By Dr. Cheryl Wilson Bridges
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Acts 2:1
I am a sanguine. That means my personality type is one that is primarily outgoing and desires engagement. I would say due to my temperament, I have a passion for people. So I find gatherings pleasurable. Most often when we gather, we relish the opportunity to fellowship because of a festive occasion. As a society, we love to gather for parties, graduations, weddings, sporting events, political rallies, concerts, movies, theatre entertainment, and much, much more. These fun occasions are usually greatly anticipated and delightful. Once the event begins, we soak up and savor every moment. We are passionate about our experience of the day and share it widely with our family and friends. Then we long for the next time we are able to experience this very special event again.
I am also a New Yorker. So you can understand that I have a passion for the theater. But you don’t have to be from New York to know that the play “Hamilton” is a widely anticipated event. Tickets for this 11 time Tony-award winning Broadway play are so coveted and expensive that average prices can rival your rent payments! Yet people from every state and even around the world gather to see this phenomenal play. However, even if you have the money to spend, tickets are in such high demand you still might not be able to get in. Waiting lists for “Hamilton” are months long! The passion for this play is palpable.
Yet there are other more serious, solemn, and sacred reasons why we gather. We gather when loved ones are ill, when someone dies, or when we come to worship in the powerful presence of God. So this night, long ago, was like no other. It was a night of solemnity, power, and passion when Jesus and his disciples gathered for the last time. Despite their unprecedented and joyful assembling for Jesus’ miracles; the disciples had yet to experience something most mind-boggling. For the ultimate sacrifice, they would unknowingly partake in all three of these serious, solemn, and sacred reasons to gather.
A Passionate Prediction
While Jesus was teaching and preaching to the people, he told his disciples several times that he was going to suffer tremendously when they got to Jerusalem. Isn’t it ironic how many times we suffer most at the hands of our own family, friends, or church members? In the Book of Mark, Jesus shared his fate three times with his disciples. Jesus wanted them to realize the seriousness of the events to come. The Bible reads, “Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem’, he said ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise’” (Mark 10:32 (last part)-34 NIV).
Jesus felt the great weight of his calling. He was deeply distressed and experiencing emotional suffering and sorrow. So Jesus gathered his disciples to pray with him in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that a prayer gathering would give him the power to endure the great tribulations ahead. Yet his disciples were unable to pray because they could not even stay awake! During this time of dire emotional distress, Jesus’ closest friends: Peter, James, and John were asleep! Prayer brings power! It is amazing how little we tap into the power of prayer in our own worship lives. Many of us as singers and musicians create sets with great prayers and high praise. Yet how often do we go into our private prayer closets and pray for God’s will, power, and purpose in our own lives no matter the cost? Many times we are emotionally asleep. We are just going through the worship motions. Instead, we should allow the motions of our Master to move through us in prayer.
More importantly, how often do we gather yet overlook the broken hearts of those around us because we are lax, inattentive, or preoccupied with our own problems? Unity brings opportunity. As we come together in worship, we are given the opportunity to support one another. We need our church community to pray with us and build us up so we can battle the forces of evil. Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to come together in prayer so they would have the power and passion to fulfill their purpose. They were to be with him during his darkest hours. But when Jesus’ predictions came true, the disciples were seemingly unprepared. Instead of gathering together as had been their custom, when the priests came to arrest Jesus they fled. Do we do the same in our darkest hours? When circumstances are dire and problems and trials abound, instead of gathering with the community of Christ, we flee from him. We may even lose our desire to pray and praise. Then all alone, separated from our Savior, we can predict the outcome. Satan will win the battle without unity and community in Christ.
Pent Up Versus Pentecost
In the Garden, the disciples were frightened. All at once they scattered and their great faith faded. The disciples were like sheep without a shepherd. How is it that we can be with Jesus and trust him yet when the first trial comes, too often, we flee or fail him. Is our faith so feeble and our fears so deep? Does our humanity at times cloud God’s divinity? I admit for me, it is probably all of the above. Maybe the same goes for you. But it is hard to understand how the disciples could have been so scared during the crucifixion when they witnessed miracle after miracle during Jesus’ ministry. However don’t we witness miracles on a daily basis as well? Haven’t you had a testimony of God’s undeniable power in your own life? I know I have. Yet like the disciples when the road gets rough, the righteous get running. When worry overwhelms us we suffer. We become pent up by our anxiety instead of waiting for the Holy Spirit of Pentecost to fall on us. Our lack of faith creates an insurmountable crisis and we become paralyzed. Instead of waiting for Pentecost, we worry and are pent up by fear.
So after his crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples again gathered. The Biblical rationale and motivating forces behind their gathering were for three uncommon yet compelling reasons: emotional suffering, being overwhelmed, and to receive power. So let’s look at how these inducements apply to why we gather today.
Why Gather: Emotional Suffering
“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19 NIV) Often God will allow trials to test us and strengthen our faith. Fear is the first emotion mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 1:8). Fear and anxiety leave us broken and unable to think clearly. As artists, we lead with our emotions. Yet at times we are crippled by them. Dr. Mary Lamia of Psychology Today notes that “Fear and anxiety are important to differentiate, to the extent that one can do so. These emotions can transform into behaviors that may lead you to avoid situations or into defense mechanisms that may obscure the recognition of reality, and consequently, they have been understood as keys to the dynamics of emotional illness”. Without Christ, fear is a negative feeling that brings emotional suffering.
Yet there is another kind of fear. There are a reverence and solemn fear that God uses to bestow wisdom and strengthen our faith (Proverbs 9:10). Jesus uses suffering for sanctification and salvation.
So it was no wonder that the first emotion mentioned regarding the assembled disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion was fear. They knew that Jesus said he would rise again on the They knew that Jesus said he would rise again on the third day. Yet instead of coming together in anticipation of the unfathomable, the disciples gathered in fear of the unknown. They were worried about what the church members would say or do. They had their focus on the people instead of the promise. Many times in worship we let distress rule the day. We try to create an atmosphere of worship pleasantries instead of wonder-working power. But the purpose we gather is for God’s passion not for placating people. We lock out what we know is right and settle for what will soothe the crowd. We lock ourselves into a worship rut because it is easy and acceptable instead of essential and irresistible.
But Christ was about to inject himself into their circumstances and turn their problems into praise. Jesus came to bring them peace. He knew they were perplexed and confused. Real peace is priceless! It gives you the emotional security to combat any crisis. So Jesus brought peace with his presence. The same is true for you today. Let Jesus’ presence in your heart and mind bring peace to your problems. You will not know real peace if you don’t have real problems! Emotional suffering is a path to spiritual growth. Let Jesus use his testing tool of suffering to strengthen your faith.
Why Gather: Being Overwhelmed
“On one occasion while he was eating with them he gave them this command: Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 1: 4-5). Jesus knew that now more than ever his disciples needed to be comforted and cleansed. In some way, they all had doubted. Now Jesus was in their midst to repair the breach and provide assurance that the promised gift of the Father would come. It is interesting that the Greek word for baptize (baptiz) also means to overwhelm. Jesus commanded his disciples to wait together to be overwhelmed. Jesus promised to overwhelm them with the Holy Spirit!
So many times we are overwhelmed by our jobs, ministries, families, and various personal responsibilities. How often are we overwhelmed and cleansed by the Holy Spirit? What a wonderful reason to gather. When we come together in unity and love, the sacred presence of the Holy Spirit is full and free. Let’s wait together and pray for Christ to fulfill his ancient promise in our lives today. Together we can be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and be immersed in God’s compassion and love.
Why Gather: To Receive Power
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). There is strength in numbers. Jesus Christ knew that the disciples needed one another to withstand the trials and tribulations ahead. He commanded them to remain together until they received Holy Spirit power. Many times we don’t realize that the power God plans to bestow on us is ignited within the community of faith. We are enriched and embolden in an environment of encouragement and support. We learn and grow spiritually from interacting with one another which enables us to have the courage to go out and witness to the world. The place for passion is found in the garden of our hearts. As we bond together in community, we share the sacrifice, presence, and power of Jesus Christ to the world.