We are now at the seventh Sunday of the Easter season – the Counting of the Omer, heading to the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot).
In the Jewish count, the 50th day is tomorrow. In our Christian numbering system, next Sunday is our recognition of Pentecost (the 50th day).
So, what does it all mean?
Over the past six Sundays we have learned that a “training period” is required … between gaining faith and having that faith become elevated by the Holy Spirit.
If you have ever been in the military, or seen a military movie or television show that focuses on Basic Training, you know that is a time of hard work and preparation.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is pretty much like becoming a trained soldier; but it is like everything, really … you have to drill until you automatically react, if you are going to be good at something.
If you want to be a carpenter or woodworker, then you have to learn to use the proper tools. You have to gather machines and supplies. You have to set up a workshop. You have to draw plans; and you have to actually work to build something that passes inspection and gains praise.
If you want to be a school teacher, then you have to go to school … a lot. If you want to be a lawyer, then you have to study the law. If you want to be an artist or musician, you have to learn an instrument or craft.
Everything requires practice, practice, practice.
Practice makes perfect.
You can dream great dreams; but great dreams do not become reality unless you ACT.
It is easiest to ACT when we get to DO something we enjoy doing, something that brings satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment.
Today is the seventh week that we have had lessons telling us that the time is coming when we will be required to ACT.
We read from the Book of the ACTS of the Apostles during this period.
In the Church calendar, last Thursday was Ascension Day … but … Christ did not ascend on a Thursday. Ordinary people do things on Thursday. Holy people do holy things on holy days. The Sabbath is the Lord’s Day and must be kept holy. Jesus ascended on a Shabbat … not a Thursday.
We see this holy symbolism of holy days in Scripture … if we know how to look for it.
Jesus presided over the Last Supper on a Jewish Shabbat. Jesus was raised on a Jewish Shabbat, eight days after the Passover Seder meal, also on a Sabbath. He was discovered not in his tomb on Sunday, the first day of the week.
For six weeks after the events of Easter Sunday, the Risen Christ presided over Basic Training, where the disciples were whipped into shape, becoming Apostles.
On the 49th day (seven weeks after the Seder meal on Shabbat) Christ Ascended to Heaven. That occurrence took place on a Jewish Shabbat, a holy day, the day of the Lord.
God is the one controlling all this … I hope you can understand that. There is no randomness to anything relative to Jesus Christ. Everything has meaning.
This, of course, means the Pentecost was on a Sunday … the 50th day .. the day after Jesus left his troops prepared to take over for him.
Today, we hear the conversation that took place between Jesus and God, as John watched and listened below, as Jesus was dying on the cross before him.
Jesus was seeing the future when he said, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you, Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
We are in the world <knock loudly on podium> … hear that? It is the sound of matter, not ether.
We need protection, which comes from the title given Jesus, in Greek – Christ. We must be Christians who believe in Jesus as Christ, the Messiah, our Savior, Redeemer, Champion and Protector.
Jesus prayed, “So that they MAY be one, as we are one.”
In the English language, the word “may” is an auxiliary verb, in the future conditional tense, where “would + may = might.”
It is a hopeful statement, about what MAY occur after Jesus’ death, Resurrection, and Ascension; but it is a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” condition. There is no guarantee.
The word “may” stems from the infinitive verb, “to be able.” It’s use as “may” means conditions exist that enable us to be one with God and Christ, as God and Christ are one, as Jesus and God were one; but that condition requires a future action, based on the recognition of what one is ABLE to achieve.
We MAY be one with God if we have faith that Christ will Advocate on our behalf, so God will send into us His Holy Spirit.
That is what we celebrate about the Pentecost (the 50th day).
That is why we spend seven weeks drilling about what the Easter season means, which makes us ABLE to be one with God. We are ABLE to be transformed from disciples into Apostles. We are ABLE to morph from recruits to soldiers.
In the reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles today, we imagine the form of Jesus rising upward, towards Heaven, while all his disciples watched.
They were moved by the vision. The thought of themselves going to the heavenly kingdom someday mesmerized them. They were dreaming, while still gazing at blue sky. Jesus was already “out of their sight” by then. Suddenly, two men in white robes got their attention and snapped them back to reality.
“What’s going on guys?” they asked. “Don’t you know it is time to get to work, and stop doing more than dreaming?”
When we read, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet,” that says the Ascension occurred from the same place where Jesus prayed, at Gethsemane.
We then read that the mount called Olivet” is “a Sabbath day’s journey away” from Jerusalem. That means the Last Supper was on a Jewish Shabbat, and the Ascension was likewise on a Jewish Shabbat, because they had traveled as far as was allowed on that holy day.
In Acts 1:6, we find that the disciples are now called “apostles.” They have changed titles, just as the man named Jesus was given the title Christ, by God, on the day he changed from material to spiritual. The disciples had completed Basic Training and passed inspection. They have grown into lean, mean, fighting machines … in a good sense. Graduation would come the next day, Pentecost Sunday.
The new apostles got down to the business at hand … deciding who was going to replace Judas on the executive board.
While eleven is a special number, twelve is a better “round number” with its own special meaning.
Still, the work of Apostles requires action. Thus, we read that “All these [“board members”] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” Prayer is an action.
Still, because we see that those who were the other followers of Jesus, believers in him as the Christ, they too were elevated as Apostles, while being women and relatives. They too were constantly devoted to prayer.
The reason one needs to be drilled and trained, made to hurt and ache so the body slowly develops muscles and morphs into a state of readiness to meet the challenge of hard work, is an Apostle must be trained to withstand a lot.
Peter wrote, in his first letter, words of encouragement for the growing numbers of Apostles, to withstand pain and suffering.
He wrote about “the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you,” which says they were under a lot of heat. There is still a “fiery ordeal taking place,” which we need to face.
Peter advised the followers of Jesus to withstand persecution by those who “reviled (them) for the name of Christ.” He wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him … discipline yourselves, keep alert … (be) steadfast in your faith.” The world is still filled with those who revile Christ, and anxiety is treated more these days with drugs, than with faith in Christ.
Peter, in his letter, then admitted there would be suffering, but that was what they were trained TO BE ABLE to resist. He wrote, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” The Holy Spirit makes a disciple ABLE, as an Apostle.
That says you are made ABLE because of God, and His Holy Spirit. You cannot withstand all the pain and suffering that disciples attract, without that aid. Without graduating from Christ’s Basic Training, you are not strong enough.
Remember, it was Peter’s faith that Jesus questioned. Peter, the “pet name” given by Jesus to Simon, a name that means “Rock,” was not strong enough to live up to that material title, without the Holy Spirit.
As a lowly disciple, Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. It was Peter who struck out at Gethsemane, in fear of losing Jesus. He cut the ear off a guard coming to take Jesus away.
It was Peter who wanted so much to walk on water, only to sink like a stone because he lacked enough faith to be without fear.
Fear is what keeps one from gaining the strength of the Holy Spirit.
Fear comes from allowing yourself to hear the roaring lion in your adversary, the devil, who prowls around looking for weak disciples to devour. Fear makes you run and hide, just as did the disciples after the Roman (inspired by the Jews) nailed Jesus to a tree.
Fear keeps you going from one Easter season to another Easter season, still as disciples … still as sheep standing comfortably in the sheepfold, side-by-side with others just like you, feeling safety in numbers … free from the pains and sufferings the shepherding Apostles endure.
May you be one with God, through faith in Christ.