Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Trey Comstock
Peter pushes his way through a surprisingly dense crowd. The festival starts in a day and a half, but already, the streets of Jerusalem swarm with unusual intensity. The journey from the Upper Room to the Temple should only take a few minutes but that was 30 minutes ago. James and John will be wondering what’s happened. However, there is at least one benefit to thousands of extra strangers crowding into Jerusalem. It’s way easier to blend into a crowd.
Every thirty seconds or so, John looks up at the sun. “Will you stop that?” James chides. “It won’t make him get here any faster. “Peter should be here by now. It’s not that far,” John says with worry in his voice.“ “I know,” James responds with a sigh. “What if they found him?” “John, we just have to have faith.”
Finally getting up the steps of the Temple, Peter instantly spots James and John. It’s hard to miss two extremely worried worshipers in the jubilant throng. “Those two need more lessons in not standing out, Peter thinks to himself, as he decides to surprise his two friends. Reaching the main platform, Peter circles around behind James and John, approaching them from the courtyard. “Sorry that I kept you waiting,” Peter declares loudly, 18 inches behind James and John. The two other disciples startle and turn on Peter. Before they can say anything, Peter interjects, “Ready to go pray?” “Trust me, we’ve already got quite a bit of that done,” James says with a rye smile.
For the week or so, since Jesus ascended, this has been the routine. Pray with the 120 other followers in the Upper Room. Pray at the Temple. Avoid the forces who tried to kill Jesus. And, wait for the promised gift. Patience has proven harder than eluding capture. Jesus had promised that they would be given the power to be his messengers to the ends of the earth. However, he didn’t specify when said force would arrive, and right now, 120 scared people in a room hardly seems like the team that you would want to carry the Good News anywhere.
Peter, James, and John arrive back at the Upper Room. As they enter, every eye turns to them with expectation, as if to say, “Did it happen?” Seeing the same uncertain looks on Peter, James, and John’s faces, everyone resignedly returns to trying to keep themselves occupied. They face another night of expectant prayer.
The ritual of the evening commences. Some light candles. They gather in a rough circle, straining the bounds of the small space. The original 11, plus the newly elected Matthias, offer spoken prayers. James, the brother of Christ, speaks up and reminds folks of all the promises that his brother had kept. “He promised to be with us always, and that he would sends us the power. We need to have faith. It’s only been a few days.” They sing the worship songs of their childhoods, of simpler times. Eventually, they drift off into another uneasy night’s rest.
Peter can’t sleep. Jesus had tasked him with leading these people, of building something spanning the world. He grew up to be a fisherman – not the leader of a movement. Jesus had all these abilities. He could teach and heal. He always knew exactly what to say. Peter knows how to mend nets. People keep looking to him to do something, to lead, to preach. Peter knows in his heart that he is disappointing them, but he doesn’t know what else to do. He keeps praying and leading the others to do the same. He keeps seeking God at the Temple because with Christ ascended, he has no clue where else to go. He prays now through bleary eyes asking to feel anything like ready to up the mantle that has been placed on him.
Dawn rises with Peter still staring out the window. He sees the crowds outside start to trickle in from the inns outside the city. Pentecost Day promises to be another log jam in the Holy City. As he is already up, Peter helps prepare the morning meal. The activity gives him a brief respite from feeling useless. He can still make breakfast.
Everyone settles into another featureless day of waiting. They clean the Upper Room, figure out who would take the risk and acquire more supplies, and make plans for more prayer at the Temple. More than a week into this, everyone has their particular spots and routines, and as the sun climbs higher in the sky, everyone falls back into their familiar routines. The oppression of waiting without a deadline presses ever harder down on the ragtag band of Christ followers, all gathered together in that upper room.
Luke gives us a lot about the moments immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit. They rush out in ministry able to reach the diverse crowd assembled in Jerusalem for the holiday. Despite not having any formal training, Peter delivers a sermon that converts 3,000 people in one go. A small movement becomes a mighty and unified force, all in one day.
I’ve become fascinated by the time immediately before the Holy Spirit shows up. Scripture doesn’t give us much. We know, from Acts 1, that they elected a replacement for Judas and prayed together. From Luke 24, we know that they worshipped in the Temple. I wonder what that strange in between time would have felt like. Pentecost, meaning 50 days, was an existing Jewish holiday marking the 50 days since the Passover. We know that Christ’s death and resurrection happened at the Passover, and Acts 1 shows Jesus teaching for 40 days after the resurrection. So, the gap between Ascension and Pentecost would have been just long enough to eat at you. One can imagine the first couple days being eager expectation, but as days turn into a week, if they’re anything like modern humans, it gets difficult at some point.
The scenes that I illustrated above try to paint the picture of clinging to faith in a world that feels out to get them as they waited for something. The Temple leadership and the Romans still held sway in Jerusalem. They had killed before, and we know that they will kill again. The human mind struggles particularly with waiting on something without a defined end date.
God did show up for them, though. I bet that God will show up again, too.