27th May. Pentecost Sunday
27th May. Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11. The spirit of God’s power gives energy to the apostles and sends them out on their mission. This scene in the beginning of the Church which will grow to include all peoples.
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13. The spirit is the way in which Christ works in his community, the Church and manifests himself in diverse ways within one body.
Jn 20:19-23. The disciples receive the life-giving power of the Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus.Through this Spirit they grow in his life and communicate it to those willing to believe.
The Better Impulse
The Holy Spirit used to be the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps he suffered from being a spirit. For many of us, only concrete things are real. The Father and Son make an impact because one took flesh and the other was given a beard. Have you ever imagined the Holy Spirit with a beard? Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians, the Holy Spirit had been overlooked. He had been cast in the role of a third candidate, valued for his transfers to the front-runners, but never earmarked for a seat in the House, much less a post in the Cabinet. It’s only recently that he has been coming into his own.
It’s about time too! There are several reasons why we should never forget the Spirit. The first is that he wasn’t forgotten by Christ. On the contrary. On the eve of Christ’s Passion, he promised to send him to the disciples. In fact, he took pains to emphasise the importance of the Spirit’s role. Here was no poor substitute – a duckling doing “locum” for a swan. He would be a helper, a counsellor, a teacher – a replacement for Christ himself. Indeed, Our Lord’s words of introduction are rather startling: “It is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).
To our advantage? People in public life, when they come to retire, sometimes pay compliments, with calculated modesty to their less illustrious successors. Our Lord was not being modest. He was not patronising the Spirit. He was speaking the truth. The advantage of which he spoke lay in this. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ himself. Christ, as man, was limited by space and time. He could only work with and through the people of his own generation. He couldn’t talk, no more than you can, to the people in Timbuctoo. The Spirit of Christ would not be limited in that way. He would have the freedom of the wind. He would have the freedom of every heart in every generation. Instead of living with some, he could now live within all. He would have the world at his fingertips. So the Spirit’s presence would make good Christ’s promise: “And know, that I am with you always; yes to the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
There is a second reason for acknowledging the Spirit. It is the example given by the early Christians. He made such a difference to their lives that they could never forget him. Before his coming they were timid and afraid, like children huddling together in a storm. When he descended upon them in a miraculous confusion of wind, fire and speech, they were utterly transformed. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), St Luke tells us, and we think of billowing sails or mothers filled with child. But some of the bystanders were less poetic in their reaction. “They’re drunk” (Acts 2:13), they sneered, and for once the cynics were right, drunk they were – drunk with the Spirit of Christ’s love and their own furious eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing where he would and from now on “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3) would be shouted from the housetops.
The early Christians stayed drunk for life. They were never to be sober again. For as long as they lived, the Spirit would stay in the bloodstream. Every decision they made would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Spirit was not confined to decision-making at executive level. It was felt at the ordinary level too, at what politicians love to call the “grassroots.” It was felt in the gifts that were Spirit, sent for the service of the Church – unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, but ordinary gifts too, required to meet the needs of God’s children everywhere – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control” (Ga 5:22).
It is by exercising these gifts that we remember the Spirit best. When we are loyal to a demanding partner, when we are cheerful and courageous, when we console the bereaved, link the old or encourage the young, we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. When we curb our evil instincts, we honour him. When we respond to the better impulse, we honour him more. The Holy Spirit is “the rising sap’. He is also the climbing warmth in our hearts. It is through and with our better instincts that the Spirit works. “Whether we’re aware of it or not, he is never idle. Our part is to grunt and heave with him and to push our stalling lives to the top of the hill.
On Breathing and Birthdays
Do you remember celebrating a birthday with all the trimmings – cake, candles, balloons and the familiar happy birthday song? In later years the trimmings might change, but the fact remains that with each passing birthday we celebrate that moment when we took our first breath, however gasping or bad-tempered those first greedy gulps may have seemed to those around us.
Looking more closely, we celebrate two kinds of birthdays, only from our present perspective, the second one is more somber and it’s usually called an anniversary. We usually look forward to the first kind … celebrating our birth into this beautiful world with it appeals and attractions and in which we now live, breathe and struggle.
We look towards the second kind of birthday with slightly less eagerness. That will be the moment when our breath literally does cease. In that breath-taking experience we are really out-of-this-world and born (and borne) into another one. It frequently happens with struggling and gasping too, for we are not entirely sure of what awaits us there either.
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the Church’s birthday. In his dying moments when Jesus struggled to breathe, he breathed out forgiveness. Today when he stands among the disciples, Jesus breathes on them and gifts them (and us) with another divine gift, the power to forgive.
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
Second Reading: First Epistle to the Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Gospel: John 20:19-23
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”