Easter is over.
The banners have been taken down. The lilies have all been distributed and the crowds have all gone home. So, now what?
The month of May falls into that `in-between’ time that resides in the hyphenated space between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension. In our Christian tradition, forty days after Jesus arose from the grave his life was consummated in exultation as he was taken up into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
But we’re not there yet . . . liturgically speaking. We’re still in that space in-between.
It seems to me that so much of our lives seems to fall into that `in-between’ category.
“We spend most of our time these days just waiting and making plans for the baby’s arrival.”
“Right now our living room has become the baby’s playroom until we get things rearranged.”
“We’re just making do until my husband/wife gets his/her master’s degree. And then we’ll go from there.”
“We’re in sort of a holding pattern until we get the test results from the doctor.”
“Now that the kids are all `out of the nest,’ my wife/husband and I are trying to figure out how to live with each other again.”
“We’re doing a lot of shuttling back and forth to help clean out mom’s house so we can sell it and get her moved into a nursing facility.”
“This is not really the job I want to end up with. But it will do while I look for something else.”
We spend so much of our lives in transition, it seems, that we often forget about life in the present. As John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The phenomenon is not unique to us or our time either. The generations of those who wandered through the pages of Scripture were often found living in the `in-between’ as well.
Abraham and Sarah waited for decades for God’s promise to make of them a `great nation’ to finally be fulfilled. Noah and company bobbed ambiguously upon the waves for forty days and nights until a rainbow appeared and dry land was found. The Hebrew people wandered for forty years `in-between’ the bondage of Egypt and the freedom of the Promised Land. The prophets of Israel often offered a vision of life as it was-not-yet-but-one-day-would-be to initiate dislodgement of the people from the complacency of the way-we-are-now; compelling them to enter into that space in-between how things are and how things should be.
In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges calls this in-between time “the neutral zone.” The old is gone but the new hasn’t become fully operational yet. It’s a state of limbo in which it feels as though there’s nothing firm to hold onto. The old ways no longer seem to work, and anything new that’s tried seems awkward, uncomfortable, ill-suited . . . `un-fit.’
After Jesus rose from the dead – and before he ascended into heaven – he appeared to his disciples on numerous occasions. It must have seemed like a second chance to them. A way for them to spend more time with him, learn more from him, speak more of the kingdom of heaven. They still had so many questions to ask him. They wanted to cling to their Risen Lord as long as they could. They didn’t realize that it would only be for a scant forty days. To then watch him abruptly ascend out of their sight would have to have felt so bewildering, so sad, so final.[i]
The disciples were left standing there, awkwardly looking up toward the sky. But the disciples didn’t stand there for long before two angelic figures appeared and asked them, “Why do you stand looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:11]
The encounter is reminiscent of that which the women had outside the tomb, when the angelic figure asked, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Theologian N. T. Wright says it’s important for us to understand that `heaven’ is not a location within the sphere of space, time and matter, situated somewhere up in the sky. Rather, in the ascension, Jesus was entering into God’s dimension of reality; a reality which has been “brought near by the blood of Christ” [Eph. 2:3-13].[ii] Do you remember Matthew’s testimony? At the very moment of Jesus’ death “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” [Mt. 27:51]. In other words, the veil that separated the Holy of holies – that earthly dwelling place of God’s presence – from the rest of the temple where humans dwelled, was utterly destroyed.
In Christ Jesus, heaven has now been brought near. As the Risen Lord assured his disciples in the Great Commission, “Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age.” No more `in-between’ time.
No doubt, we will move through a lot of `neutral zones’ in the course of our lives. Most certainly, the church has gone through its share of transitions. And sometimes, to be sure, it may seem to us that God is far removed in those circumstances. But the assurance is that God in Christ Jesus is just as present in our `in-betweens’ as in any other time or space. So we don’t have to wait for tomorrow to live life in all its fullness. In Jesus Christ we can live life fully right now—even while we are busy making other plans.
[i] Watt, Judith L., “In the Meantime,” June 1, 2014.
[ii] Ibid. Watt