Christianity is at its best when it offers a way to see and understand the most profound human conditions: joy, love, fellowship, reconciliation. This week before Pentecost offers a view of a nearly universal heartache -- the pain of being left.
Jesus had returned from the dead, through the miracle at the heart of the church, and was talking to his disciples. They think, hope, that he is back to stay. "Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" they ask. They think they may be on the verge of an even greater victory.
They are let down, hard. Rather than leading them, Jesus leaves them. They never see him again. They are left looking up toward heaven. There is something so stark and universal about that image, that picture of the people who were left. It is the family gathered in the kitchen after a cruel and sudden death, the woman at an airport sitting in her car after someone she loves has flown off, the stifled heartbreak when a child leaves home. There is a quietness suffused with deep sadness in those moments.
To the disciples, it must have been crushing to see Jesus go. Think of Peter -- he had left his wife, his job, everything, to follow someone he had just met, and the experience had transformed him. He had spent years following Jesus through the desert, hanging on every word, sharing great and terrible days, and then he was left there, looking up to a blank sky. His feelings must have been complex as he remembered not only the victories but the mistakes such as his denial of Jesus during his trial. Haven't we all had that moment when someone has left by death or choice and we are left broken and confused?
Perhaps that is what this week is -- that time of brokenness. At one level, it is odd that the Holy Spirit did not appear as Jesus left. Instead, God constructed this story so that there was this gap, this time of bereft people left behind after Jesus leaves but before Pentecost and the arrival of that Holy Spirit.
It might be that it is exactly that brokenness that allows the Holy Spirit in. A mistake of modern Christianity is often that we present ourselves as people who are perfect, unblemished. It is simply not true. We are broken, often by are own mistakes. We have been left, and sometimes we were the ones who left. The church is a gathering of the unperfected, and an honesty about those broken places may well be what we need the most. There has been, and will come, a time when we look up and wonder what just happened. What Christianity offers is the hope of something better beyond that moment.