Pentecost Sunday

Locked doors, the Fire of love, and the Breath of the Spirit

 Deacon Richard Haber  June 4, 2017

Good morning!  We celebrate this morning the completion of the Easter cycle of our liturgical year. We celebrate “the world (is) charged with the grandeur of God…. Because the Holy (Ghost) Spirit over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings” as Gerard Manly Hopkins puts it in his poem, God’s Grandeur. There are three images which connect with me and help me to fully grasp the significance of this great feast, this great birthday celebration of the church---Pentecost Sunday.

The first image that stands out in this morning’s readings in John’s account of that first Pentecost is the image of the locked door. “and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. “ We’ve all been there haven’t we? How often do I lock myself away because of fear, because of an inability to truly understand that Jesus brings forgiveness?  I do not trust enough to forgive myself perhaps. The disciples are hidden behind closed doors because they are ashamed.  They feel their betrayal of the Lord keenly. Where were they when Jesus needed them the most in the Garden, on Calvary? They were cowards who ran away.  They were shattered because they did not yet understand Jesus’ message; they were shattered because they believed Jesus would free them from Roman domination and restore the kingdom of Israel, David’s kingdom. And now he was dead.  We should also note that in John’s account, this encounter with the risen Lord occurs on the day of the resurrection.

Then, Jesus is with them-there are no barriers, no locked door that can separate us from Jesus. “Jesus came and stood among them.” His first words were “Peace be with you.” These are the very words spoken to us at each Eucharist, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.” After that, Jesus shows his disciples his wounds to remind them that he has not forgotten that they abandoned him.  He shows them his wounds to remind them that after his resurrection he is the same Jesus of Nazareth whom they had followed.  He says again, ‘Peace be with you’ to indicate that he forgives them and still loves them.  He is saying that even though we lock ourselves up in fear and shame, his love penetrates all, forgives all. “Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” By accepting Jesus’ forgiveness we are prepared to take this same message of love and hope into our families and communities.  As Pope Francis says in The Joy of the Gospel,

“No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by (Christ’s) boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.”#3  

We are summoned to bring this peace and forgiveness wherever it is needed. Richard Rohr in his book, Breathing Under Water puts it this way: “ Forgiveness is an encounter of love. Forgiveness springs from the belief the past can be redeemed and its effects can be redirected from a passive acceptance of injustice or the vengeful arithmetic of ‘an eye for an eye.” When everything seems darkness and bleakness around us, Jesus brings light.

The second image which gives us insight into this great feast of Pentecost, is fire.  This image of the tongues of fire recounted in the Acts (our First Reading) reminds us of the Easter vigil.  The church is in darkness and then the new fire is lit recalling perhaps the fire of the big bang, the fire of creation. Then, the Pascal candle is lit and processed through the darkness of the Church spreading its light to all.  The procession of the Paschal candle into the darkness recalls the Exodus story of the column of fire which led the Israelites out of their slavery into the promised land.  Fire brings light, warmth, and purification. The promised one will be like a purifying fire as Malachi prophesied, “And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire…he will be like a refiner’s fire…he will purify the Levites, refining them like gold or silver.” (Mal 3) The tongues of fire remind us of Isaiah’s vision. “Woe is me…For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips…Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. ‘See, he said, ‘now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:6-7).  The light from the tongues of fire recalls God creating light on the first day. “The God said: Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good.” The creation of light was a foreshadowing of the true light which comes into the world as John says in the beginning of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

There is one other important feature of Luke’s account in Acts of this first Pentecost. The Spirit was given to the whole community.  Each received the Holy Spirit and this should remind us that we are one in Christ. We are a community of pilgrims and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to everyone to be shared. And this community encompasses everyone not just those members of our tribe.  This was the astounding feature of the first Pentecost. Enlivened by that Spirit they received, the disciples preached and were understood by people from many different communities. They understood the disciples “each in their own language” and this too was the presence of the Holy Spirit. “In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (First Reading). As one commentator puts it:

“Throughout history it has been too easy for the Church to forget that from our beginnings our community knew no boundaries.  Jesus broke open closed systems by forgiving anyone who sought it, reaching out to the untouchables, commissioning women as disciples and privileging the poor.” (Preaching Resources, June 4, 2017).

What’s the take home message for us? At our baptisms, the baptismal candle was lit for us by a godparent or a member of our family from the Paschal candle. The fire of this candle was brought to us and the following prayer was said: “Receive the light of Christ. You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.” We each have received this tongue of fire like those first disciples and given a mission: the mission of forgiveness and healing which can only be brought about through love.

The final image from our Readings this morning bringing home for us the meaning of Pentecost is the image of breath.  In Genesis, we are told about our creation: “Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen2:7) This was our first creation made in the image of God.  We all know what happened. We turned against God in our desire to become gods ourselves---still a temptation as we see everyday in our world.  Through Jesus, we are united through him, in his mystical body, with God once again. In our Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into us and asks that we go forth and heal ourselves and others through forgiveness. This was the moment when his first disciples were made one with him and their first commission to bring Christ’s love and forgiveness into the world is our commission as well. “The risen Lord was handing over his Spirit and the mission of bringing all into communion with God and one another.  This has nothing to do with judging who cannot be forgiven but with unity. Jesus never spoke of withholding forgiveness….Jesus commissioned the disciples(and us) to be agents of forgiveness bringing people into community….”(Commentator)

In conclusion, let us remember these images of that first Pentecost.  The locked door which Jesus opens; the fire of his love which is given to all who seek it and his breath, His Spirit giving each of us our manifold gifts to bring about the unity of all in Jesus for that is what He desires. He desires a community which breaks down all obstacles holding us apart from his love.

“Lord send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”