While we see the disciples gathering together regularly throughout scripture, the first time they were commanded to shelter in place for an extended time is described in Acts chapter 1:4.
“Do not leave Jerusalem,” he said. “Wait for the gift my Father promised.”
This is the risen Jesus talking. He says. Wait. Receive. Those are his commands. The first ever shelter in place, ordered by God, for very different reasons than ours, but if we pay attention we might see a parallel.
We can learn many things from this passage, but the main thing is that, even after the resurrection, the disciples were still clueless. Instead, of obeying the command to wait and receive, they think it is finally time for them to take over.
They ask, “Are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel, now?”
They still don’t know what is going on. Their minds are on the wrong kingdom. They ignore the words of the risen Christ because they don’t understand them. They just want to go and do something, that is until, Jesus disappears into the clouds.
It is so easy to see when you have the whole story to read, isn’t it? They didn’t, because they hadn’t written it yet. What a roller coaster ride for them; triumphal entry, crucifixion, resurrection, visitation, ascension. What a confusing time to be alive!
After he died, when they thought they lost him, they wandered and hid. The grief of losing him was equivalent to their fear that somehow, they had been wrong about him. Then the joy of seeing him again, being with him, had to be a thrill like none other. A relief and a confirmation that he was who they thought he was after all. The Messiah. In their minds, they are back on track. They are all together again and the ordeal is over. They thought, ‘We should go out and take our kingdom back, right Lord?’
Ah, but the answer is another riddle, ‘It is not for you to know.’ What? How do we take the kingdom if we do not know the plan? Then, with their mouths gaping open, he floats off into the sky. It must’ve been like the crucifixion all over again, losing sight of him. Despite the amazing way he went, just as things were looking like they were going to work out, he was gone.
I imagine their questions to one another. What do we do now? He said something about Jerusalem? Waiting there for a gift? Power to be witnesses? Maybe we should try that? And so, they did. They went and they waited 50 days. Seven weeks. In one place.
They were all together during this time of waiting, which I now understand with new eyes. Not an easy task, to wait. It is uncomfortable. I so want to DO something. Anything. It is hard to just sit and be. Especially when I don’t know the timing or the outcome. Waiting in uncertainty is painful. I bet they felt that way, too.
The only thing harder than waiting is receiving. I love to give to others. It is my joy to help. However, when I am the one who needs the help, I am not so quick to accept it. I learned this about myself when I was in Cancerland. I don’t want to put anyone out. I don’t want to ask. I don’t like it when charity comes to my own door. It is humbling. I feel powerless. It is the opposite of the self-sufficient idol I worship. It was the opposite of what they thought the plan had been and I am sure it was a time of wrestling.
But, they had a promise of power. A promise of the Holy Spirit, whatever that meant. Baptism by fire. Not a clue as to what it was, or when it would arrive. Only that they were to wait for it. Wait, then receive. Two of the hardest things to do. Add to that a quarantine of sorts and the anticipation of the gift, and they were stir crazy I am sure.
Then the rushing wind. Tongues of fire. The breath of God from the bottom of their feet to the tips of their tongues. The gift arrived and along with it, a power, not of this world. What a glorious terrifying moment.
The lessons I see are many. I find myself in a modern-day place of waiting, living in history before it is written. I am confused and uncertain. I don’t know what is really happening. I want to do something, but I can’t. I can only wait. I want to get back to normal. But you cannot rush the wind. It is a unique place we find ourselves.
I feel a stirring. An anticipation of what is ahead. Do you feel it too? It will involve humbling ourselves, and opening our hands to let go of control, so we are released to receive. I believe, while we are waiting, God is preparing a gift for us. I am not sure what it is, but it will require intimacy with him. Think of it like a fast of comfort for an undetermined length of time. Fasting is when you give up something you want for a season and hold ‘fast’ to your sacrifice, as a spiritual discipline. It is a time to go deeper and to wait on the new thing that is coming.
We are living in a riddle where we cannot see the outcome. One day, generations will look at this time and laugh at what we could not see. It will be obvious to them what God was doing. They will wonder at our inability to wait and our desire to rush the wind. But we cannot see the end from the beginning. We can only wait to receive.
On a side note: This all happened during the season of the wheat and barley harvest which concluded with Shavuot, a festival of first fruits that included an offering of bread. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Times and seasons. The Passover lamb. The Shavuot bread. Both first fruits representing the first son. Always riddles and parallels. Always mysteries. Always opportunities to dig deep. I love these little nuggets tucked into stories in the Bible.
In my mind’s eye, I can see wind and fire rushing into that room startling the disciples, and I am sure they were wondering, ‘What is happening? What is it?’ I have heard those words before. Out in the desert. What is it? Manna. Bread from heaven. It is your provision. Just what you need, just when you need it.
And now again, on the day of the first fruits bread offering, we see again a gift of provision. From heaven. Power, not of this earth. The wind of heaven blowing boldness into their lives. It was Shavuot to them. Now, we call it Pentecost.