We’re in a strange moment of the Christian year; this 10 days before Pentecost. Tradition has it that Jesus ascended 40 days after the resurrection, which was last Thursday, and now, we’re in a sort of waiting period before the traditional celebration of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, coming to dwell among humanity and in human hearts, which happens on Pentecost.
Part of this wonky moment has to do with the theological assertion that joy and light and life and God overcomes, swallows up, and more than cancels out evil, and death, and darkness. Lent, that time leading up to Easter, when we have a moment to dwell and slow down in our somberness, to feel and reflect and repent of selfish, destructive habits, is 40 days long. So in answer to that, the season of Easter, celebrating God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, is fittingly 50 days long.
But the point here is not about math or dates or even about traditions and holy days. I want to stay for a few minutes in the awkward, transitional space that we’re invited to experience in this in between time after Jesus has ascended and before the Holy Spirit comes. Have you ever been in an awkward, transitional place in your life? Maybe you’re even in one right now, whether you realize it or not. We often resist change because it’s uncomfortable and unpredictable and unknown, but change happens to us anyway, whether we want it, or admit it, or try to close the door on it.
And just like the first disciples who were left staring up into the sky when Jesus ascended, we’ve got no idea how long it’s gonna be until the next phase starts. Just like the first disciples, when change and transition begin, we can never know if the passage will be quick and painful, or if it may be exhaustingly drawn out. Like the disciples, it could be dealing with a loss, the loss of a dream — what you hoped life would look like for yourself or for a loved one; the loss of a life or relationship through death of a body, or the death of trust, or the death of willingness. Whatever awkward in between you’ve brought with you this morning, God has something to say to you about that unsolved process.
Sisters and Brothers: God says, “Bring it.”
The heartache you’re feeling and the uncertainty you’re facing? I stretch out my arms as wide as they’ll go and I say, “Bring it here. Bring it to me.” That is the cross. That is God in the person of Jesus Christ showing his love for you. As a mother tends a child’s skinned knee, with open arms and a tender kiss, God offers the same comfort to you.
We live in a city infamous for its shine. The joke I’m sure I’ve told each one of you still rings true — when Fr. Jordan first broached moving to Dallas with me, I told him that Dallas was a sequin on the map of Texas, and that that was not a compliment. There’s a lot of pressure, not from being Dallasites, necessarily, but from our families and our friends, from our culture at large, from our neighbors and fellow church goers, and even other mommas, to clean up our acts before we face up to God, let alone face up to one another. There’s some kind of expectation that we need to be all scrubbed clean and have our lives figured out, and to not be in the middle of a transition and to not be just starting to change and not be struggling or resisting or angry about that change — that’s when we can share our lives and come to church and build relationships.
But my sisters and brothers, you know at least as well as I do that we are never not facing change. We are never not in process. We are never static or finished or perfectly rinsed out.
A friend of mine was telling me last week that she’d realized if she wanted to see her friends in spite of them all having toddlers, that she’d have to be okay with them seeing her messy house. There was no way they could contain the kids anywhere except a home, and there was no way their homes were going to be pristine while there were little children around. “I have to invite my friends into the middle of my mess if I want them in my life.” She didn’t mean this in just a literal way.
We must try to have these honest answers for ourselves first of all, and also for one another. Sometimes that first part is the hardest, admitting the messiness to ourselves. We get numb with routines and with things we stuff in our mouths, we get numb with burying and ignoring our feelings, we get numb with the lying thoughts that we listen to in our heads.
We get numb because change hurts and is hard, because messiness makes us feel exposed, without a safety net, with no fig leaf to cover ourselves. But here’s the good news: when change comes in our lives, God stays. When we get hurt and burned, God opens his arms wide. When God sees our messiness, he does not turn away or tell us, “tsk, tsk.” When we are exposed before God, he looks at us with love and he cleans us off and he puts new clothes on.
God is a good mother. God sees and loves and responds. And the thing that’s both comforting and disquieting is that God always says, “Bring it.” God can not only see the messiness and the change, but he also wants to sit with us in the midst of it.
So in these in between days of the church year, when Jesus is ascended and the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet been sent down, God’s people are reminded that we have the freedom to be in process, to be not finished yet, to recognize changes and transitions in our lives uncomfortable as they may feel, because we are not alone. God is with us.
The hard part is that God isn’t with us in a general, clouds-and-rainbows, hanging out by the crack in my bedroom ceiling sort of way. God is with us in a fleshy, particular, personal, up-in-your-face kind of way.
When I’m talking in a meeting — which I do often, I know — Mrs. Elnora Jones always looks at me intently. I feel God looking at me through her eyes, with sweet attention and with a determined gaze. When I drop myself to the floor and my little boy runs over to give me a hug, I feel God embracing me in those chubby little arms, his tender hand patting my back. The hard part is that God reaches out to us in flesh and blood, in other people, in other messy, faulty, changeable people.
We aren’t meant to separate God from his people and we aren’t meant to have it all figured out. It’s all a mess, and God says, “Bring it.”