Pentecost Sunday

Mass during the Day
Lectionary: 63

And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit

Without Pentecost Jesus of Nazareth would have disappeared into history a long time ago; his impact would have vanished like a pebble tossed  in a stormy sea. But his death and resurrection were an enormous earthquake such as the Earth has never seen; it raised a tsunami of the Holy Spirit which overwhelms even our troubled world. When he died the Universe drew a deep breath, like the ebb of an enormous tide; and then the Spirit fell upon those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

Unfortunately, for many people, the Easter Season ends not with a bang but a whimper. They were eager to celebrate Christmas; they nodded toward Easter; they never heard of Pentecost.  Only for those who take their Confirmation seriously, who didn’t regard that Sacrament as a graduation ceremony, is Pentecost a sheer delight.

Today the Church is born, that “organized religion” that people say they do not need because they already know Jesus. They have a spiritual relationship with him.

Can one be born spiritually of a mother without her giving birth? Can one be conceived of a father without his physical presence? Not without grave harm to our human nature. 

There is no knowledge of Jesus outside his body, the Church. Certainly one can hear of Jesus, as we hear of Julius Caesar and Pontius Pilate; one can read about his teachings, parables and miracles in the tattered bibles found in seedy hotel rooms.

To know Jesus actually is to meet him face to face in the Eucharist, in the Imposition of Hands of Confirmation, in the Marriage of man and woman, in the absolution of Reconciliation – in the flesh and blood people of a living, breathing congregation.

Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church. It’s easy to be cynical about church membership and the people who show up each week. They are not invariably pretty and all of them are aging. They're not marketable commodities. In the bright sunshine of God’s love each one casts a shadow which is readily visible to friends and foes.

Do they love God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength? Yes – collectively. Individually? Not so well. But they are reassured of God’s saving love collectively and individually. No one is saved by himself or herself. No one who has loved a child or parent, brother or sister wants to be saved alone. What kind of salvation would that be, to spend eternity in solitude with strangers? 

We are saved because we have been baptized into the body of Christ, we have eaten his flesh and drank his blood and inhaled his breath when he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Our religion is neither education nor edification; it is incorporation. We are the Body of Christ.

I think the Church is like the passengers in a crowded subway car. Just as the mobs in Jerusalem moved in close to hear the excited voices of the apostles on that Pentecost Sunday, so we stand shoulder to shoulder, belly to butt to hear our shepherd’s voice. The laughter of the Holy Spirit ripples through this crowd from one person to another; as does remorse for our sins and sighs of relief upon hearing Good News.

Gathered by the Holy Spirit into the Communion of the Saints, we celebrate Pentecost and the blessed appearance of the Church in human history.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.