Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year A 2020
In a typical parish community, we gather around the Lord. We gather because the Lord has summoned us to come and listen to Him, to come and receive the gift of Himself, to be sent forth to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Lord. We gather from different backgrounds, and with many stories. It is the Lord who does the gathering. He gathers us as He gathered the dust of the earth, in the evening, that moment when the earth was without water, to form man (Genesis 2:4b-7).
He gathers us as He gathered the dried bones in Ezekiel 37:9 at a time in Israel’s history when the Babylonians were saying among themselves the Israelites are like dried bones; they have lost hope and they were completely cut off from God’s help. It was at the evening of their lives, that the Lord asked the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy to the dried bones, the house of Israel. As Ezekiel prophesied, the bones gathered, sinew grew, and flesh was added to the bones.
In the Gospel reading, John sets the event of Pentecost in the evening, that is, at a time when the disciples were in a state of grief, hopelessness, and fear. They were afraid that the Jews would round them up and kill them. So they gathered behind closed doors. For them they were gathering away from the Jews, but Jesus was using that moment to gather them as the Father gathered the dust of the earth and formed man. Jesus was forming a new Israel, a new creation.
Even now, the Lord is gathering us to recreate us. He is not just gathering us as a people, but He is also gathering our stories, our experiences. Perhaps we are all in the evening of our lives; that moment when we are exhausted from doing good. We are discouraged, about to throw in the towel. Life is becoming unbearable. We have messed up big time, and it is that evening when we do not know what the future has for us. We are scared. But the Lord is gathering us.
Notice in the Gospel reading (John 20:19-23) after the disciples gathered, Jesus came and stood with them. And He said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ According to William Barclay, this means “May God give you every good thing.’ Another interpretation has it that may God be God to you and may you find rest in Him. As Saint Augustine said, our hearts are restless, until they rest in God. So Jesus was asking the disciples to let go of their fears and rest in God.
Jesus went on, ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” After saying this He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”’ John’s use of breathed here recall Genesis 2:7 and Ezekiel 37:9. After God breathed into the nostrils of the man He had formed; man became alive with God. And so it was for the disciples. They suddenly came alive with the healing breath of God’s Spirit that undid the long effects of primal rebellion: fear, discouragement, anger, evil…
A timid mob suddenly became a bunch of courageous men and women bearing witness to Christ amid the very people they were afraid of. They became a new creation, with a restored destiny described by Walter Brueggemann as living in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms. This destiny is ours by virtue of our baptism. And in confirmation we receive the fullness of God’s Spirit sending us forth to let His Kingdom come on earth.
His Kingdom is not an abstraction. It is real. It is breaking into our world, our evening, ushering in the dawn of the Spirit. The Spirit that recreates us, recreated a woman whose husband got the Coronavirus from his mistress. He brought it home and infected her, her three children and her mother. She was angry when she caught wind of her husband’s betrayal. But she refused to let his action define her family. She chose to forgive him. When she was asked why she forgave him, she said, ‘I am living on God’s terms of forgiveness. It is the Spirit that forgives in me.’
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