“Three Jews and a Gentile walk into a bar...” (cue laugher)
Well, actually, it was a church, a Caribbean Pentecostal church to be exact, which might even be a bit more funny. Two of the girls were Israelis. One was my girlfriend. They had little knowledge of what Christian religion was all about. The other guy was Harry, also very Jewish and from Toronto.
How do three Jews and a Gentile end up going to a Pentecostal church you may ask? It’s because of the music. We had walked past the church many times and noted the roof blasting off from the boisterous sound of guitars, drums and singing. My girlfriend Rukha, was seriously into black music. She loved Jazz, particularly Nina Simone. It’s what you don’t get at home that most draws you. She was the one who said to me that she wanted to go in one day and enjoy the music.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, nothing stands out more than four very white people in the middle of a very black church. The pastor, noting all the rubbernecking going on in the pews, cut to the chase and called us out from the pulpit. He said what everyone else was thinking. “Maybe our visitors would like to introduce themselves?” he suggested. There was a pregnant pause as all heads turned our way. My friends then all turned to me. I stood up. “We were in the neighbourhood and we wanted to attend a BIBLE-Believing church,” I offered. I’m not sure how many people bought it. It sounded like a corny excuse even to me.
But then the music started. My girlfriend was not to be disappointed, we were watching black gospel, close up and personal. And what a performance it was. The choir belted it out like it was the day after Armageddon and they were hailing holy victory. People burst in and out of mini solos in the best form of the gospel genre. It was spontaneous and it was loud and it grew effortlessly like something that was a force unto itself. And no one was getting embarrassed or self conscious. Tiny ladies in pill box hats and hair netting started to cut loose and make the rounds of the church aisles, some sprinting this way, some the other like runners around a track. They would periodically stop and burst into ecstatic tongues, turning to the congregation as if for encouragement. The Spirit was moving.
And then it got real.
The lady in front of us suddenly fell down and started to roll around and froth at the mouth like something out of a voodoo ceremony. My girlfriend gripped my arm hard enough to cut off all circulation. Then another congregant fell down, and then another. It was Pentecostal pandemonium in ways I had never seen even growing up as a Pentecostal. Soon, half the church was rolling around in front of us twitching and jerking and shrieking forth utterances as if trying to awaken from a bad dream. This was not like in the movies. It was ten times worse. It was scaring the very Devil out of us.
As if by common impulse we did the only thing we could do. We fled. Without speaking, we all ran about two blocks and only collapsed when we had distanced ourselves from the church. My girlfriend turned and started slapping at me with anger. It was as if it was my fault and I knew what was coming all along. I was somehow complicit as the only Christian in the group.
It was funny in retrospect. My girlfriend wanted an explanation. She didn’t know anything about Christianity. She thought that everyone who wasn’t Jewish was Catholic. She was shocked that such goings-on would pass in a theatre of worship.
In the end, it is just a funny story. Still it reminds me of what it says in the book of Revelation, that every nation, tribe and tongue will be gathered at the throne of God, and declaring that Jesus Christ is Lord. Like a vine with many branches, the Gentiles are grafted in to the fellowship of revelation that is originally given to the Jews. I have no doubt of it.
I don’t presume to know who is going to Heaven myself, but I do know that Jesus scolded the Scribes and Pharisees, that tax collectors and prostitutes would go in before them. It will be a mixed crowd, unanticipated. I assume that when the text refers to every nation tribe and tongue, it means what it says. There will be people I will be surprised to see, and some who might be surprised to see me... if I make it myself.
No doubt that there will be some gospel singing, and it may get a bit animated. There might be some speaking in holy tongues. It’s the great gathering in, the party that includes all shapes and sizes. Gentiles, Jews, getting real before the throne of God. It might be a bit infectious. We might even get a little excited and lift our hands. And suddenly we will look around, and no one will feel out of place.
“And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together..” Isaiah 40:5