Years ago, there was a time when a friend and I waited in line for hours to get concert tickets. They were worth the wait. In college, before the days of online registration, we had to decide which classes to wait in line for, and which to just leave to chance. A well-chosen wait was necessary.
A few years ago, I had to wait for the results of a medical test. While all turned out fine, the wait gave me the opportunity to prepare for whatever may come. I remember waiting for my letter of acceptance to the seminary.
The wait, and the building anticipation, made receiving that letter all the better.
As much as we live in a world of instant gratification, there are still plenty of things that are worth the wait. And there are many reasons the wait itself is worth it.
The Psalmist writes, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak. More than sentinels for daybreak” (Ps 130, 5-6).
This week, it can be said that the church begins its closure of the Easter season with the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. In the moments before his ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Lord twice promises the disciples they would be baptized with, and receive, the Holy Spirit a few days hence. But does not the promise itself beg a simple question – why the wait? Could not the Lord have offered the Holy Spirit right then and there?
There are some practical or scriptural parameters. The risen Lord’s 40 days after the Resurrection harken to a number of other occurrences of the same length of time in the Scriptures — the rains of the great flood in the Old Testament or Jesus’ own retreat into the desert before he began is public ministry.
Pentecost is associated with a Jewish celebration and could stand by itself. But, there has long been a desire to rush the period of waiting for the Holy Spirit that is enshrined between the two. As early as the Council of Elvira in the year 300, Council Fathers had to issue a decree directing that the Ascension and Pentecost be emphasized and celebrated separately. Seventeen centuries has not dulled our human inclination to avoid waiting and to rush for good things.
Whether Mary’s nine months from Annunciation to Nativity, or the world’s desperate days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the wait is purposeful and necessary.
Certainly, receiving the Holy Spirit is worth the wait. Those days between the Ascension and Pentecost set the stage for how the fledgling Christian community would prepare and comport itself for the long wait yet to come.
The wait for the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, the time during which they must be witnesses in Jerusalem and beyond. The millennia-long wait for his return.
Today we can learn from how the disciples filled their time of waiting. They returned to Jerusalem and to the upper room. Peter asserted his leadership and brought closure to the betrayal by Judas and facilitated the choosing of Matthias to be counted among the Apostles.
In a true sense they spent the time together, supporting each other and preparing for their mission and ministry. Unquestionably, they were already becoming the church. While the descent of the Holy Spirit and the gifts given are necessary for the church, finding the courage for the time of waiting required them to begin the journey unified and connected.
Holy Thursday gave them the Eucharist and Easter Sunday, the Resurrection. Although they did not know it at the time, Pentecost would give them the promised Holy Spirit. For the disciples, as for us, being and becoming the church is the gift from God that makes the wait purposeful, meaningful, and bearable. It is as if the church facilitates all the best in the wait for the concert and the class, the health and the vocation.
The difference between hoping for something and having it is the waiting that comes in between. Between hoping in the Resurrection and having the gift of eternal life is the incarnation of the Body of Christ, the church.
In the proverbial need that we have to endure after our eyes have ascended heavenward, and until the day when the Spirit descends upon us, we have the church. To be in the church – then, now, and until the second coming – is to be in the place of God-given hope. To be the church, is to be a herald of hope.