While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” -Acts 1:4,5
Ooooweee, am I terrible at waiting. I am a recovering multi-tasker, and there is nothing worse to me than having to sit with nothing to do while my time is in someone else’s hands. That’s why this one detail in the story of Jesus’ ascension bothers me. I love the ascension itself, with its picture of Jesus in his humanity going into heaven to complete the way from earth to heaven for us all. But I don’t love what Jesus said just before his ascension.
He said, “Wait here, and you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.” The disciples have already been with Jesus for so long. They have suffered alongside him. They have rejoiced in the resurrection. After all that, in the gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t require waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. He breathes the Spirit into them right on the spot (see John 20). But in Luke’s gospel, there’s the interminable waiting.
10 days the disciples wait after Jesus’ ascension. They don’t know the exact nature of what or who they are waiting for, only that they are waiting of the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke’s gospel seems to take more into account the situation the early church was in as Luke is writing some 40 years after Jesus’ historic events. The church is waiting, thinking Jesus would return quickly, but the wait is already much longer than they would have guessed. Luke’s telling of the ascension models what the church should be doing while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, too.
The disciples wait, but they don’t just sit around. They pray. They share in community. They develop new leaders among them. They pray some more. Then things start to feel a bit breezy, and the Holy Spirit starts swooshing in among them, changing every limitation and boundary they thought they had. The wait is over, and there is no going back to that liminal time.
This week, I’m trying to pray while I wait in my various places of waiting purgatory. You never know what could happen!