A Liminal Space


Imagine a time when everything was going pretty well.

Work was satisfying, you were enjoying your downtime, relationships all more or less stable, and you even had a few things to look forward to. Then something completely unexpected happened—looking back, you think, I probably should have seen this coming, there were signs. But at the time, you were caught totally unaware. It is so disruptive, it has so upended your life, that you gather your family and hunker down home.

And there you stay.

Try to imagine that, a time when something so awful has happened that you don’t dare leave home, not even for work or school. You wake up each morning, hoping your real life will have come back, but . . . it is not back.

That’s called liminal space. A space that does not belong anywhere. It is an in-between space. Imagine a liminal space that comes unexpectedly, and it is open-ended. You do not know when it will come to a close or, in the disciples’ case, even if it ever will.

When Jesus was crucified, He was almost the only person who seems not to have been caught off-guard. Once He was buried, all of Jesus’ disciples and close followers hunkered down in their homes, not knowing what do to do, or what would happen next.


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Even Easter morning was a strange space. The disciples had not known what it meant, or how to process Jesus being alive again, because life did not returning to normal.


The night before Jesus died, He had explained what was about to happen, and promised His followers that though they would be grief-stricken for a time, their joy would return. He had reassured them He had to go, that only then could He send the Holy Spirit. He had guaranteed where He was going they would one day follow. He had promised them peace, union with God, and the legacy of love.

Picture the shock they were feeling, how unsettling what Jesus had to say was, the upheaval they were feeling as they were given more and more strange news. Jesus, watching their faces, finally said. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Notice what Jesus did not do.

  • He did not berate them.
  • He did not say to be very productive while they sheltered in place, waiting.
  • He did not push them to new spiritual heights.

They would be in the midst of trauma and turmoil for the next two months, and their lives were about to be profoundly changed forever.

That is how it is when life gets turned upside down. Parts of our brain shut down in order for us to get through what’s happening. We are not able to fully process a lot of what is happening around us during the ordeal. We can feel numb, out of touch, our lives don’t feel completely real. Some people react to this by becoming hypervigilant or anxious, others by becoming somewhat depressed, not able to really do a lot of anything.[1]


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Jesus had known what they were heading into, what the effect of the cross would have on them, as well as the hard days that lay ahead. Instead of pushing them, Jesus had comforted them. He prayed for them. He gave them words of shalom, reassurance and courage. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

The hour is coming,” He had said to them, “indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to their home.” “I have said this to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” “Take courage,” Jesus had said to them, with His gentle kindness and overflowing love, “I have conquered the world!


Just getting by, emotionally and functionally is okay, when life is upended. Lowering expectations and being gracious to yourself and each other is right and good, Jesus is our example.[1]

Every year, you and I have celebrated Easter knowing exactly how the story was going to turn out. We fly through Maunday Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday, all the while thinking about Easter Sunday. But Jesus’ followers did not have that. They did not know victory was already growing in Jesus’ dark grave. They had no idea what the next forty days would hold. All they knew was the grief and loss of everything they had held dear for the last three years.

That is liminal space.

You and I are living in that space right now, that place in between things. We are experiencing, in some way, a part of what Jesus’ followers experienced then. Waiting, our lives on pause, having lost much of what we hold dear, not knowing what our world will be like when we finally get to emerge again.


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Even after Jesus rose again from the dead, those incredible days of tears turning to joy, even that was outside of normal time. Luke described it this way, when he wrote his transition chapter between his gospel and the Book of Acts, he said,

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After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”


And then came a second wave of grief. Because, before their very eyes, Jesus had left them once again. And it is at that moment of brokenness and vulnerability, that chaos, God’s Spirit can begin to work.

That is what it was happening for those in the Upper Room, shredded with grief over the loss of their beloved Jesus. The roller coaster of emotion, from the cross, to the grave, to His astounding resurrection, and the sweet, sweet days of being with Him again, and then the shocking, and seemingly sudden, ascension, where He truly seemed to have left them bereft.

Yet, He had told them to wait.

Go to the Upper Room, He had said, the room where He and His followers had eaten their last Passover meal together, the room where they had laughed, and sung, and drunk wine together, until He had lifted that last cup, the Cup of Hallel, the Hallelujah cup, representing the world to come, and said, “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

So, stunned, numb, they had taken themselves to Jerusalem, taken step after heavy step up the stairs to that room full of remembered love and joy, and anticipation.

There, they sheltered in place.

There they sat.

And prayed.

And waited for when they could step back into their lives.


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It seems something was happening inside them as they waited, something powerful, yet unseen. They began to understand what Jesus had spent forty days teaching them. The meaning of the resurrection.

It is by His Spirit that God brings to life what was killed, God raises up what was dead, God brings back what we think was lost forever.

Later, Paul would explain the resurrection is the most important doctrine of the Christian faith. It proves Jesus’ deity, and that His sacrifice for sin was complete and accepted. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole structure of Christianity collapses.

  • If He isn’t risen, we won’t rise from the dead either, we stay dead
  • All the apostles are liars, and Christianity is one big scam
  • God has been terribly misrepresented
  • Faith in Christ is totally pointless, there’s nothing to have faith in

We really are the most to be pitied if the resurrection is not real.

Because, as Paul pointed out, we can never really know peace, joy, or even happiness, for that matter. Underneath it all would be that low, ominous thrum of our own incompatibility with God . . . knowing what we know about holiness and purity, not a day would go by without dreading the thought of God’s coming cleansing of the cosmos of all that corrupts and kills.

But, Jesus is risen!

Because this is true, we can count on being resurrected when Jesus returns for us, we can count on death finally being conquered, for all death will be destroyed, along with sin, corruption, evil, and all the rest.

As proof, Paul cited numerous, respected eyewitnesses to Jesus’ bodily resurrection. In fact, according to the gospels, that list includes many named individuals, all eleven of the remaining disciples, upwards of five hundred people in a gathering, and 120 of Jesus’ closest followers who were given forty days of intensive teaching from Jesus in bodily form


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The earliest Christians did not just endorse Jesus’ teachings, they were convinced they had, themselves, seen Jesus physically alive after His crucifixion. They traveled with Him, touched Him, heard His voice, listened to His teaching, spent time in conversation with Him, felt His breath, cooked and ate with Him.

  • That is what transfixed their hearts and minds
  • That is how they received Jesus’ living Spirit on Pentecost.
  • That is what changed their lives and started the church.
  • Every single disciple was willing to be martyred for his belief.
  • James, Jesus’ brother, and Saul of Tarsus were both hardened skeptics who became believers after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them – they, too, were willing to be martyred for their belief.
  • Pentecost happened – the giving of Christ’s Spirit because Jesus had been glorified.
  • In the first 5 weeks after Jesus’ resurrection 10,000 Judeans became believers in the resurrected Messiah.
  • Of the volumes of written material still around from that time period, no one, not even

Josephus, tried to refute the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. The best they could come up with was to call it magic.

And He is going to return in the twinkling of an eye, the old body will pass away in that moment, and will be raised up as the new body.

We will not be exactly like we are now. Paul—paraphrasing Jesus—wrote,


What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.

But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

Not all flesh is alike, but there is

* One flesh for human beings

* Another for animals

* Another for birds, and

* Another for fish.

* There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies,

But the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another.

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead.

What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.

It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.

It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 

1 Corinthians 15:36-44

image courtesy Pixabay

So, you and I, we are like seeds, right now. When we are planted in the ground in death we change. At Jesus’ return—so said Jesus, and Paul, and John—the seed will disappear as the new body grows up from what was locked up inside the seed.

Now, you and I are in a time of waiting.

In a sense, this is what being a Christian is all about, being in the world, but not of it, being a part of a new kingdom and a new people, waiting for our king to return, waiting for the new heavens and the new earth.

And while we wait, something is happening. It is unseen, but it is powerful.

When our waiting is done and we walk back into our lives, and into the changed world, we will have the gift Jesus sent to His beloved ones, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

At the time, they had no way of understanding what Jesus was saying. Even as they waited for what seemed to them an unending time, they had no way to process what Jesus had told them. It was not until it happened that they were able to understand.

And then, those 120 people, by the mighty wonder working power of the Holy Spirit of Christ, changed the world. 

You and I may not know what the circumstances of our waiting mean, either. We are still in it. We are just getting by, and that’s okay. Jesus gives us His peace and His comfort, His courage and His understanding. He is doing something powerful right now, that we cannot see, but it is happening nonetheless. At some point our waiting will be finished.

May it be, that when we do go back out of our doors, we will be a part of God changing the world again.


[1] A recent internet PSA from a trauma specialist said exactly these words as a message of comfort and caution to all as we endure the coronavirus pandemic

[1] Ibid


To hear the message only, please begin at 21.55 minutes into the video

New Hope Chapel Easter Worship
April 12, 2020

[Image: Montage of internet images portraying the Coronavirus Pandemic effect on Los Angeles, and the USA]

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