St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)
Acts of the Apostles 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Romans 8, 8-17 + John 14, 15-16; 23-26
All the Old Testament signs of God’s presence are there: a thundering noise like the one heard at Sinai; a whirlwind like the one from which God spoke to Job; flames of fire like Moses saw at Mount Horeb, and then there is that breath bringing them back. Their leader, teacher, and friend is gone; and with him all their hopes and dreams, vision and expectations about what could be. Dead is their courage and joy. The power that called Lazarus to life, gave sight to the blind, lifted the lame, sought the lost, included those left out of life, and spoke of peace has gone. Then comes that noise, the wind, the fire, and his breath was suddenly in them, in that room, and then everywhere they went.
As always it is easy to sit with the story of Pentecost and look backward thinking as though it was something that happened on the 50th day after the resurrection, something that happened to a group of followers sitting around and waiting for something because he told them to. If that is the best we can do with this Gospel, we should have all stayed home.
This is not a story from the past. This is a revelation of the church. It is our belief and our understanding of who we are and what we are. It speaks best and maybe only to people who have broken hearts, who have been blind to the presence of Christ in others, who have been shamefully ambitious, selfish, and people who have experienced the death of hope or the death of someone they relied on, loved, and trusted. That is who was in that room, and that is the people in this room.
Because we are here and because of God’s promise, those who remain here will have life breathed into them. The key to this messsage, the key that unlocks it’s power and revelation is that word and that experience of remaining. It is the unity. It is the communion. It is the bond of faith and hope that makes a dwelling place for the Spirit. Like those people in John’s gospel, we are in another period of the Lord’s absence: the time between the Lord’s Ascension and his final coming in glory. During this time, we remain as he asked, and while we remain the Holy Spirit is our advocate, comforter, ally, guide, and inspiration. This is no time for fear, disappointment, or sadness. We are not a people without hope and a vision of what is to come. The Spirit he has sent is our advisor in times of decision and our comfort in times of illness and tragedy. The Spirit he has sent is our guide leading us to forgiveness, justice, love and peace. The Spirit is fuel that feeds the fire of our passion for service, the salve that heals. The Spirit is the reason for victorious living rather than defeated life.
Yet, the times in which we live are spirit starved times. Impatient and unwilling to remain too many have gone off on their own and rather than wait for the glory of God’s Kingdom to be revealed. They are satisfied, but only for a moment, with the glory of a passing world. Everywhere we see the unity for which Christ prayed collapsing into the fog of individualism and privitized lives. “One nation under God” has become “whoever has the most wins.” Ideological warfare is breaking us into factions. Remaining in love is too hard. It’s easier to quit rather than work at healing and forgiving. “On demand” entertainment has driven us further apart even in our leasure. Families and friends who once sat together to watch a game or some favorite show now stare at screeens alone watching “on demand”. The technology even affects us as a church. Mass “on demand”, Mass when I want it, or when it fits into my schedule arranged around the things that really matter means no parish unity, identity or loyalty. It’s all private, and it’s all mine.
In John’s Gospel today, Christ breathes on those who remained in that room infusing them with his Spirit. He unleashes in them the power of the Spirit, who alone can bring peace and joy in the wake of terrifying woundedness. He asks them to open themselves to the gift of the Spirit that allows them to receive and give forgiveness which is the only thing that can clear the air from the smoke of hatred and violence so that all can breathe in peace for which we long and which the risen One desires to give. Let me suggest to you that this breath means an intimacy with God that is as close as our every breath taken deeply into our lungs thousands of times a day. Just as breath must be exhaled, and cannot be kept within, so to does the Spirit’s power direct us outward to mission, exuding the love, peace, and forgiveness we have inhaled from the Living One.