The "In-Between" Time
The departure of a loved one inevitably involves pain and loss. On the first Ascension Day the disciples find themselves bereft of the one who has captivated them, given their lives significance, meaning and purpose and stimulated within them a passion for the Kingdom of God. They feel like abandoned orphans, as their beloved Lord evaporates from their sight into the great, blue yonder. They are at a loss to know what to do next. For the moment they are caught in what might be called in the 'in-between' time. They're caught between the Ascension and Pentecost - between loss and promise.
Sooner or later you and I will find ourselves in a situation not dissimilar to that of the disciples - trapped in that limbo of 'in-between' time - between loss and promise, between things we have lost and things that have not yet unfolded. For instance, someone close to you dies. For a time you feel as though you are trapped in a vacuum. The gut-wrenching pain of the loss is still there, while the future is simply nowhere to be seen. You find yourself languishing in that 'in-between' time - between loss and promise.
Those of you who have found yourselves suddenly and brutally made redundant know only too well what 'in-between' time means. You can be Vice-President of a Company one day and lose your job the next. All of a sudden, all those things that were of paramount importance, that gave your life significance, meaning and purpose, are stripped away and you don't, as yet, have a new job to enable you to recover your human dignity and self-respect.
Perhaps worst of all is the pain of broken relationships, whether it's a divorce, or the break-up of a close-knit friendship, or estrangement from a child living a life of drug-induced squalor. Again you find yourself trapped in that limbo of 'in-between' time - between brokenness and healing.
This 'in-between' time that we encounter with the first disciples is something that you and I know from personal experience. Will the sense of loneliness and abandonment ever lift? Will this illness ever leave me? Will the jagged, broken bits of my life ever find healing? Will I ever break free of the cramping, confining captivity of this 'in-between' time? The 'in-between' time, the time between loss and promise is tough and testing, but it can be a time of unimaginable grace if we will but allow grace free and unrestricted access.
Prayer, for instance, can release grace into that no-man's land between loss and promise. That's what the disciples did - they prayed. They were at a loss to know what to do next. They had just lost their beloved Lord to the unattainable mysteries of heaven while the promised Holy Spirit had yet to possess them. Yet even though they didn't feel motivated, they prayed nonetheless. During the 'in-between' time we can do no other than pray, even if the only prayer we offer is 'I can't pray', even if we feel spiritually numb, even if what we are undergoing is the dark night of the soul. It is then that grace can take hold of our threadbare praying so that there is movement, so that the paralysis of the 'in-between' time is released and becomes a moment of transition, so that the loss begins to recede and the promise becomes more real.
Grace can also work for good in the 'in-between' time, the time between loss and promise. The experience of loss inevitably means that things are stripped from us. At the Ascension the disciples suddenly found themselves stripped of the sustaining, reassuring visible presence of their Lord. Likewise, broken relationships, a divorce, redundancy, illness - all these losses ultimately strip us. For instance, redundancy strips us of an identity that we thought gave meaning and significance to our life. However there is a grace that can be actively at work in the stripping away if we will but allow it - a grace that forces us to go right down to the bare-bones values, the core values of our life.
There are people who have plumbed the depths of human tragedy, who have found themselves savagely stripped of 'riches, honour, goods, wife' and yet in the midst of their nakedness have discovered a grace that enables them to re-align their values, to focus on the things that really matter. The loss, the stripping away becomes, by grace, a positive, not a negative. And so the 'in-between' time can, by grace be the moment for answering bedrock questions such as - "What are the values we really want to live by? What really matters when all is taken away - house, car, income, health, loved ones?"
Finally, the 'in-between' time can become the seedtime of hope. Jesus had said as much to the disciples. 'If you are prepared to live in this testing time between loss and promise on the tip-toe of expectancy, then the Holy Spirit will come upon you with galvanizing power.' Likewise, for us, the 'in-between' time is a testing time. Nonetheless we still have a choice - we can choose to be in forward or reverse gear. We can pine for what we have lost - that is to be in reverse gear. OR we can live in the seedtime of hope, believing that the seeds of promise are silently and invisibly germinating, that the green shoots of new life and possibility will, in due course, appear - that is to be in forward gear. The point is - even in the 'in-between' time we can still choose the direction of our lives, whether the direction be forward or back.
Today the Kirk finds itself in the 'in-between' time - between loss and promise. On the one hand it has suffered a crippling loss of members and an equally crippling loss of power, status and influence. On the other hand it is reminded of Our Lord's promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. In this testing time the Kirk can still choose whether to be found in forward gear or reverse gear. On the one hand we can pine for the good, old days when churches were full, and the Kirk was a power to be reckoned with in the land. We can dwell on what seems to have been irretrievably lost, lamenting and bewailing the loss. To hanker after past glories is to be in reverse gear.
On the other hand, we can live in the seedtime of hope. Undeterred, we can continue sowing gospel seeds of grace, generosity, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, service, compassion wherever, as Christians, we live and move and have our being. And though for long enough we may have nothing to show for our efforts, we remain irrepressibly hopeful that what we have sown is silently and invisibly germinating until the green shoots of new life appear heralding a new springtime, a new Pentecost. To continue scattering seed, even when the times are out of joint, is to live in hope.
Like most churches St Cuthbert's finds itself in the 'in-between' time - between loss and promise. The decision is ours as to whether we are in reverse or forward gear.
For all Church or calendar related issues, please contact :