I Corinthians 12:3b-13
Today’s lessons present us with two very different accounts of how Jesus’ disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first account, recorded in the Gospel of John, takes place in the evening of the first day of the week; that is, on Easter day. The disciples are gathered in a house with its doors locked shut. The gospel writer tells us they are afraid and explains why: they are imagining that the same people who put Jesus to death might now come after them. Without warning, and apparently without knocking or using the door, Jesus appears in the room, standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he says. He then shows them his hands and his side, proving that he is the same Jesus they knew, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. The disciples receive him gladly, and he responds by ordering them into the world, just as the Father had sent him into the world. Then, he breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Finally, along with the commission to go into the world and the gift of the Holy Spirit, he grants them power to forgive people’s sins, or to refuse them forgiveness.
It’s a gentle episode – emotional perhaps, but not terrifying; surprising, but not overwhelming. We can imagine Jesus greeting them in a calm, quiet voice to soothe their shock at his sudden appearance: “Peace be with you.” The Spirit comes to them in such a gentle way: Jesus simply breathes on them. The Hebrew word for “spirit” means “breath” or “wind.” Here it comes as a gentle breath.
Genesis 1:1-8 / Acts 2:1-21 / John 20:19-23
Four years ago, we brothers were gathered together at Emery House for the start of our annual retreat. The weather was hot and very still. Not a breath of air. I was sitting in my room, and was feeling very tired and, frankly, a bit discouraged. The renovations, living in a temporary home away from the monastery, had left me feeling depleted and spent. Usually, the prospect of a week’s retreat would have really energized me, but now it just sounded daunting. I offered a few desultory prayers – Come on Lord, help me get some energy. I want to feel alive again. Come, Holy Spirit – do something!
So I thought I’d go out for a walk, and went into the Maudslay State Park, and sat on a bluff over the river. As I sat there, the temperature suddenly started to plummet, and out of nowhere there came this huge wind, blowing over the bluff. I started laughing. It just seemed such a gift from God, an answer to prayer. Thank you God – and I remember running down the hill towards the river, feeling quite exhilarated. Here comes the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of Pentecost
It has been 2,000 years now since a special child was born in the land of Israel. He was a Jew, and even as a boy, he seemed to have a deep interest in the things of God. Once, when his family had gone to Jerusalem to attend a festival, he wandered away, and when his anxious parents finally found him, it was in the temple, where he was engaged in serious discussion with a group of religious teachers.