Picture the scene: A group of friends had just been through the worst few months of their lives.
They were tired, ragged, worn down, exhausted and yet also in complete shock and jubilation. Their best friend (who also just happened to be the Messiah) had been horrifically murdered by the State, had then miraculously and inexplicably come back to life and now here they were, some 40ish days later, watching as he once again left them, to ascend into heaven.
There are probably no words to describe the acute emotional rollercoaster of love-loss-love-loss they’d just been on. One minute they’d lost their beloved Jesus, then he was back and now he was going again?
In Acts 1, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were, “go and tell everyone what you have seen, go to the ends of the earth to make this known”. And then in a ‘great cloud’, he disappeared.
The disciples stood there. Awestruck, unspeaking, un-moving.
And then (in verse 11), two men, dressed in white, suddenly appeared and said, “Why are you standing there, staring at an empty sky???”
I’m sure at that point, the disciples didn’t know WHAT to do. Jesus had just told them it was time to get moving and yet here they were, standing still, maybe trapped in the sticky mud of inertia, seemingly unable to move from the spot they were in.
Does that feel familiar?
For most of 2020, big chunks of the world have been in lockdown in one form or another. Many of us have been fortunate enough to have the tech and ability to work from home. In the UK, many were furloughed, some lost their jobs and plenty struggled to adapt to a new way of working.
In lots of ways, it’s been an incredibly traumatic experience, as we’ve watched and prayed over rising death tolls and infection rates, worried about the people we love and tried to navigate our way around new rules and regulations.
Now that we are beginning to emerge from the darkest moments, some of us might be thinking, ‘well hang on, what NOW?’
Life as we know it looks really different. Will I ever feel comfortable in a crowded setting again? Will I jump every time someone in my presence coughs? Will my relationships recover from being forced together or from the pain of being forced to separate?
If we’re not careful, the aftermath of a traumatic event can be just as destructive as the event itself. Without knowing why, we can find ourselves cemented in apathy, loneliness, fear and worry. And like the disciples, find ourselves stood there, rooted in one spot, staring at an empty sky wondering what just happened.
I chatted about this with my team at work yesterday and asked them to think (privately) about whether they were ‘stuck’ and if so, what could they do to get unstuck? Were they (like many people) thinking, ‘what now?’
It’s a good question for each of us to ask ourselves. Has going to church online led to not wanting to go back into a physical building? Have Skype/Zoom meetings allowed you to become lazy over relationships and communication? Has working from home, in your PJs, opened the door for apathy?
And if so, what can you do to reclaim your excitement and enthusiasm? The truth is, when Jesus ascended to heaven, it looked as though it was the end. The disciples had walked with him through some of the most incredible and traumatic experiences life can offer. And now, as they stood on a hill and watched him leave, it would be easy to think that this was the closing chapter of a very exciting and thrilling story.
But it wasn’t the conclusion, in fact, it was the very beginning of the tale.
With his final words, Jesus was telling them, ‘Now GO…get moving. Let’s get this job done!’
And just to make sure they got the message, two men in white (angels?) appeared to give them a further nudge.
‘WHY are you STANDING THERE?’
And thankfully, they began to move.
The fact that I am a Christian, thousands of years later, is because from that point, the Gospel began to spread, probably at a faster pace than it ever had done. Today, all over the world, millions of people are believers in Jesus because a group of emotionally weary, battle-scarred friends decided to GO.
As the world begins to recover from ‘what just happened’, it might feel like it’s the end, but for us as the church, it’s really just beginning.