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The Seventh Sunday of Easter: Everyone is Just Waiting

Sunday, May 21, 2023
Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

[This sermon came about in a sort of hybrid fashion, after the scheduled preacher had to head out of town to attend to a family emergency.]

I gathered with our seminarian, Brent, on Saturday, to discuss the readings, and where one might go with them. What struck him comes right before the beginning of our first reading, from Acts:

“After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father.”

Imagine being one of the followers of Jesus. Your mind going back to some cryptic words from a few years earlier. Something John the Baptist had said: “I baptize you with water [for repentance], but Jesus will baptize you with the Spirit, and with fire.

This thing that they’re waiting for might be a bit of a scary thing.

So yesterday morning Brent called me (I share this with his permission) and told me that his mother up north, whom he had just visited, had apparently taken a turn for the worse. And there he was, waiting, for more information. Waiting for his brother to get there to assess the situation. What came to him in all this was a verse from Dr. Seuss:

by Dr. Seuss
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Brent reflected on the disciples and their waiting:

“I’m sure they would much rather disperse back into the safety of the country side, or return to Galilee to fish and family. Or simply remain staring up into the sky from the safe location of the mount of olives  in Bethany.but Jesus is clear, they are to reassemble together to wait in Jerusalem. After all what would be the value in standing alone to watch a plane depart long after it has taken off and disappeared  out of sight?”

And a memory occurred to Brent, that he wanted to share with you. He writes:


 Back in the early 1980s my great Uncle John and his wife , Aunt Pauline came  by plane to visit our family in Sault Ste. Marie. Uncle John was a very loveable fellow full of humour and kindness, and Aunt Pauline was a quiet dignified person who let Uncle John  tease her for the benefit of our entertainment. 

He would randomly squawk out “Polly wanna cracker?” Aunt Pauline would  just chuckle under her breath and subtly roll her eyes. 

In this way, they performed a scene like a well-tuned comedy duo.  My brother and I were absolutely delighted by this performance, and the phase “Polly wanna cracker” soon became canon in our repertoire of horse play. 

  I remember they stayed about a week and then we drove them back to the airport — we watched them go through security, board the plane up the long stairs from the tarmac: back in those days the only way to enter a plane was up a long flight of stairs to the fuselage-this created a moment for sentimentality giving the travelers and onlookers one last chance to turn to give a wave goodbye. Much like passengers on a cruise ship who gather on the deck to  receive choruses of ‘Bon voyage’. Then they ascended the stairs and disappeared into the cabin. Standing in the airport observation  area. We watched the plane  make it’s  slow crawl around the runway. Then it accelerated fiercely after a long pause. Soon the wind caught the nose and wings and the plane flew up and up and up into the sky. I remember wondering how such a heavy looking object like that plane could take a run like that, and actually fly!?

But more acutely, I was thinking that uncle John and aunt Polly were going away-far away back home to Ottawa. Ottawa was some place out there, I couldn’t imagine such a place was real. I stood there way too long watching the plane go, until it disappeared into the clouds. I continued to stand there long after there was anything to see – letting my imagination create scenes where I thought I could still see the plane, or that the plane might decide to turn around and come back so uncle John  and aunt Polly could spend some more time with us. 

The rest of my family gathered our things, and began to head back to the parking lot.  My father told me to ‘come along,’ and added that we had many things to do that  day.

I remember feeling kind of stuck to the spot. That  leaving the airport to carry on with the business of the day was somehow abandoning uncle John and aunt Polly. 

When we got home, we all talked about how wonderful and delightful their visit had been, and we even re-enacted some of the highlights of their visit. 

We spent time discussing and looking forward to when they might return, but mostly those conversations resulted in remembrances of what they had given us  by their visit. 

Now that they were gone and returning  to their home, their visit belong to us. It belonged to us in sharing the stories of their visit with our friends and with each other. 

So today we think of the disciples in this interesting and fraught time between the Ascension and Pentecost. How they struggled so often during their time with Jesus, and here they are on their own. Jesus is, in one sense, very much gone, and it would be understandable to worry, like how you fear for the house when the parents leave their teenager in charge while they go on holiday. We know from countless movies that the kids are going to throw a wild party. Maybe first just letting their best friends know. But soon word spreads to the whole school, and chaos ensues.

Or more seriously, we think of Church history, and how even great mistakes, conflicts, and tragedies happened because of the ‘best intentions’ of the followers of Jesus.

Like that Dr. Seuss poem described, we’re all waiting. Some of our eucharistic prayers list the highlights of the Church’s encounter with Jesus: “the precious death of thy beloved Son, his mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension, and looking for his coming again in glory…” That’s where they were in the early Church: “looking for his coming again.” And where they were in the Middle Ages and in the Reformation. And it’s where we are now; like Dr. Seuss said, “everyone is just waiting.” Looking for his coming again in glory.

And yet, the message from scripture and from our theology (our reflection on scripture) is that we have not been left abandoned, even as we watch Jesus float of to the sky. I can’t help but feel that the depth of our relationship with God is somehow made stronger and more real now that Jesus has returned back into the heart of God, and does so by bringing the visible scars and wounds of what it is like to be human in this broken world right into the very being of God. There’s something quite radical about that idea. My head goes to words first said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.” Now, in some sense, said to the Father.

So here we are toward the end of the Easter season. Being called, with the troupe of Jesus in the story, to a new sort of maturity, adulthood, in faith. Like Brent’s family after watching the plane take off into the sky, through their reminiscence and their acting out of what they’d experienced, the visit with their loved ones now somehow becomes even more real, even more their own.

So today, or this week, take some time wondering about what it is that YOU are waiting for. How are you doing with this seemingly never-ending task of waiting (for something)? Ask where Jesus is in that. Where Jesus needs to be in that. And remember that we have mediator who can sympathize with our needs. Who experienced all that we do, but in all things was able to give glory to God. So as we wait, we look to him. Amen.

©2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter