Fr Gabriel's Homily for Pentecost - Sunday 31st May
In today’s Gospel we are not perhaps where we quite expect to be. It is the evening of Easter day in Jerusalem and we are in a room with the doors closed for fear, as it is said, of the Jews. Jesus appears to his disciples, standing among them, and he says ‘Peace be with you’. He shows them his hands and side and they are filled with joy when they see the Lord. Jesus gives his fearful disciples a mission: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’. And he equips them for the mission with the gift of the Holy Spirit, for John this is the paraclete, another Advocate. So Jesus breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ relating this gift to the forgiveness of sins. So the Holy Spirit comes upon them. This Gospel taking place on Easter Day reminds us that we are in Eastertide; the giving of the Holy Spirit looks ahead to Pentecost, to today, to the end of Eastertide, to a new beginning.
Then there was our first reading. In today’s first reading, the apostles are again all together, meeting in one room in Jerusalem and again the Holy Spirit comes to equip them, better to send them out, from that room into Jerusalem and the world, to proclaim a Gospel. There are differences, The author is Luke, not John; he has his own emphases. It is 50 days on from Easter day, that is today; it is the day of Pentecost, a Jewish feast the Jewish apostles are still keeping. The gentle breath of Easter day has become something like a powerful wind with a noise filling the whole house and there are tongues of fire and the apostles speak in their own language and they are heard in the languages of those who listen to them.
We are told by St Luke that that day a great multitude listened to the preaching of St Peter, the leader of the apostles, and that of these 3,000 became believers, a multitude that clearly could not fit into a room or a house. So somehow the Spirit had driven the apostles out from that room into the streets of Jerusalem and in due course as Luke will recount in Acts, it will drive them out further into the Jewish and Gentile world, including to Rome. It is thus the Holy Spirit who makes the biggest difference. He is breath and wind and fire. And as we know elsewhere, he appears in the form of a dove, he is cascade of living water, welling up in the heart of the believer to eternal life, he is the finger of God’s right hand. The images are multiple, but the gift is one, with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is one God.
‘There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose’. It is for a good purpose. So writes St Paul in our second reading today from his first letter to the Corinthians, who needed some reminding about unity in the Spirit. This letter is from Paul, bitter persecutor of the Church, who was knocked to the ground and blinded so he could see the truth and get up and lead the mission into the world. The Holy Spirit has an effect, he makes the biggest difference.
It all comes from a locked room. We know about this locked room, do we not? We are in it. We have been in it for our celebration of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, we have been in it on Easter day when the Lord appeared and gave us his peace, we have been in it with Mary after the Ascension and we are in it today by whatever means we are joining in the celebration of Mass; we are in it as the first apostles were in it. We may not always recognize it as such, but this locked room is the place of God’s gift and of his presence and it is only from it that we can go in mission to our world, in our good purpose, and to it we return as the source of that mission and of our spiritual energy. Jesus speaks of it in his Sermon on the Mount when he says that when we want to pray we must go into our inner and secret room, the inner and secret room of our heart and deepest human identity. God is there: Jesus says to you, the Father and I will come to you and make our home in you. All the dramas of the Gospel ultimately take place within your human heart, your secret place. The greatest gift of the Spirit is the gift of love, a love of God and a gift of love compelling you to go out in love to others, your service of them whatever it may be and may God bless you in it. God’s ultimate gift, or better his only gift, to you is himself; it is love, because God is love.