Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Courage, fearless witness, daring to be different; instruments of peace, unity and reconciliation. Fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, when Christ filled the Church with the Holy Spirit. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek Pentēkostē (πεντηκοστή), which means the fiftieth day, but the origin is from the Jewish feast of the Pentecost which occurred 50 days after the Passover known as Shavuot. The feast marked the conclusion of the First Fruits celebrations. It also marked the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai. Fifty days after the resurrection, Christ fulfills his promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Just as Shavuot marked the birth of the Jewish Nation, Pentecost marked the birth of the Church. On Pentecost day, Christ sent the Church into the world to proclaim a message of peace, joy and reconciliation. As we listen to the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we relive the event of the first Pentecost which is quite dramatic. Paul in the second reading reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit poured out into the Church bring with them unity in the one Spirit as well as a rich diversity of gifts and services in every parish community. The Johannine Pentecost account in the Gospel is a less dramatic event, but nevertheless powerful and sudden. Here, Jesus offers the gift of the Holy Spirit to a fearful bunch of Apostles and then sends them. The Apostles are behind closed doors afraid of being arrested and killed. Suddenly, Jesus enters the room where they were gathered. There is no mighty wind, but the gentle breath of the Risen Lord. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’, ‘Peace be with you’. “When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’ This passage captures the central message to be proclaimed: peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a message that transforms fear into courage; sadness into joy and brokenness into unity and reconciliation.
Pentecost is as it were, the crowning of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, who now fulfills his promise of sending the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Let us for a moment recall the words of the promise. "When the advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset" (Jn. 15:26). The fulfillment of that promise, the coming of the Holy Spirit, inaugurates the Church, and gives the apostles power from on high (Lk. 24:49). This power will enable the apostles to bear fearless witness, starting from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Liturgically, Pentecost is one of the most moving celebrations of the year. The small gathering of disciples, who had locked themselves in a room, "for fear of the Jews" (Jn. 20:19), are suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, and led by Peter, begin to give powerful witness, "preaching in their own language about the marvels of God" (Acts 2:11). It was not a time of fear any more, but a time of proclaiming openly, what God has done in Christ. The message may be summed up in three points: 1) The gifts of the Holy Spirit fill us too with courage to go out and witness fearlessly just as the disciples did on the first Pentecost; 2) Just as the disciples went out to bring the message of God’s peace and reconciliation to the world, we too are challenged to do the same. It is the Spirit of Jesus who will be with us till end of times; 3) The gifts of the Spirit received on Pentecost and given to each of us at Baptism, free us from fear and timidity. Therefore, rather than being afraid of what might happen to us, we must allow ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into powerful instruments of peace, unity and reconciliation in the world.
©2017 John S. Mbinda