PENTECOST SUNDAY May 11, 2008
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23
Today, we are celebrating Pentecost Sunday. The word Pentecost is Greek for “pentecostes” which means “fiftieth.” This feast “commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, and takes its name from the fact that it comes nearly fifty days after Easter. This feast rounds off the tremendous mysteries that we have been commemorating since Holy Week – the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the Spirit of the Father and the Son on his disciples. Today’s feast indicates that it is an ongoing reality, which still touches our lives every single day. Therefore this feast is our feast where each of us receives the Holy Spirit.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit was affirmed in the First Reading when we heard, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. Being baptized in the Spirit was affirmed in the Second Reading, the letter to the Corinthians when it was said, “In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” And being sent to proclaim the Word of God was affirmed in the Gospel Reading when we heard, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” These three passages are the gist of today’s celebration.
Yet in today’s Gospel we have the event which took place on Easter Sunday, when Jesus, before his Ascension, gives his Spirit to his disciples and gives them the mission. The two accounts we heard today are two different ways of describing the same reality. Actual time and place are not important.
The Gospel of today refers to the event of Easter Sunday. The disciples are frightened and are hiding. As colleagues of Jesus they are afraid they may have to face arrest or even worse. Suddenly, there is Jesus among them. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’ meaning, ‘Peace is with you’. The presence of Jesus is an experience a kind of peace which only he can give. It is no wonder that the disciples, who were terrified, are now filled with joy. There are two qualities that always accompany the presence of Jesus in our lives – peace and joy. Then follows the mission of Jesus: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” The mission is transmitted. They have a job to do and it is exactly what Jesus himself came to do – to establish the Kingdom on earth.
After this Jesus breathes on them. In Greek the word for ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are the same. The breathing recalls God breathing life into the dust and bringing the first human being into existence. Here too there is a kind of creation, as the disciples are re-created into the ‘new person’ ready for the mission, that Paul will speak about in his letters, a person filled with the Spirit of Jesus and mandated to continue his work. They are to be the agents of unity, peace and reconciliation. They have the power to forgive and to heal. “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” They are called on to be mediators between God and man. This is the work of the Kingdom, their work.
We go back to the first reading. Here we have the dramatic description of the coming of the Spirit: There is the powerful wind, and there is the fire – the tongues of fire over each one in the place. This, as in the Exodus narrative, indicates God’s power and presence. We think of the burning bush and the mission to Moses. It reminds us of the pillar of fire, which, by night, accompanied and guided the Jews on their wanderings through the desert. They knew they were not alone. We see a marvellous transformation in the disciples. These men, huddled fearfully behind locked doors are almost blown from the room. They are no longer afraid, and they have an almost uncontrollable urge to share what they have experienced, to share their knowledge but, even more, their experience of Jesus. Threats of prison or torture in no way intimidate them. Together with this, they are given a power to communicate. Their message is heard and understood by all. The linguistic barriers of Babel have collapsed. This language they speak is the language of Jesus: the language of love. That is what he did in his life and will do till the end of times. Now they all are God’s people and all are called to spread the message of Jesus and his Kingdom.
The effects of the Spirit are expressed in the Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. First, the Spirit helps all to recognise Jesus as the Lord.
Secondly, the Spirit is the source of the special gifts or ‘charisms’ which each member of the community receives. But there is a huge variety of gifts. It is important to note that the gifts are not given as a personal grace for oneself. They are rather special abilities by which each one serves the needs of the community. We have all to work together, using our gifts, to build up the community to which we belong.
Thirdly, in Spirit we become like one body, in fact, we are the Body of Christ. Just as one body has many limbs and organs working together as a harmonious unit, so we as the Body of Christ each make our distinct contribution to the life and work of the community.
Fourthly, the Spirit is a way of true freedom and liberation; his is not a way of slavery, compulsion, addiction, greed or fear. Through the Spirit there is a close, warm, confident relationship with God and become children of God, living images of our Father.
Finally, the Spirit makes us co-heirs with Christ to “suffer with him that we may also be glorified with him “. The suffering does not arise from restrictions on our freedom but because, in our total commitment to truth, love, genuine freedom and human dignity.
The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, ‘until he comes.’ From the very day of Pentecost the Church has celebrated and administered holy Baptism. Indeed St. Peter declares to the crowd astounded by his preaching: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
We radiate that Spirit and by our word and example invite others to share it. The gifts of the Spirit are not for us: they are to be shared. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, the disciples did not stay in that room luxuriating in what they had been given. They burst out telling the world how much God loves everyone and how he wants everyone to experience that love. It is the Spirit of Jesus which will be with us till end of times.