Make Us Again Your Body
They huddled behind closed doors, the frightened little band of followers, their Lord had been crucified and buried. They spoke in whispered, listened for the footfall of soldiers coming to arrest them. Without Jesus, they were powerless and cowardly. And then he was there, among them again, risen from the dead in power and majesty. He told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift the Father promised, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Then he ascended right in front of them.
They stayed together in Jerusalem. And on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blew like violent wind, filling the house where they were sitting, and they were formed into the church, the body of Christ, and thrust into the streets of Jerusalem with the power of the wind of the Holy Spirit driving them to proclaim the story of Jesus in terms everyone could understand. 3,000 were added to their number that day.
But, what happened the next day?
This little passage in Acts is a framer. It is the candid shot that was captured shortly after the day of Pentecost – the family’s all dressed up and everyone’s eyes are open and smiles are natural. It only lasted for a moment – that perfect community. When Luke, the writer of Acts is writing, he is looking back 50 years, and he knows that the picture-perfect community life was short-lived.
Dr. Paul Walasky is a retired professor from Union Presbyterian in Richmond and an Acts scholar posits that perhaps Luke is presenting the perfect purity of the early Christian church for his own church as a goal. He says, “There is a longing deep inside each of us for a place of perfect peace and harmony, where all thing – material and spiritual – are shared, and where we can eat together, ‘with glad and generous hearts.’…Luke allows us a fleeting look at a moment in time when that perfect fellowship was fully alive and he holds out the hope that it can happen again.”
This hope is why we celebrate Pentecost – not to mark the historic significance of the day, not to reminisce about a day when 3,000 were converted, not to marvel at the languages that were spoken or the miracles and wonders that took place. We celebrate Pentecost because the promise of the Holy Spirit was and continues to be fulfilled. The power of God is present drawing together the church universal, bringing about forgiveness and reconciliation, so that the communion of saints who have lived and are living in all times and places gather at Christ’s invitation around this Table. And the power of God is present drawing us together, calling us to look more and more like that picture of the early church in Acts.
One of my study Bibles has ice breaker questions for Bible study groups. Two questions on this passage speak to the longing we each have for this perfect fellowship. What is the closest you have come to experiencing the kind of close fellowship described here in Acts? Think about it…was it on a sports team, in my family, in the military, in a sorority or fraternity, in a support group, at a job, with friends in high school, in a church-related group, another group, or I’ve never had this experience. The follow-up question is “What keeps the church from experiencing this kind of fellowship now?” What keeps Farmington Presbyterian from having this kind of fellowship? Is it that we don’t have time, we don’t know each other, we don’t want to know each other’s needs, too many differences, or something else.
This snapshot in Acts reveals four marks of the church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They wanted to learn what it meant to follow Jesus. They shared a common life together, when someone needed something, they could depend upon those who had to share and provide for the needs of all. A lot has been made of the early church holding everything in common as a reason why, clearly, we could NEVER do that again. I don’t think it is the holding everything in common that is significant for us…it is that they knew one another well enough that when one was in need they knew it and helped. They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts – the social barriers had come down, and they liked each other. And they were devoted to worship, meeting every day at the Temple for the Jewish hours of prayer.
The Holy Spirit forms the body as the body commits to life together studying what it means to follow Jesus, taking care of one another and sharing to meet needs, eating together with glad and sincere hearts, and praying and worshiping together regularly. Do we want to again be made into Christ’s body?
N.T. Wright affirms that “When Jesus’ followers behave like this, they sometimes find, to their surprise, that they have a new spring in their step. There is an attractiveness, an energy about a life in which we stop clinging on to everything we can get and start sharing it, giving it away, celebrating God’s generosity by being generous ourselves. And that attractiveness is one of the things that draws other people in….Where the church today finds itself stagnant, unattractive, humdrum, and shrinking,” N.T. Wright goes on to say, “– and sadly, there are many churches, in the Western world at least, of which that has to be admitted – it’s time to read Acts 2:42-47 again, get down on our knees, and ask what isn’t happening that should be happening. The gospel hasn’t changed. God’s power hasn’t diminished. People still need rescuing. What are we doing about it?”
Do we sing “Come, Holy Spirit” with enthusiasm and excitement and get up from this service to go back to life unchanged? Or do we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit by opening ourselves to receive the gift? Will we offer excuses for why we can’t commit or will we be formed again into Christ’s body?
May the candid snapshots of the Farmington family reveal the work of the Holy Spirit forming us again into Christ’s body. Amen.