Receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Today’s feast marks the end of the Easter season and the birth of the Church. And it is instructive for us to think about how the birth of the church occurred. How did the early disciples of Jesus make the journey through the birth canal and take their first breath in the new world into which they had been sent? It is a story of a journey from fear to assuredness, from tears of sadness to tears of joy, from guilt and shame to forgiveness, from timidity to boldness.
The disciples were huddled together in one room. They were afraid. They were fearful that the religious authorities would be after them, and deal with them in the same way that they had dealt with their leader, Jesus, and have them put to death. They may have been feeling guilty and ashamed for having disowned, abandoned and denied him, leaving him to die on a cross with only a few bystanders watching on, including his mother and a couple of disciples. They were (dis)pirited, (dis)enfranchised, directionless and confused. Somehow, in this state of crisis they are greeted by the presence of the Lord, Jesus, who arrived with the words “Peace be with you”. That experience was accompanied by what St John describes as breathing of the spirit on them or St Luke describes as a sense of powerful winds and something like tongues of fire. And so in the midst of their fear and hopelessness, in the midst of their death like experience they are brought to life. They are animated, inspirited, freed and forgiven, loosened from their bonds and sent out to bring about the same experience of freedom and joy in others. That is the story of the first day of the Church. It is the story of human beings leaving behind all that weighs them down, all that cripples them emotionally and physically, all that burdens them and ties them down. It is the story of how the word of peace and forgiveness by the one who was raised from the dead can lead humanity into a new, ecstatic and enlivened state. Is that church, the church of the day of Pentecost, needed, desired or necessary in our day? To that I give a resounding yes!
As we gather today there are hundreds and thousands of people gathered in upper rooms living in fear and uncertainty as the world emerges from a global pandemic, no vaccine, not the end of the spread, not sure where outbreaks will occur, not knowing the final outcome, the end date, or the final fallout. And this experience brings home to us that so many of our brothers and sisters across the globe live daily in the shadow of darkness and death, with the scourge of disease, violent conflict between nations or in domestic settings, terror, the trafficking of human beings by those who would exploit the vulnerable and the threat to human and religious freedom that marks the lives of too many. Oh yes, a new Pentecost day is longed for. We are reminded that we are in a world of fragile, vulnerable, precious human life. Everyday our world, our church, our families, our lives need the breath of the healing spirit to bring us to life and hope again. That spirit we know comes in many ways, bringing wisdom, knowledge, understanding, right judgement, wonder and awe, good counsel, and piety. This is the day of Pentecost and it is the day to call on the breath of the spirit to breathe on us once again with peace and healing that we make take the journey from fear to being assured from sadness to tears of joy and from timidity to courage and boldness of faith.