This year the Feast of the Ascension, and the entry into Ascension-tide captured my attention. I felt struck by what it could have felt like to suddenly experience the disappearance of the incarnate presence of God. I felt deep empathy for the disciples who had walked with Jesus, learned from him, grieved his death and celebrated his resurrection, journeyed with him, ate with him, and then heard him say that he could not remain with them.
I think my imagination goes to a place of deep sorrow because of this time of Eucharistic fast, when we cannot gather together at the altar to worship, when we cannot sit in a shared space that brings us comfort, when we cannot take the body and the blood of Jesus into ourselves through the Eucharist, when our own very existence feels so disembodied. Communication now happens through devices. Our faces are distorted by masks. We are unable to hug or hold hands without the possibility of spreading disease. I feel the loss of incarnation and I wonder if you do too.
When Jesus left the disciples, he promised that he would send another, an Advocate, a Comforter, one who would baptize them with power. And so they entered a period of waiting, and in their waiting they sang praises, they acknowledged the glory of the one who had left, they prayed together in anticipation of what would come next, and they prepared for the growth of
their believing community by bringing on another leader.
Then, during the feast of Pentecost a mighty noise broke into the silence, divided tongues like fire rested upon the believers’ heads, and suddenly they started to speak in languages they had never spoken before. A crowd of people from many nations gathered and the people found it hard to comprehend how they were hearing about God in their own native tongue. As often happens in scripture when God does something that defies reason, some began to sneer or to laugh. And Peter stood and cried out that they were not drunk but that the Messianic age predicted by the prophets had begun, and he quoted a passage from Joel, ripe with apocalyptic images.
So many times in the last few months I or someone I know has said, “this feels so apocalyptic.” It is a word we use when circumstances feel bigger than life, or when life takes a sudden dark turn, and the world grows ominous. But apocalyptic writers don’t seem to be trying to awaken fear; they are calling the community to see just how spiritually drenched their world really is, to see how charged reality is with mayhem but also mystery. They call the community to trust that mystery is gradually unfolding that which we do not yet have capacity to imagine or hope for. Perhaps our sense of apocalypse and the felt absence of the incarnation is a way in which the veil is being lifted in our time to reveal spiritual realities that life’s distractions have obscured.
What are we seeing these days? We are seeing signs of renewal and restoration in creation. We are seeing how much it means to receive a simple act of kindness from another. We are seeing our profound interdependence. Mystery. We are also seeing limits of what capitalism alone can offer. We are seeing how systemic inequities destroy health and cause needless death. We are seeing blatant murders of black and brown peoples. We are seeing the violence of anarchists. Mayhem. We are seeing massive grief and trauma without a veil. And we are having to do so in a time when the incarnation may feel taken from us.
Now is a time to remember that we have not actually been left alone.
Now is a time to attend to the Holy Spirit that has taken residence within our souls, within our very beings. Now is a time to trust that this Spirit has not gone mute or given up on us. For this is what the language of apocalypse proclaims: God is never finished with us. Mystery is always at work, even in the midst of mayhem, perhaps especially in the midst of mayhem, and God continues to invite us, to invite all peoples, into more abundant life.
The Spirit that visited the new believers on the day of Pentecost is here with us. The Spirit that gave men and women the capacity to speak new languages, may be equipping us even now to speak new languages of the spirit. Or, perhaps the ability to hear the spiritual language, the visions and dreams, of prophets in our midst whom we have not been able to hear and follow until now.
• Who is dreaming the dreams that we need to hear?
• Whose are the voices that are truly calling forth the kingdom of heaven?
• What is the timely, spiritual gift with which you will respond?