Sunday, May 31, 2009

As The Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You. Receive The Holy Spirit

Acts 2: 1-11
When the day of Pentecost came they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, (both Jews and converts to Judaism) Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7; 12-13
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in everyone.

Just as a body is one although it has many parts, and all of them are parts of the same body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jews or Greek, whether slaves or free men, and we have all been given to drink of the one Spirit.

John 20:19-23
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

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Fifty days have passed since the Jewish people gathered together to celebrate the first feast of the agricultural year, the spring festival, the time of planting, which is also a great festival of their liturgical year, Pesach, the Passover, recalling that the Angel of Death passed over the homes of those who had marked the lintel of their doorway with the blood of the lamb they had sacrificed to the Lord God. Now, seven weeks later, it is time for them to celebrate the first harvest of spring grain, of wheat and barley, and to present the first fruits of their fields as an offering in thanksgiving to the Lord for sending sun and rain to make the crops grow. This celebration is called Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, in Hebrew; but Greek speaking Jews, even in the first century of the current era, called it Pentecost, which simply means Fifty.

In today’s reading from Acts, Luke echoes the Feast of Weeks, the celebration in thanks for the divine gift of rain to make the crops grow, in presenting the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the Upper Room which has been their refuge since Jesus was crucified on the first day of the Paschal festival, and rose from the dead on the third day. Today, God sends the Holy Spirit so that there might be a new harvest, not of grain, but of souls. The disciples have kept the Upper Room as their meeting place, even after the Resurrection, and a cloud of fear has come over them since Jesus rose into the heavens just three days ago. Now, the Holy Spirit comes and the cloud of fear has burst; the graces of courage and wisdom are pouring out like rain upon the disciples. Now they will go out into the Temple Square to bring the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to the peoples of every place and time.

The people there are gathered to celebrate Shavuot, but few of them speak Hebrew, which has become a liturgical language, not an everyday mode of communication. Yet when the Apostles begin to preach the people in the square are bewildered, because each one of them hears the message in his native language. “Aren’t these men all Galileans? How is that that each of us hears them in his own native language?” Luke’s list begins with Parthians, Medes and Elamites from Asia; it continues with Egypt and Lybia in Africa; and concludes with visitors from Rome, in Europe – the entire world known to the people of that time and place. And all of them hear the wonders of God proclaimed in their own language!

Today’s gospel is John’s account of Jesus “breathing” the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. As in Luke’s account, the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room hiding in fear. Here again, after receiving the Holy Spirit, they are sent forth to preach and teach the Good News of salvation to the people of the whole world. John is writing several decades after the event, and he has no particular interest in the chronology of Jewish festivals – Pesach and Pentecost. His focus is not chronology but theology. Jesus’ breathing forth the Spirit echoes the creation of the universe from the abyss of nothingness by the breath of God in the first chapter of Genesis. In Greek hagia pneuma, in Latin, sanctus spiritus, in English – holy breath or Holy Spirit. In John’s perspective, the ever on-going process of creation is to bring to a world which is not “unformed” as it was at the beginning, but “deformed” by the weakness and wickedness of humankind, the charismatic gift of God’s Spirit, the source of love and peace.

We are not called to ask God to “breathe again” upon his creation. Rather, we celebrate that the Spirit of God has been breathing on the created universe since the moment at which time began. We ask that our minds and hearts might be fully open to the inspiration of the Spirit, giving fuller form and substance to our mission as God’s people, sent forth into our selves, our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, and our world – in that order. If we want God’s positive will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we must be the instruments by which that goal will be accomplished. For that to happen, each and every one of us must echo a familiar saying: “Our work must truly be God’s own.”

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