Waiting on a promise (April 30, 2023)

A lesson for April 30, 2023, about Acts 1 and waiting.

Outlook Standard Lesson for April 30, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Acts 1:1-11

We’ve spent the past four weeks thinking about the resurrection and how Jesus encounters his followers after rising from the dead. This lesson marks the first in a new unit: “The Birth of the Church” where we will study the early chapters of Acts. Today’s lesson explores the book’s prologue (1:1-11) — a period of transition between Luke and Acts, a two-part work penned by a single author.

An in-between time

Over the past 18 months, my husband and I got married, moved in together, and attended 10 other weddings and all their corresponding events. It’s been a busy season, and the early months of 2023 have felt like a collective exhale. At first, life without a slew of major events was relaxing, but I soon began to itch for plans, for structure, for meaning. “Ok, so now what?” I asked.

Perhaps you can relate. Whether it’s surviving the Easter season or settling your child into their first apartment or selling your parents’ house, there’s a collective sense of relief after a major event or busy season. But almost inevitably, your desire to move forward into something new comes back: “What now?”

I like to think that this is what the disciples feel after watching Jesus disappear into the clouds. They’ve witnessed their Lord conquer death. Their eyes were opened to the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), called them to spread the news of God’s love with the world (Acts 1:8), and ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9). And now they wait. Because they don’t have the Holy Spirit yet, but it’s coming soon.

Trusting in God’s movement

It’s hard for me to wait, especially when I don’t know what is coming next. I want to be in control of my own destiny. Yet such control is a fallacy. We can make decisions with consequences, but we cannot control everything the future holds. As a result, waiting reminds us of our vulnerability. It is uncomfortable, and, for Christians, it requires that we trust in God to give us our “daily bread” – to meet our needs and connect us with the right people at the right time.

I wonder if the disciples felt any discomfort after the ascension. They must have thought about the most recent time when they were asked to trust God — and failed. Peter denied Christ in the courtyard (Luke 22:54-62). The male disciples didn’t believe the female disciples when they reported Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:11). Thomas didn’t even believe Jesus when he appeared in the room (John 20:24-29). After they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and heard from the angels, as the days passed by with no showing of the Spirit, did they doubt? Did they remember?

We do not share the disciples’ memories of the risen Lord, but that doesn’t mean that Christ hasn’t revealed himself to us. Have you seen a person working to make a positive change, no matter how small? Have you received the gift of love freely given? Have you encountered beauty? Have you met someone new at exactly the right time? God is at work in the world, in our lives today. Perhaps our seasons of waiting are a gift of time to remember this truth.

Waiting with hope

The liturgical calendar invites us to engage waiting alongside the disciples this time of year. Easter has come and gone. Pentecost is coming, but it is not yet here. And so, we wait. It may feel pointless at times. There’s a song snippet that’s been popular on social media for the past several months that sings, “Let’s skip to the good part” (from AJR’s song “The Good Part”). And don’t all want that? We’ve celebrated Easter — let’s jump ahead to the gifts of the Holy Spirit that unite us to God and each other at Pentecost. Bring on the tongues of fire!

But we’re invited by the divine inspiration of the Bible and church tradition to wait here. Why? What is there to learn by practicing waiting with hope and expectation? What is there to learn by engaging what is directly in front of us? Unlike the disciples in the days after Jesus’ ascension, we have the Holy Spirit. And in our seasons of waiting, we can engage the Spirit: what are you called to do today? How is God moving in your life in this moment? Maybe that is sharing the gospel with someone; maybe it is community organizing; maybe it is planting a garden; maybe it is being a good neighbor. As we wait, we must trust not only that God will send the next task our way, but that God is using this time to prepare us for the next season when it arrives.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How have you experienced God? How does this give you hope in times of waiting?
  2. What can we do in times of waiting to help us embrace what is in front of us — not what has passed nor what is to come?