This Pentecost Sunday most of the action is in the First Reading from Acts. So, with due reverence to John’s gospel, let’s break precedent and go where the action is. But first, let’s borrow a thought from this week’s gospel account of the risen Christ appearing in the upper-room. After greeting the apostles with the customary “Shalom,” Jesus charges them: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’
With these words, Christ sets the table for Pentecost, literally fifty days after Passover, a day that the Jewish people reserved to celebrate God’s favor. Jesus alerts the apostles that The Holy Spirit is coming right after he has returned to the Father.
It is more than a theological nicety that Jesus and the Holy Spirit do not occupy the same space or the same role. There is a sublime order to the Trinity… Creator, Redeemer, Advocate. As mature Christians, we have lived our whole lives with the mystery of the Trinity. But just imagine the disorienting impact of this revelation on these simple fishermen and laborers.
Earlier Jesus had told the apostles that when his work was done, he would go to the Father. But that was back when they saw him as a home-town phenomenon… their mysterious, miracle-working friend and teacher. Now Jesus speaks with divine authority as the risen Savior. There is an immediacy and authority to his words. And he quickly closes the loop of divine presence in our lives. As the Redeemer sent by the Father, he promises that he will never abandon us… for the Holy Spirit is coming.
Significantly, Jesus does not just speak to the apostles. He is not a disembodied spirit. He breathed on them from the depths of his risen body. As the Father has sent him to do God’s work in the world, Jesus sends us to carry on God’s work through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
True to his word, fifty days later the apostles received the Holy Spirit. Once again, they had gathered together. Once again, God entered the room and moved among them. But this time there was no physical presence. There were no wounds to inspect; no familiar face to welcome. The flesh was replaced by a force. The power of the Holy Spirit was upon them… manifest in a violent wind and tongues of fire. But more significant than the pyrotechnics was a great infusion of evangelical energy. God the Advocate filled them and sent them out to preach and teach with newfound wisdom, zeal and courage.
The apostles… those ordinary guys… those cowards… those betrayers… those knuckleheads… were transformed into inspired evangelists, fearless missionaries, brilliant bearers of the New Covenant, living witnesses to our redemption. This year, in gospels from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, we have observed the spiritual growth of the apostles. Miraculously they have learned so much and come so far. But how much have we learned? How far have we come?
Let’s review: In this pandemic-ridden Lenten-Easter cycle we have learned once again that we are saved. Our every sin was nailed to the cross. In the risen Christ, we know eternal life is ours. We know that salvation is God’s gift outright. We know that we are saved by faith alone. We need only believe and, as a sign of our belief, that we are baptized into the family of believers. We know too that believing is not a spectator sport. Our faith must be active, not passive. Only as active disciples… witnessing Christ’s love… sharing our faith… can we realize the legacy of redemption.
Sadly, like the apostles, we are slow learners and fast forgetters. That’s why the Holy Spirit comes to us as he did to them, not as a visitor, but as the abiding presence of God. You can ignore him… you can move him into some dusty spare-room in your mind. But not if you value your salvation.
He’s with us now. He knows every atom of our being… every thought, every action, every impulse He inhabits every moment of our lives. He’s why we are reading God’s word, today. If we take nothing else from these past ninety days… be awake, be alert to God’s presence in your life. Receive the Holy Spirit. Welcome him. Share him. And when our time comes, know he will welcome us and share with us the love of the Father and the Son.
God love you!