[Texts: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11]
Please pray with me:
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
My family has a lake house that’s about an hour away from where we actually live. When I was a little kid, that drive seemed like an eternity– especially since there were no smartphones or iPads back then. We had a couple of entertainment options: Twenty Questions, I Spy With My Little Eye, singing Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall, making the universal “honk honk” gesture at every eighteen-wheeler we passed, and of course… picking fights with each other.
The drive would start out fine, but then I would get carsick and throw up, and my little sister would complain about having to go to the potty just about every other exit, and my cousin Harrison would start whining, and my other cousin John would get bored and entertain himself by kicking the back of my seat, and then we’d all start bickering about whether we wanted McDonald’s or Burger King… and frankly, it was a wonder none of our parents ever threw us all out of a moving car on I-85 with what we put them through.
I hated car rides when I was a kid– I think most kids do– especially when you’ve got siblings and cousins who make it their personal business to drive you up the wall, and vice versa.
But then we get to be teenagers and in our twenties, and what do we want to do with our friends on spring break? Go on a road trip! Right? A long car ride for the sake of a long car ride! What’s up with that?
Here’s my theory: if you spend extended periods of time with someone, particularly when physical space is limited like in a car or a tent or a hotel room, you learn a lot about them– good and bad– and it can be an amazing bonding experience. It can make you feel really close to someone.
But it can also be very challenging. As comedian Jeff Foxworthy once said about a family RV trip he took as a child, “there is a fine line between ‘bonding with’ and ‘stuck with’.”
I bet Jesus and His disciples were acutely aware of that fine line, and probably crossed it on a pretty regular basis.
Think about it: All thirteen of them traveled together everywhere they went– often for hours a day– shared all their meals, probably slept in close quarters, and spent all of their time together for three whole years.
They also didn’t agree about everything all the time– no one agrees with anyone all the time. The thing that immediately comes to mind is that Simon the Zealot was part of a movement dedicated to overthrowing the Roman government, and Matthew was employed by the Roman government as a tax collector. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during some of their conversations.
Oh, not to mention, there were two pairs of siblings in the group– Peter and Andrew were brothers, and so were James and John– and nobody knows how to push your buttons better than your own family, right? In fact, we actually see at least one instance of James and John squabbling in Mark’s Gospel.
For three years– more than a thousand days– these men had to make decisions about where to go, how to get there, and how to spend money. They had to decide whose turn it was to do things like cook dinner or go get water or carry something heavy. They were around each other when they were tired, hungry, thirsty, bored, in pain, and having a bad day.
You know what? I’m willing to bet that all of that led to some fussing and fighting. You simply cannot be in such close quarters with twelve other people for that long and not get on each other’s nerves sometimes.
Jesus in particular had to put up with a lot. A week probably didn’t go by where He wasn’t tempted to lose a sandal in somebody’s back end. The disciples were always saying stupid things, asking silly questions, spectacularly missing the point, doing less-than-Christlike things, and generally just being human beings.
When He asked them to pray with Him in the Garden before His arrest, they took a nap! St. Peter cut off someone’s ear, and then denied knowing Jesus three different times in one night. And only one disciple (John) stayed near Him as He was dying– the rest fled and abandoned Him. Not exactly a proud moment in their lives, I’m sure. When you spend that much time with someone, you don’t just see their highlight reel– you see the things they’re not so proud of, too.
In verse thirteen, you’ll notice the names of the people who witnessed the Ascension.  It wasn’t just one, or just a handful of the disciples who were present. It was all eleven of them.  The gang’s all here.
After everything they had been through together, they stuck with each other. And, as a group, they got to witness this amazing, surreal scene as Jesus was taken up to Heaven from among them.
Jesus didn’t leave them by themselves. He promised to send the Holy Spirit– remember last week’s reading?– and He also made sure that they had each other. They had a community, bound together by Christ and their experiences with Him.
The disciples devoted their lives to prayer and worship, to preaching, teaching, healing, and evangelism… and their little community grew.
And you know what? Disagreements happened. Feelings got hurt. Things were said that probably shouldn’t have been said. Things were left unsaid that probably should have been said. And, yes, I’m sure they got on each other’s nerves plenty. But they stuck together, even through the miserable, complicated, irritating, difficult, painful parts of life and of human relationships.
That is the story of the Church.
Next week, when we observe the Feast of the Pentecost, we will celebrate the birthday of the Church.
Let us remember, please, that the birth of the Church was like any birth– fraught with pain and struggle and strife as well as beauty and joy.
The Church is called to do the work of being made new, and to follow in the earthly footsteps of the One who makes all things new. New life is a wondrous thing, but being made new is messy and uncomfortable– often unpleasant.
We have not been left alone to do this messy and painful thing. “Alleluia, not as orphans are we left in sorrow now” — and not only are we not orphans, none of us is an only child, either.
We are all children of one family, which means that we have a brother or sister in every fellow Christian we meet.
Are we going to push each other’s buttons sometimes? Drive each other crazy? Argue? Get angry? Hurt each other’s feelings? You bet. That’s what brothers and sisters do.
But we also have each other’s back. We look out for each other. We celebrate together and grieve together, we bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joy. And all of us, together, in community, are able to behold the glory of Christ when we come together in His name to share the Bread and the Cup.
We are one big family on one big, long road trip.
Are we there yet?
So, buckle up, my brothers and sisters, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. One minute we’ll be playing fun car games and singing Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer On the Wall together, and the next, somebody’s going to start kicking seats… and then, before we know it, we’ll be back to Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer On the Wall. That’s just how it is sometimes. But we’re all going to get there, I promise. We’re going to get there together.
And in the meantime, for as long as we travel this road– the Way of Christ– we will never, ever have to make the journey alone. Thanks be to God.
 Just to clarify something that might be a little confusing– a certain “Judas, son of James” (or “Judas bar Jakob”) is included in the list. This is not Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ– he died on Maundy Thursday, which was over a month earlier. This is Thaddeus Jude, who is sometimes just referred to as Thaddeus, but probably best known as St. Jude, the patron of lost causes.