Toorak Uniting Church

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Acts 1: 6 – 14
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:00am, 8 May 2005

This is the 7th Sunday after Easter, a Sunday that is also, in some Church calendars, called Orphan Sunday, because it is the Sunday between ascension day and Pentecost. Jesus has been taken up to heaven and the Holy Spirit has not yet been given, so the disciples, and we, are, on this Sunday, like orphans. And just imagine how they felt: The Lord no longer physically available to them any more. No longer the opportunity to ask questions, have discussions, share meals together. Awaiting what he has promised, power from above, but not quite sure yet what or when that power will be. My guess is that they felt bereft, insecure and hopefully also expectant and full of trust that somehow things would be alright, that what he promised would come and that it would be good.
They’d just lived through the agony of the passion and the unbelievable miracle of meeting the resurrected Christ. They had spent 40 days encountering the risen Lord at different occasions in different settings. In an upstairs room in Jerusalem, down the beach fishing, on the way to Emmaus.
And now he is gone, he has given them a blessing and has pulled out of their everyday existence for good.
At first they know no better than just look and stare after him, up to heaven where to he has disappeared. What now?

Bereavement. When we lose a loved one, when somebody dies or moves away for good, when somebody we loved spending time with suddenly is not there anymore and we know there is no chance of ever returning to how things were, most of us just stand, or sit, numbly, looking at where this person was, or used to be, or we stare at nothing much at all. These things take time to sink in. It takes a while before we can start moving again, before we can redirect our gaze back to our everyday commitments, back to the here and now, and tear ourselves away from what was, from love, attachment, somebody who shared our life.
So I imagine also the disciples. Dumbstruck, not so much by somebody vanishing into thin air (which I doubt happened the way childrens bibles picture it anyway) but not unable to tear their eyes of the spot where he was, not quite ready to face life without him, not quite ready to accept the inevitable: life without this person that had become so very important to them.

And then there are two men. And again, in my experience those two men are always there, in any bereavement process. Maybe not literally, they may be women, or children, or a dog, or a cat or something else that says: "Hey, wake up, time to get back to life, no use staring into thin air."

Somebody that will take you by the hand and turn you around and lead you back to life if need be. Somebody that will care and be with you in your loss.

In this case they are two "men", angels, sent to help the disciples come to terms with their loss and move on. Back to Jerusalem, back to the temple and the small community of Christ followers, back to the commission he gave them, trusting that what he has promised will come true, that somehow he will be present in yet another way once again in their life. Expecting empowerment and inspiration as he has said will be given to them. Waiting and praying to receive renewed and different leadership that will enable them to follow him and be his witnesses as he has told them.

But still, orphans for 10 days. The Lord no longer there, the Spirit not yet come.

We may feel like that sometime, and it is for those of us who do we find this story twice in scripture. The story of Jesus departure leaving his disciples alone, bereaved, insecure. What now? Where do we go? What do we do?

I remember that feeling last year when I had taken my friend back to the airport. After 4 weeks of chatting, sharing and lots of fun she disappeared through those forbidding doors at Melbourne airport and I sat for an hour looking out into empty sky behind a cup of coffee I did not drink until my mobile rang and one of the children asked where I was….

I remember it when we received the news of my grandmothers death and we sat together for quite some time without speaking and without getting into action even though it was important to get to my grandfather as soon as we could.

But we may also feel like that when we think of the good old days when Church life was so much different, when everybody went to Church and things were so much more straightforward.

How now, what next?

The two men in the story urge the disciples to go and look forward to what has been promised to them. Power from above, guidance, inspiration. And they go, they wait and they pray and after ten days they receive the Spirit.
Not that it is all plain sailing from there, but they are not left orphaned for long. Jesus will present with them again, in another way, a way that is even more powerfull and further reaching than before.

Whenever these feelings of bereavement and abandonment come over us, for whatever reason, this may be something to remember and draw strength from: although we may at that moment feel sad and lost and forsaken, the Lord will not leave us that way for long. He will come and find us and give us strength and the power to find new ways to go on. The only thing we have to do is to trust, to pray and to be expecting of radically new ways of his presence in our lives and in the life of the community.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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