This Sunday feels like the time “in-between” – after the glory of the Ascension and before the drama of Pentecost with the coming of Holy Spirit. Just before our reading from Acts today we are told that Jesus ordered his disciples and followers “not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Promise of the Father.” Jesus said, “You will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So for now the disciples wait together and pray not sure what exactly to expect.
Life is full of times “in-between”. For sports teams that have done particularly well (or badly) this can be a time “in-between” as one season has ended in one league and another is yet to begin in a higher (or lower) league. School children can find the summer holidays a time “in-between” schools, or exam groups or the transition to university, apprenticeship or work. There can be a time “in-between” when moving house, or expecting a baby (especially the period between taking maternity leave and actually giving birth). Life is full of times “in-between” – some so short they are over in a trice, some lasting days or weeks or months or even years. Some are fixed in duration while others are open-ended.
The time “in-between” can feel like a waste, an annoyance, an obstacle to getting on with things – but it can be very useful. When I was a student in Scotland I loved the long train journey between home and university as a time to adjust between home life and student life.
The time “in-between” can give us time to recollect, to savour, to resolve things that have been neglected, to prepare ourselves for new realities, to anticipate, to explore new possibilities. Sometimes we can miss the opportunity provided by the time “in-between”. We can be so caught up in the old reality that we fail to prepare for the new. A team may be so caught up in the glory of winning in one league that they fail to prepare well for the step up to a higher one – or they may be so weighed down by the despondency of relegation that they enter a lower league so downcast that they get off on the wrong foot.
Or maybe we fear the future and change and don’t want to look ahead, preferring to dwell in the past. On the other hand we may be so excited at the prospect of a change, of something new, that we fail to take stock of where we have come from, of what has brought us to this place and fail to approach the new phase with a clear appreciation of its advantages and downsides (and everything has some downsides!) We may invest too much expectation in a change – and believe that it will make everything right in our lives, forgetting that the one constant going forward is that we will take ourselves – who we are, what we have lived through, what we have yet to come to terms with.
We hear that the disciples and followers used the “in-between” time to meet together and to pray. They also appointed another disciple to take the place of Judas. They doubtless talked a lot about what had happened, about how they came to be in Jerusalem, about events over the last few months, and about just what exactly they were anticipating and how it might affect them and they prayed together, opening themselves to God.
Some people like to end each day with a prayerful review of what has happened – good and bad – and offer it to God, to celebrate successes, to resolve to address failings and to prepare for tomorrow. That is a good way to treat “in-between” times – however short or long – to review the past and pray to be prepared for what may be coming.
Writing a sermon this week, I have been aware that I really cannot ignore what has happened in Manchester – the tragedy of the terrorist attack on young people at a concert. For many people this has been, and still is, a time “in-between”. For many it is a time “in-between” youthful innocence and coming to terms with shocking horror and violence. For some it is a time “in-between” of coming to terms with dreadful, life-changing injuries, and of families coming to terms with new realities of disability or disfigurement. For some it has been a terrible “in-between” time of waiting for news of loved ones only to be met with the devastating news that they have died. And now they face the “in-between” time of dealing with a funeral, bereavement, shock and horror at what has happened and all that this terrible incident means for the future of their lives and families.
It has been a hard “in-between” time for us all – as we all deal with this attack on young people at a concert and the impact of heightened security for all of us.
But it has also been a week that has seen a lot of coming together of families, of communities, of friends and strangers, to reflect, to pray, to keep reverent silence, to remember, to support. There has been a coming together to offer practical assistance – safe refuge, transport, help, comfort, to offer financial help, aid and counsel.
We have seen some of the hardest “in-between” times and some heart-warming responses.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those caught up in this terrible atrocity – with the victims, their families and friends, with the emergency services, the medical staff, the police and security personnel, with politicians, teachers, faith leaders, communities at large and all who have been faced with challenges as a result of these events.
May God’s blessing rest on all whose have been changed by this bomb attack. May light shine in the dark places, living water well up in the dry places and new life bud in the barren places.
May we all live through these days with hope and trust in the faithfulness of God, with an appreciation of the love and support of others around us and with prayerful trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, to heal, to inspire and to transform.
May we use all our “in-between” times well – coming together, offering prayers to God and trusting in His future. May we join with all God’s church in praying in this “in-between” week for a new outpouring of his Spirit this coming Pentecost.
Reader Anne Grant
Readings for sermon and links: