Gospel Reflection for Pentecost Sunday – 28th May 2023 Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
Gospel Reflection for the Pentecost Sunday May 28th 2023
On this great day of Pentecost I have in my head an image which some might say is slightly blasphemous, but which I cannot shake. Picture if you can the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden. The three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are relaxing together under the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, sipping a G&T or a beer or whatever beverage citizens of Heaven drink, and saying to one another, “That’s it. We’ve done all we can do for them. Now it’s up to them.” Why in the Garden of Eden, you ask? Well, just because Adam and Eve got themselves kicked out of Eden does not mean God cannot still enjoy its beauty!
It is a silly little image, I know, but like all such images it does contain, perhaps, a kernel of truth. The Feast of Pentecost not only brings to an end the Season of Easter for another year, but in a very real way it brings to a conclusion the entire work of Salvation.
At the very first moment of creation, when we are told the “Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), a movement was begun which logically and inexorably had to lead to Pentecost. For us, this movement was spread out over countless billions of years, but for God, who exists without the constraints of time, the entire process was just one single thought, or Word. Once our God decided to share the true meaning of love with us, creation, incarnation, death and resurrection, ascension, Pentecost – all simply ‘had’ to happen.
Creation, God’s great act of Love, began with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of chaos. It concludes with that same Spirit of God coming to reside with us, within us. The Love which led God to create in the first place, and which led him, in particular, to form a creature ‘in his own image and likeness’, comes to its climatic conclusion at Pentecost. There is something incredibly natural, something profoundly beautiful, in the idea that from the moment of Pentecost onwards, the Spirit of God, who we heard of in the Old Testament and were shown in the person of Jesus, now, at last, resides forever within us.
In Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, as Cassius ponders his imminent and tragic death, he realises that it is, in fact, his birthday. Sadly he says, “This day I breathed first. Time is come round, and where I did begin, there shall I end. My life is run his compass.” In his mind there is a kind of strange beauty or logic in the idea that all through his life his birth-day was also to be his death-day.
For us, with Pentecost, Salvation comes full compass and ‘where we did begin, there we end…’
On this day, therefore, it is important, I think, to take a time-out to ponder, not just this particular Feast or act of God, but the full majesty and splendour of who God is.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” is attributed to the great philosopher, Aristotle. We can so easily get dazzled by individual mysteries and wonders and fail to see the marvellous and far more wonderful reality we behold when we see each wonder as part of a greater whole.
The power of Pentecost, the energy and enthusiasm and joy it provoked in the small band of Jesus’ followers huddled together in that upper room, most surely be because the coming of the Holy Spirit allowed them to break out of their narrow boundaries and see, for the first time, that everything they believed about God as Jews, and everything they witnessed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, came together in one word, Love. Love unites all languages and all cultures. A mother holding a new-born child in the most technologically advanced country in the world, shares exactly the same outpouring of love as a mother holding her new-born child in some, as yet undiscovered, corner of the planet.
When Peter and the others exploded onto the streets of Jerusalem they spoke a universal language, the language of love. It was a language so tarnished by selfishness, greed, anger and pride that it had become lost, like a light hidden under a tub, invisible and useless.
But at Pentecost, suddenly and without warning, it all came together for them. In a moment of extraordinary clarity the dots were joined and everything made sense. God, Moses, Elijah, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, their own lives, all united and exploded in a joy hotter than fire and more powerful than the strongest wind.
And so they ran and talked and babbled and preached and some who heard them, those who still knew what it meant to love, understood the language and grammar of love, and came to believe.
All of this might sound simplistic and naïve, and maybe it is. But how do we explain or describe what cannot be explained and described in words and sentences? This is the problem experienced by those who were present at Pentecost and, honestly, they did a terrific job trying to describe their experience.
They know they are not explaining a comprehensible event: They don’t describe ‘wind’, but something that “sounded like a powerful wind…” and they don’t talk about ‘tongues of fire’, but “something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire”. The ‘wind’ and ‘tongues of fire’ are incidentals to the experience. The substance, however, is very clear: What happened was sudden and unexpected; It was powerful and dramatic; it filled them with life, energy and enthusiasm; they were in no doubt that it was an experience of God and a very personal one (the tongues of fire ‘rested on the head of each of them…’); and it was immediately life changing (they were given the gift of tongues and “…began to speak foreign languages…”).
It is interesting to note that the actual experience of Pentecost is described in the First Reading today. Pentecost comes after the Gospels end, and so the Gospel today relies on one of the Resurrection stories. It is not Pentecost but in a way it echoes and enhances what happened at Pentecost.
It begins in the ‘upper room’ with the disciples huddled in fear – like Pentecost. The Risen Jesus appears to them. They recognise him and they are filled with joy – like the joy of Pentecost. He ‘breathes on them’ – like the wind of Pentecost. He gives them the Holy Spirit – “…receive the Holy Spirit…” – like Pentecost. He sends them out to witness to him – exactly what the disciples do at Pentecost.
The addition we find in this Gospel is an important one. Twice Jesus says to them, “Peace we with you.” It is, I think, important, I believe, because we associate Pentecost with mighty winds, great courage and powerful testimony and actions on behalf of God. Pentecost is an all-action event and not, what we might call, a ‘peaceful’ one. It is therefore good to be reminded, that while power, courage, testimony, and action are gifts of the Holy Spirit, peace, gentleness, tolerance and forgiveness are also given to us.
Pentecost truly does bring together all strands of Salvation history.
If the Blessed Trinity, relaxing in the Garden of Eden, can say, “That’s it. We’ve done all we can do for them. Now it’s up to them.”, then they do so knowing that when they looked at creation and at us, they could say that “it was all very good”.
Father (Creator), present at the beginning and maker of all that is.
Son (Word of God), through whom all was made, and who came among us to show us the life of God we are invited to share.
Holy Spirit, always present and sent by God, through Jesus, to dwell within us.
Jesus said that he would not leave us orphans, that we would never be alone, and that he would be with us always, until the end of time. Today, Pentecost, God fulfilled that promise once and for all. God dwells within us…..
Well might the Blessed Trinity enjoy their rest!
|Gospel||John 20:19-23 ©|
As the Father sent me, so am I sending you: receive the Holy Spirit
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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