18 May 2007

17 years

Luke 24:44-53, "Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures . . . "

It was about this time just a few years ago.

I remember being absolutely intrigued with all the news reports at that time about the emergence of the 17-year cicadas.

We called them locusts when I grew up. I remember running around the land around Marie Baptist Church there in Dublin, going up to the nearest pine tree . . . and there attached to that pine tree would be the exoskeleton, just a shell, a husk left of what we called a locust. Every once in a while you might find one on the ground, but the only evidence we usually had that they had been around was that shell, that exoskeleton that was left as they went forward in their cycle of life, sprouting wings and flying.

Of course, for us boys the best part was to carefully pick that shell off of the tree, add it to our collection of things that our mother’s would say, why did you bring that thing into my house . . . or if you were feeling particularly mischievous . . . you would take that shell and place in just so in some lovely little girl’s long hair. And it would just hang there.

Because those scary looking locusts had those big pincher-looking appendages on their front end, that were made to grab plants, but would get tangled up in hair so easily. So you put it in her hair . . . and then you would just stand back and just wait . . . and just wait for her or one of her friends to figure out what had happened and to scream and jump . . . and then they’d look at us boys laughing and say something about how it wasn’t funny . . . but it was. We used to do that around the church where I grew up.

And I don’t know what variety of bugs we had around the church at the time. But they were fascinating to a young boy. And I guess that I’m still fascinated.

And you see, the reason that there is all this hullabaloo about the “17-year” cicadas is that this particular variety of critters, this type of cicada only comes out every 17 years. The last time would have been 1987, and it will be 2021 before they emerge again. To be honest, before 2004, I hadn’t even heard about this before.

You see there are several varieties of locusts out there that lay their eggs in trees. Then when the nymph is born, they drop onto the ground and burrow about twelve inches deep until they find some roots to chew on and suck on. Then they live like that for 17 years, reaching their maturity about year eight or nine and then still hanging out down there for another eight to nine years until some type of alarm goes off for them and every other 17 year cicada telling them that it’s time to go up.

Then they climb up out of the earth, climb up a tree, shed their skin, receive wings and fly around looking for what’s next. And what’s next for them is a mate . . . and everything starts all over again. And those males sing songs, loud songs.

What song were you singing 17 years ago? Where were you? What were you doing? I can’t tell you why certain things happen at certain times, except to say that sometimes that is just how it works. I don’t know why this particular type of cicada only comes out every 17 years.

Sure, some scientists have their theories . . . that maybe since they all come out at once, fewer of them get eaten and therefore more survive . . . but who knows . . . really. So many things in life are hard to explain in words, hard to understand, the good things and the not-so-good things.

I’m not sure the disciples completely understood either, what Jesus was telling them, there before the Ascension. It is almost like Jesus goes over it one more time, just for good measure, just like a teacher telling her students one more time before that big test: here’s what you need to know.

And Jesus tells them again, “I had to die and to rise from the dead on the third day . . . and your job now is to go out and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sin . . . your job is to spread good news, to every single nation on this earth, beginning in Jerusalem. You have seen all this happen and it is your job now to go and tell.”

And he said all of this just before he left them, just before he led them a little ways from Jerusalem, out to Bethany, and that was where our text says that he was “carried up into heaven.” It was the point at which we almost imagine Jesus spreading wings and flying. The time of waiting was over; what needed to be accomplished had been. Now it was time to go back to God.

That is part of what Ascension is all about. And it used to be celebrated more than it is today. Today we sort of note it, but then it may not mean a whole lot to us. Maybe it is a source of fascination in a similar way that I’m intrigued by these 17 year cicadas.

You see Ascension Sunday comes at the end of the fifty days of Easter. And through this time we are to bear witness to the resurrection. All of these are days where we affirm that life has emerged from death, that death has not had the last word, that all of our human hurts and sorrows and brokenness, all the sin and suffering, all those ways that we feel inadequate as children and as parents, as employees, as leaders, as whatever it is for you, all those places where we have fallen short . . . all those are redeemed.

Christ has led us into life through death. Christ has shown us that hope can come out of situations that seem without hope. And Jesus tells the disciples, “You’ve seen this. You’ve witnessed it. Go and tell . . . everyone!”

Jesus tells them to go out preaching repentance and forgiveness. Take note of the places that you fall short, where you are human, and fix what you can . . . and then forgive the rest. And forgive all that stuff that other people do to you as well . . . repentance and forgiveness . . . for you and for me. And Jesus tells them that one last time . . . before he leaves them. And the last thing that he tells them is to go to Jerusalem and wait.

Yep, Jesus tells them to sit and wait.

But we don’t like to wait . . . sometimes we want everything to be done now, right now! I will not lie to you but there are certainly times when I have wanted things to happen then and there.

But sometimes in the waiting, we can take time to reflect and especially time to praise the wonderful thing that is happening in your life and in the life of this community; perhaps that is exactly what we need to be doing.

And this is what Jesus is telling the disciples to do there at the end . . . to go back to Jerusalem . . . to go to the temple . . . to praise God for all the wonderful things that have happened so far and . . . and . . . and to get ready for more.

The last time those cicadas appeared it was 1987. Another cycle began back in 2004. And I remember hearing those bugs . . . singing their hearts out about it.

And somewhere another bunch of little boys are terrorizing little girls somewhere.

And the next time those bugs come out, my children will be driving and dating, God forbid.

But sometimes it is our job to sit, to be where we are, to praise God, to wait and to listen.

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