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Waiting for a fresh anointing6 months ago
Felicity Lawson speaks about living and waiting in inbetween times like our own in the present crisis, with the courage to wait and to pray for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit
I’ve been thinking recently about the events of Ascension Day and Pentecost from the point of view of the disciples, those who experienced them first hand.
When they met with Jesus on the hillside did they know this would be the last time they would see him in this way?
What was their reaction when Jesus commissioned them to go into the whole world to proclaim the kingdom and make disciples? Many of them were from Galilee, a trip to Jerusalem was adventure enough for some of them!
And what about when he promised to be with them always, and a few minutes later disappeared in a cloud? I bet Thomas had something to say about that!
And what, I wonder, did they make of his command to return to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit? Jesus had obviously spoken with them about the Holy Spirit. John tells us that on the night before he died Jesus promised them that he would send another Comforter, Helper, Advocate, the Spirit of truth who would be with them forever.
I wonder, was it a bit like when he had predicted what would happen in Jerusalem, that he would be killed and 3 days later rise again? They couldn’t process what he was saying. It was only in retrospect that they began to understand. I wonder if it wasn’t a bit like that with the Holy Spirit? Perhaps, although they had experienced the Spirit working through Jesus, it was only after Pentecost that they began to understand this gift that God had given them?
I wonder too how they reacted when the cloud enveloped Jesus and he disappeared? Luke tells us that they worshipped and returned to Jerusalem rejoicing. But I wonder, was it really as straightforward as that? Not for the first time over the past few weeks their thoughts and emotions must have been all over the place.
The disciples were thrown into what is sometimes called a liminal space. A liminal space can be described as the time between ‘what was’ and ‘what’s next’, a space that is ‘betwixt and between’. It is a place of transition, a time of uncertainty, a season of waiting and not knowing. Some people find being in a time of change exciting and stimulating but many find it confusing and unsettling. We don’t like living with that sense of being out of control. Perhaps the first disciples had equally mixed reactions?
The biblical narrative is full of liminal spaces: Abraham and Sarah called out from Ur, travelling in unknown territory not knowing where they would end up; the Israelites escaping from Egypt into an inhospitable desert, and finding themselves there for longer than they anticipated; the exiles returning from Babylon to a land they had dreamt about but no longer recognised.
And it’s true of individual’s too. Joseph in the pit; Jonah in the belly of the whale; Job stripped bare of family, health, wealth and friends, staring into the abyss and being very honest with God about what he saw. We know the end of these stories just like we know what happened at Pentecost and we know that this place of waiting, this place of transition, this place of facing an unknown future is a place where God is deeply at work, transforming individuals and even whole communities. God’s plans and purposes were for their good but it didn’t always feel like it at the time.
The disciples found themselves in a place of change, a place probably for some of anxiety. For once they did what Jesus had asked them to do. They stuck together and they prayed together. I wonder, as they prayed did their perspective gradually begin to change? Did their sense of confidence grow? Did they realise that Jesus was with them, albeit in a different way from the way he was with them before? I wonder whether the reason Peter quoted the prophet Joel to explain what was happening on the day of Pentecost was because they had been studying the scriptures together trying to understand what it would mean for God to bring in his kingdom through them?
When Pentecost did arrive, they found it extremely hard to describe what happened to them. They could only use picture language. ‘It was like a mighty wind and tongues of fire.’ God was deeply at work in them, transforming and equipping them for the mission for which he had called them. It wasn’t the end of the challenges and the dangers, rather the opposite. But they had a new confidence, a new boldness, a new power because God had fulfilled his promise and poured out his Spirit on them.
As we approach Pentecost this year, we too are in a liminal space.
None of us knows what the world, the church or even our own lives will look like in the future. And while some are beginning to dream dreams of a different future, others are struggling just to live in the present. Celebrating Pentecost will look very different this year. The best we can hope for is joining together on Zoom, watching a service on YouTube, listening to the radio. But does that mean that the Holy Spirit can’t come and touch and transform us and equip us for the future? God the Holy Spirit is not locked down!
There has been a lot in the news about the changes that have taken place recently: the vastly lower level of pollution and nature celebrating, the greater sense of equality, the recognition of people whose jobs were not valued before the virus hit us. There is great potential for change in our society and the world.
I wonder whether we, as individuals and as the church, have the courage to wait through this period and to pray for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit to equip us, to transform us, to make us ready to meet the challenges as we eventually emerge from lockdown? And to meet those challenges in a way that fits with the kingdom of God, where the lowly are lifted up and each human being and the whole of creation is valued because they are created and loved by God. Pentecost may look different this year but if we will allow him to, I believe Jesus will transform and equip us by his Holy Spirit just as he transformed and equipped those first disciples. And they transformed the world!
I was just wondering what Ascension Day might have been like for the first disciples when a reflection from Dave Hopwood popped into my early morning Facebook browsing. Dave had obviously been reflecting on this same encounter. He imagines the conversations Jesus might have had with some of the women and men gathered there. With his permission I include the link here (https://davehopwood.com/2020/05/ascension-reflection/) . It focuses on how well Jesus knew and loved his first disciples and, by implication, how well he knows and loves us. I found it very encouraging and I hope you will do too.