O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
-- BCP, page 226
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;
1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
"Do not leave us comfortless," we pray in the Collect. In our church calendar, we are living in that odd time between the Ascension of our Lord and the Descent of the Holy Spirit -- the 10 unusual days when the apostles were, according to the verse immediately before our story in Acts, "constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers." (Acts 1:14)
Do not leave us comfortless. I wonder if their prayer was of the frantic, anxious, and near-panic kind? Forget what you and I know -- that the Holy Spirit came upon them. For all they knew, the Descent of the Spirit could be eons away. It was a time of great uncertainty.
Do not leave us comfortless. Their prayer also takes place in a time of great embarrassment, maybe even shame. They had to come to terms with the fact that Judas, one of Jesus' own hand-picked Twelve, had betrayed their Lord. The community was not at full strength. And the missing one had not honored the cause. I wonder about the urgency in their prayers and their recognition of brokenness and incompleteness.
Do not leave us comfortless. I wonder if we can identify with that? Uncertainty is indeed part of the human experience. We could easily muse philosophically about the vagaries of existence. And there are times in our world -- maybe even now -- when we can identify with the humorist George Carlin's question: "Where are we going? And what's with this hand-basket?"
The reality is that on any given Sunday when we come together to pray, not a few of us are dealing with particular uncertainties or pains or shame or facing hard choices in seemingly intractable circumstances. Or like the disciples, we might be looking at a future without the tangible presence of a loved one.
The 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost are reminders that our experiences of uncertainty, loss, grief, pain, and even shame are part of the life of our faith community, not just of human life itself. Their euphoria over Christ's resurrection turned to the aloneness that goes with the physical departure of Jesus. There are seasons in life when even God feels absent. The palpable absence of Jesus during those ten days ... I wonder how the apostles and the disciples, including the Blessed Virgin and the brothers of Jesus felt. Have you ever had a time like that? Has God ever felt absent from your life?
Lean into it. Denial does no good. Name the anxiety or loss or pain or uncertainty or embarrassment or shame. Whatever the feelings in our own circumstances, let us name and accept that this is where we are, maybe for more than 10 days. We know not how long.
We can learn from that first band of people bereft of comfort: Name it in prayer. And pray in community. Paradoxically, when we least feel God is when we most need to pray. When we least feel comforted, that's when we need to be together to comfort one another. We need each other. We need to come together Sunday after Sunday to pray. To lay the matter before God. To wait for God's promised Spirit to descend on us with comfort and strength.
Under the Mercy,