Eric Barreto: First, We Wait: Why did Jesus call the disciples to wait? (Acts 1:4a) - COVID-19

Before the flaming tongues of Pentecost,
before the healing at the Beautiful Gate,
before a community held all things in common so that there was not a needy person among them,
before the martyrdom of Stephen,
before the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius,
before the council and the prison breaks and the shipwrecks,
before the joy and brokenness of community,
before all that, Jesus asked the disciples at the very beginning of Acts to do what usually feels impossible to me.

Jesus asked them to do the hard thing first.

Jesus calls them and asks us to a discipline most of us would reject and many of us find nearly intolerable.

Before all the action of Acts, the disciples had to
They had to
Before going to the ends of the earth, they had to
Before the Spirit dawned upon them at Pentecost, they had to
Before anything else, they had to

My friend Matt Skinner taught me something so important about this one verse, something I had missed, an insight I so needed to learn. Skinner says it like this:

“The first great act in the Acts of the Apostles is to walk back to Jerusalem and let time pass. Eventually, the apostles and the rest of Jesus’ followers will be moving outward and bearing witness to Jesus in the world-altering power of the Holy Spirit, but not now. Even as Jesus’ and the angel’s words generate momentum for action to come, his people stay put as instructed.[1]”

But why?

Why do they have to wait? And why do we tend to miss this call to wait and focus so much and so quickly on the call to be witness to the ends of the earth?

Perhaps because we forget that before we act, we must wait.
Before we move, we must wait.
Before we follow, we must wait.
Because while we wait, we learn something vital we would otherwise miss.

When we go, we go because God has sent us.
When we speak, we speak because God has taught us.
When we act, we act because God has shown us the way.

In the waiting, we learn that God moves ahead of us.
In the waiting, we discern that the call is not really about us.
In the waiting, we feel in our bones that it isn’t just all about me.
All of this waiting is about God’s profound grace, love, justice for you and for me and for all people.

The waiting is about learning anew and afresh God’s character, God’s patience, God’s grace. And it turns out that all these attributes of God are clear in the silence, powerful in the stillness, formative in the waiting.

But there is something else in the waiting too.

Grief. Loneliness. Sorrow. Uncertainty. Anger. Impatience. Hopelessness.

The waiting is not an idyllic moment. Notice that in the waiting before Pentecost, Peter turns the gathered followers of Jesus toward the trauma of Judas’s fall from this community as they seek another to take his place. In the waiting, the community had to wrestle with betrayal and sorrow and doubt.

Let’s be clear.

The waiting is not some peaceful interlude.
It certainly is not peaceful now as we wait the breaking news.
It certainly is not peaceful now as we wonder if every cough, every spike of a fever is but the beginning of a scary illness.
It certainly is not peaceful now as so many lose their jobs.
It certainly is not peaceful now as first responders reuse masks through seemingly interminable shifts of care.
It certainly is not peaceful now as Asian and Asian American neighbors bear the brunt of racist fears.
The waiting is a clarifying moment and what we learn in the waiting, what we see in the waiting, what is unveiled in the waiting can be painful, distressing, destructive.

Skinner concludes,

“Jesus’ followers wait not because they see it as their only option, not because they need to figure out everything before they take a first step, but because they expect God to open up opportunities and new realities.”[2]

I wonder if, in this moment, what’s being laid bare is not so much a new reality but an old reality we have not fully faced.
A reality in which the poor are addressed last.
A reality in which essential workers face more risk than they receive in wages.
A reality in which the cold calculus of profit and productivity bears more weight than the image of God and the wideness of God’s grace.
A reality in which nationalist delusions overtake international cooperation.
A reality in which we look to blame and malign the marginalized, the poor, the homeless rather than hold those with the power to make a difference accountable for their words and actions alike.

In the waiting, may we learn the truth of God’s abundant care.
In the waiting, may we learn the frailties of systems built on oppressions previously invisible to too many of us.
In the waiting, may we meet a God whose face shows us the ways of abundant grace and whose aches and scars reflect our own.
In the waiting, may we see the Spirit dawning upon creation, bringing healing and wholeness wherever she goes, sharing in our vulnerability and illness when we need her presence most, delivering us from every broken way of life.

And may we follow the paths God has set before us.
Paths of justice and righteousness. Paths of compassion and love. Paths of abundant grace and resurrection power.

Though know this.

Before we walk those paths God has hewed, we must wait.


We wait for that moment when our expectant hopes and prophetic rage are set free anew.

But, first, we wait.

[1] Matthew L. Skinner, Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel: Encountering the Divine in the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 7.
[2] Skinner, 8.

Used with permission. Originally posted on Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, MN.