As followers of the resurrected Lord Jesus we have experienced God’s power to fundamentally remake our existence. Christ enters our lives with clarity and power, continually stripping away pride and false assumptions. Like Peter on that rooftop in Joppa, or Saul on his fateful trip to Damascus, we experience Jesus as present with us, calling us into an entirely new way of living in the world.
This has been my own experience. The Lord came to me when I was dying in despair and darkness, and he drew me into the Light. Though at first his luminous presence was a pure joy and comfort, I soon discovered that Christ’s light was a consuming fire. This Refiner’s Fire has often been painful; it hurts to have our wounds washed out with soap! Yet, this revealing, cleansing work of the Holy Spirit is the first step towards genuine healing and transformation.
Our stories of individual transformation are mysterious, even counter-cultural. We live in a society that generally tries to explain the universe in purely materialist terms. To talk about the transformative action of the Holy Spirit, of all things — well, that’s a little weird! But, in my experience, talking about the individual experience of God’s power is child’s play compared to explaining the even more astonishing gathered meeting.
When I talk about the gathered meeting, many seasoned Friends may assume that I am referring to a powerful shared experience in meeting for worship. That’s part of it, but there’s so much more! In reality, what Friends sometimes refer to as the gathered meeting is a sort of shorthand for the ways in which the Holy Spirit refines, inspires, transforms and empowers groups of people — even gathering broad movements that transcend a particular local community. The gathered meeting is best understood not as an event, but rather as our community’s united life in Christ.
The gathered meeting is what comes into being when Christ draws us together as his body. Where once we were a scattered collection of isolated individuals, the Holy Spirit knits us into a single living organism. Where before we imagined that our resources, talents and abilities belonged to us, now we see that everything we have — even our very selves — has been entrusted to us for the purpose of building up the whole body. When we experience the living presence of Jesus in our midst, we don’t merely experience personal transformation, we become a part of something much greater than ourselves.
As we consider our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ, it is important to remember: God’s mission is a radical sending out into the world, not of many isolated individuals, but of one body, united and growing in him. We must be gathered before we can be sent. To embrace the full implications of Christ’s mission, we must experience the reality of the gathered meeting — not merely as an occasional euphoria in the midst of a worship service, but rather as an enduring recognition of our shared life as his own body.
Have you experienced this transformed life in community gathered in Jesus? What would it take for this to become our experience as Friends United Meeting?