Pentecost Sunday (Year A)

Commentary on Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13; John 20:19-23

Today we round off more than seven weeks of celebrating the Paschal Mystery: Passion and Death – Resurrection – Ascension, Exaltation – Coming of the Holy Spirit. Although in the liturgy it is spread over seven weeks, all the elements are actually there on the cross on Good Friday. At the moment of death Jesus passes to life, is exalted to the Father and breathes forth his Spirit.

Today is also the birthday of the Church. What is the Church? The Church is basically that community and complex of communities spread all over the world which is continuing the visible presence of God and his work by living openly in the Spirit of Jesus and offering its experience of knowing Christ to the world.

The Word was made flesh and lived among us.

These words apply not only to Jesus but to all those who are now the visible Body of the Risen Jesus. It is for each of us, individually and in community, to incarnate the Word of God in our world.

Pentecost day
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us one account, perhaps the most familiar one, of how the mission of Christ was transferred to his followers. The scene is full of biblical imagery. There was a sound “like the rush of a violent wind”. In Greek the words used here for “wind” and “Spirit” are very similar. The whole house was filled with the very Spirit of God.

Then “divided tongues, as of fire” were seen resting on each person present. Fire, again, speaks of the presence of God himself. God spoke to Moses from out of a burning bush. As the Israelites wandered through the desert on their way to the Promised Land, a pillar of cloud accompanied them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. God was with his people.

The fire here was in the form of tongues, as if to say that each one present was being given the gift and power to speak in the name of God. And in fact:

…all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Because it was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the city of Jerusalem was filled with pilgrim Jews from all over the Mediterranean area. They were amazed to hear the disciples speaking to them in their own languages.

How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language? In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.

In the Book of Genesis, men tried to build a tower to reach right up to heaven. For such arrogance, they were punished by being made to speak in different languages. No longer able to communicate, they could not finish their project.

Now the time of the Tower of Babel is reversed. The disciples have a message which is offered to and can be understood by people everywhere. People are being called to be united again as brothers and sisters under one common Father, revealed to them by his Son Jesus Christ.

A different account
The Gospel from John presents us with a different account of the coming of the Spirit.
It is Easter Sunday. The disciples are locked into the house, terrified of the authorities coming to take them away as collaborators with the recently executed Jesus.

Suddenly the same Jesus is there among them and greets them:

Peace with you…

It is both a wish and a statement. Where Jesus is there is peace. The presence of Jesus in our lives always brings peace and removes our anxieties and fears.

He shows them his hands and side to prove it is himself: the one who died on the cross and the one who is now alive. Then he gives them their mission:

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

Their mission and his are exactly the same. Our mission and his are exactly the same.

He then breathes on them. As God breathed on the earth and created the first human being.
In Christ, we become a new creation. The breathing also symbolises the Spirit of God and of Jesus.
So he says,

Receive the Holy Spirit.

With the giving of the Spirit comes also the authority to speak and act in the name of Jesus.

If you forgive sins, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

This is not just a reference to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the power to forgive sin. Forgiving sin, reconciling people with God is the very core of the work of Christ and the Christian mission. The disciples are now the Body of Christ, the ongoing visible presence of Christ in the world.

This Body will experience injuries and wounds and disease. It will wander at times far from God. It will need healing and forgiveness and reconciliation. It will also try to bring the same healing and reconciliation to a broken world.

A body with many parts
Finally, the Second Reading speaks of the effect of the Spirit on the Christian community. The Church and each community within it reflects unity and diversity. We are not called to uniformity. We are not clones of Christ or each other. Unity presumes diversity and a variety of gifts and talents and responsibilities.

So, on the one hand, we are called to be deeply united in our faith in Christ and in our love for each other. At the same time, each one of us has a unique gift. It is through this gift or gifts that we serve and build up the community. They are not just for ourselves, or for our families and friends.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

We are like a body. Each body has many members, each with its own particular function, yet they all are ordered to one purpose – the good functioning of the body as a whole. So it is with the Christian community, which is the Body of Christ. Each member is to be aware of his or her particular gift. This gift indicates the role the member has to play in building up the whole Body, the whole community.

Today let us ask God to send his Spirit into our hearts. Filled with that Spirit, may we each individually make our contribution to the community to which we belong. And, as a community, may we give clear and unmistakable witness to the Truth and Love of God, revealed to us in Jesus our Lord.

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