“Lord is this time,” the apostles ask the resurrected Christ, “when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” Jesus replies, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We just want to know when we can return to church. There are churches in town that have reopened their doors – when will we open our doors? Not yet, is all I know. Our first priority is the safety of our members and our community. With the number of known cases of COVID-19 on the rise, the leadership of our church is not comfortable taking such a risk.
At Friday’s press conference, Governor Hutchinson reported that there were eight new cases in Paragould – all from the same street. I know it is difficult to maintain our social distance and that it is easier when we avoid situations where we might forget or simply elect to ignore these precautions. I know because I haven’t been successful at modeling good behavior at all times. I want to know when this will end.
After Jesus says it is not for the apostles to know when the kingdom of Israel will be restored, they watch as Jesus is lifted up and a cloud takes him out of their sight. They stand there glazing upward, not really sure what to do next, when two angels appear and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
They then return to Jerusalem, sequester themselves in a room, and wait. They wait because Jesus has told them to stay in Jerusalem to receive “the promise of the Father.” This is what Jesus tells them in the verse BEFORE today’s reading. In that verse, Jesus tells them they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So, they wait.
We, too, are waiting – not to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, but for the day when life will return to normal. It is natural to long for how it used to be. I don’t know, however, that I really want life to return to as it was. I hope we will live together differently. I pray that we have been learning some important lessons from all this – lessons about sacrificial living.
Wearing masks, after all, is more protection for others, than ourselves. Masks and social distancing, not hugging and shaking hands is about protecting each other. People who think first of the needs of others are not only reducing the infection rates, they are, in a small way, sharing the mindset of the men and women in the military, who put their lives ahead of their own and died to preserve our freedom.
We celebrate Memorial Day to remember their service and the example they set for us. Their service and their sacrifice remind us that we are all in this together.
Governor Hutchinson, on Friday, shared some remarks about our celebration of this Memorial Day some of which I’d like to share with you:
Memorial Day 2020 will be different than any of us has ever observed. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to alter most of our traditions, including Memorial Day. This year, we can’t congregate for memorial services at cemeteries and churches. But we can still honor the memory of those who died on our behalf by remembering them and all those who are still willing to go to the front lines.
And he said,
Those who fight for us understand that serving others requires us to put the interests of others ahead of what we want. That has never been more evident than during this pandemic. Wearing a mask in public is perhaps uncomfortable and inconvenient, but we wear masks because that protects others.
I believe it honors those who served our country and gave their lives for us when we, too, remember that we are all called to make sacrifices for the good of others.
In last Sunday’s readings, Jesus tells his disciples to keep his commandments. We know that what these are, they can be summarized by the two great commandments – love God, and love your neighbor as yourself, plus the “new commandment” he gave them after he washed their feet, “Love one other as I have loved you.”
For some, social distancing and waiting for this all to end feels like we’re wasting time. We feel like we should be doing something, anything to help. But waiting is not the same a being idle. We can use this time of waiting to prepare to do what we are called to do – to love others as Christ loves us. We can use the time to meditate and pray and listen so that we can hear God’s call to serve others, to share Christ’s love with others. How might we emerge from this pandemic more Christ like? How might we share Christ’s love is new ways?
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness preparing for his ministry, the disciples sequestered themselves in Jerusalem before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they could share the good news of God’s redemptive love with others. We, too, can use this time to prepare to minister to others, to expand our ministry in this community by sharing Christ’s love with others in ways we haven’t before. We are not only in this together, is not only true of getting past this pandemic it is true of living out lives in community.
Let us pray.
Loving God, we give thanks to you for the examples of unselfish love given to us by those who died serving our country. Help us to honor their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families by putting the needs of others before our wants and desires. Keep us ever mindful that our lives are connected and that what we do or do not do affects others. Help us to use this time of waiting as a time of pray and reflection so that we might help prepare for the coming of your kingdom. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.