As they were saying this, Jesus Himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then He said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. While He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24: 36-53
Today we conclude this summer reset, which coincides with a program offered to the youth of the Metropolis of Atlanta, with a reflection on patience. You might be thinking, “hey, that must be a typo. The topic for today is “looking forward,” not “patience.” And you are correct, the topic is looking forward. One problem with the concept of “looking forward” is that we define what we are looking forward to, what that will look like. Our summer camp participants look forward to going to camp in summer of 2021, and to have a camp experience just like the one they had last year. We look forward to the resumption of life as we know it, or knew it. What if life is somehow different when this is all over? Will we be disappointed? Angry? Despondent? Let’s go to Scripture for some ideas.
The Gospel lesson chosen for today is the Ascension, as told in the Gospel of Luke. Just as at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is alone with His Disciples, and He “commissions” them. In Matthew’s Gospel, He tells them to go and baptize all nations, though He doesn’t give exact details as to how they are to do that. And in Luke’s Gospel, He tells them to “stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) He doesn’t elaborate. He doesn’t tell them how long they will be waiting, or what “power from on high” means. We know (and they knew) after the fact, that this power from on high was the Holy Spirit, that would enable them to speak in all the languages known to humanity. We know (and they knew) in hindsight that that wait was only going to be ten days, that the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost, a mere ten days after the Ascension.
We are told that after Jesus departed from the Disciples, ascending into heaven, that the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” (24:53) They weren’t hanging out without purpose. They weren’t despondent. They didn’t go their separate ways. Rather, they stayed together, united. They were joyful. And they were purposeful and focused. They focused on God, on blessing God and on waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled in His way, and in His time. And while they were waiting, they worshipped together.
At some point, we will be on the other side of what has happened to our country this year. We will know at some point that July 2020 marked the 50% mark of the journey through covid-19, or the 80% mark or the 20% mark. We don’t know where we are in this crisis at present, which is one of the reasons why it is so frustrating. We’ll know at some point whether this was the one year we missed summer camp, or if it was the first or two or three. We will know at some point that we were only weeks away from normal life, or months, or more. But we don’t know that now.
So, how should we pass this time? In the same way that the Disciples spent their time waiting to be clothed with power from on high. We should stay united—with our families, with our friends, with our church community and most especially with God. We should stay united in whatever ways we can—whether it is prayer, zoom calls with ministries, online worship when in person isn’t possible, whether it is more frequent texts and emails, etc. We should stay joyful. Despite all we’ve lost, there is still so much to be joyful for. And we need to remember at all times our purpose, which is to love God and love one another. We need to keep living for this purpose. We need to remember that the end of our journey is the kingdom of heaven, and not be so despondent if this year of the journey doesn’t include a vacation. We need to remember that despite what we’ve lost, and for some of us, that’s a lot, the Kingdom of heaven is not off the table for any of us. It is certainly on the table for those who are continually in (and outside) of the temple blessing God.
So, look forward to a better day, but do it with patience, and do it by blessing God and serving others!
Lord, bless those who praise You and sanctify those who put their trust in You. Save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Protect the whole body of Your church. Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house. Glorify them in return by Your divine power and do not forsake us who place our hope in You. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, to those in public service, to the armed forces and to all Your people. For every good and perfect gift is from Above, coming down from You the Father of Lights, and to You we send up glory, and thanksgiving and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
If we can acknowledge what we’ve lost, be grateful for what we still have, be supportive and patient in our challenges and difficulties, if we can look forward and if we can do so with hope, indeed our summer reset has been a success. And we are set to survive the remainder of this crisis, in whatever way it goes from here.
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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