Have you ever attended a Quaker meeting or a Taizé prayer service or some other event that involves an extended period of silence? Have you ever gotten in the middle of such a silence and begun to wonder if you can manage to hold out without bursting out with an exclamation or running from the room? I once participated in a meditation session (a “sit”) with a friend of mine who is a Buddhist practitioner, and the silence along with the excruciating posture (sitting cross-legged is murder on my ankles) made me want to scream.
Waiting in silence can be a challenge even when you are aware of the parameters. At this sit I knew ahead of time that it was to last twenty minutes, but it seemed as if it would never end. Sometimes at meetings I run I suggest we start by sitting in silence for five minutes or so. After the time has run its course, more than one participant at these events has said with obvious relief, “That was a long five minutes!”
But what about those times when we don’t have any inkling how long the silence or the waiting will last? When you’re waiting for the results of the biopsy, or when you wonder how long an estranged relative will hold out and resist reconciliation, or any other period of waiting without a distinct end point? Those times can be particularly challenging.
Last week in worship we talked a lot about waiting, in the context of Jesus’s instructions to his disciples just before his ascension: “Stay in [Jerusalem] until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). In my sermon I mentioned that Jesus did not give them an end point for their waiting. We know now that it was only ten days before the Spirit came at Pentecost, but for the disciples it was open-ended. Can you imagine how they must have felt—the doubts that must have assailed them—around day seven or eight? I can imagine them wondering if they had heard wrong, or if they had dreamed the whole thing up and were just wasting their time. Waiting can be very trying; it can be very hard to remain faithful.
This Sunday we will see the fruits of the disciples’ faithful waiting as the Spirit falls upon them at Pentecost. In the midst of their waiting, which they spend in prayer and worship and probably copious quantities of silence, suddenly a great wind rushes through the house where they are staying, and tongues of flame settle on each of their heads. They are enabled to speak to the bewildered crowds in the native language of each, thus fulfilling Jesus’s commission to serve as witnesses to the salvation available through his life, death, and resurrection.
Soon our waiting will be over, and we will celebrate the birthday of the church with song and prayer and the preaching of the word, and by dressing in red to signify the empowering flame of the Spirit. Since the purpose of the coming of the Spirit is so that we would be able to bear witness to Christ, I encourage you to invite a friend, neighbor, or coworker to worship with you this week.
Grace and peace,