Bishop Russell's Reflection for Ascension: Is this the time?
“Is this the time?”
If I was still hosting the Give me a word Bible Study, the word I would give you this week is "when," because that’s the word that has consumed much of my time, energy and attention the last few weeks. More specifically, when will be the time for us to return to our buildings for in-person worship?
I’ve studied statistics; I’ve listened to advice from heath officers: I’ve set up a task force of trusted clergy; I’ve read countless articles on gating criteria; I’ve talked with clergy; and I’ve prayed to God. We have published standards and suggestions that your clergy and vestries are using to develop plans to restore worship in our buildings.
And yet, with all of that, I am still agonizing and stewing on the very same question. When will be the time? There is no clear-cut answer. And whatever answer is decided upon, it is probably not an answer that fits all 53 counties and 62 churches of our diocese.
Even more, whenever that time comes, worship will not be like how we worshipped three months ago. We will need to take precautions, so many precautions that it may not feel as much like worship as we want it to. And it's probably not going to go as we hope it will go.
Most of all, there are many that should not take the church’s answer about the appropriate time to return as their own answer. After all, there is indisputable evidence that if you are over [the age of] 65 then your risk for having severe complications from COVID-19 is much higher. Given that the average age of an Episcopalian is right around 65, many of you need to stay home.
“Is this the time?”
I take some comfort in knowing that I am not the first person to agonize over the question of time. Yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension. It’s the day that Jesus lifted off from the earth and left his followers. It’s the day Jesus was lifted from time and space, in order to fill all time and space.
But before Jesus lifts off, he has a final word or two for his friends in Acts 1:6-14 which is also a reading for this coming Sunday. They asked him., “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Maybe we should not be surprised that Jesus does not offer his friends a direct answer, “It is not for you to know the time.” But even as we may sense their anxiety begin to bubble up, Jesus goes on to give them a promise, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
In other words, Jesus tells invites them to trust. Trust that God is with you. Trust that there is more to this story than the chapter you are living today.
And as far as I can tell, that promise was enough. Sure, there is that moment when they are looking up to heaven and the snarky angels ask them, "What are you looking at?" But come on, who wouldn’t be a bit mesmerized?
So they trust. They are stuck in the wilderness of time between what had been and what was promised---the past and the future. No plan, no date, no leader. Still, they will trust. They go home and we are told “they devoted themselves to prayer.” The Greek word we read as devoted literally means to strive with great effort in the midst of great difficulty.
Did you catch that? In the midst of great difficulty. Devotion is working hard at what matters in the midst of trial and tribulation. I have seen a lot of that kind of devotion in the last months. Watching this video is an act of devotion. Trust is hard work and it is forged out of the same promise that there is a future before us. So let us devote ourselves to trust.
Now let's go a step further. I wonder if Jesus does not answer their question about time, because time as they were thinking about it was shifting. They wanted to know a date. They wanted a definite measurement of time as they knew it.
But if Jesus has filled all time and space, then there is now something more to this notion of time. Stay with me. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: God’s time. The fancy term for that is kairos. It is time that is not measured in minutes, but time that is measured by meaning. In God’s time, every instant holds possibility and potential for more.
When you were baptized, you were marked as God’s forever. And you, too, in a sense were lifted up into the fullness of God’s time. You are not just bound to a calendar. You are claimed for eternity. That feels like freedom.
What if when Jesus tells them it's not for them to know the time, he is freeing them to see time as the opportunity to make meaning more so than counting the minutes or waiting for a certain date?
I will only speak for myself. Time often feels like my adversary. Think about our difficult time right now. I keep forgetting what day it is. I find that I must set my alarm in order to keep my appointments. Sometimes it is a daily schedule and not having enough time. Sometimes it is not being productive enough, so I feel guilty of wasting time. Sometimes it is my frustration because I don’t know the time. And sometimes it is about my own mortality and what can seem like the loss of time.
And yet, I am marked forever. I am a child of eternal life. You are too. And if I believe that, then I am also freed to be awake to God’s time. To focus on making meaning right now. And to worry a bit less.
What then will you devote yourself to today? How will you let loose of "when" in order to make room for "now?" And let's not forget the promise of power that holds us. Paul puts it this way:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; love is not irritable or resentful; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Trust in the power of love. The kind of love that is forever. Devote yourself to love. The kind of love that loved you into existence. And has loved you into eternity. You are marked as Christ's own forever.