Old Testament speak of God glorifying people, it refers to the divine will and power of God coming alive in and through them. Here Jesus prays that his story – his life, death, resurrection, and now ascension – will reveal his purpose and glory. That through Jesus his followers might find eternal life. For John, “eternal life” isn’t about immortality or a future life in heaven. It’s about living a life here and now that is shaped by the knowledge of God. To know God is to follow the ways of God.

The author of the Gospel of John is using this prayer of Jesus to speak hope into his gospel community. He is being both a pastoral and critical leader as he tells them that though they may not be welcome in the physical buildings and communities of the synagogues of their time, as Christ followers they do know what it means to live in the ways of God. Christ prays that they would recognize that even when they are scattered, they are one, just as Jesus and God are one. Even when they feel alone, the community is with them, they are related intimately with one another through their shared purpose of love.

The faith leaders of our movement, those launching churches and serving folks through digital platforms, pastoring strangers over social media and healing friends who said they’d never set foot in a church again, they know something of all this. Our network draws leaders together who often feel alone in their contexts. United by common values and views, they find themselves intimately related by a shared vision of radical, generous love. They are driven by something bigger than themselves, a knowledge and experience of a life with God that calls them into the unknown, into the fear, anxieties, joys and blessings of launching a new ministry. 

This ascension Sunday, in the midst of a world in chaos, my prayer is that we might look to those first disciples staring into the heavens waiting for the glory Christ promised them. May we find ways to call upon the power of Christ within us as we creatively imagine how we might come together as one. May we rely on our fellow leaders across the country to dream and pray and witness together, even when we are apart. May we know what it means to be the church wherever we are, may we learn what it means to love well as we wait.