June 12, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: John 20:19-23
1st Reading: Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 2nd Reading: 1 Cor. 12:3b-13
While the other Gospels wait 50 days before Jesus leaves us with the Holy Spirit, (get it—Pente-cost?) the Gospel of John has Jesus give us the Holy Spirit right away. In the Gospel of John, the coming of the Holy Spirit is all wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not separate at all like in the other Gospels.
Let’s put ourselves in the Pentecost story.
Jesus has just died on the cross. Our beloved friend has suffered tremendously. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. We had been elated all week, as he came into Jerusalem and finally got his due. We were celebrating the Passover with our friends and remembering all the ways that God had saved the people generation after generation. This looked like another way God was going to save the people. Jesus would be crowned and made king. He would make all things right, the hungry would be fed, and God would be worshipped. Everyone would be happy.
But that isn’t what happened at all. Instead he was arrested. Those who had supported him and cheered his entrance abandoned him. He was tortured, hung on a cross, and died.
We, too, had abandoned him. We had denied him when people asked us about him. We were afraid we’d be next to be executed. So we got the heck out of there. We went to a town that was a day’s walk away.
On the way, we didn’t talk much. We felt sad. We felt horrified. We felt guilty. We couldn’t get the images out of our minds—the last time we saw him, the look of the soldiers who arrested him, his resigned look, his chastising us for falling asleep in the garden while he prayed. If we had really believed that he would be taken from us, surely we would have spent that last week and that last night differently. We would have listened more closely. We would have taken notes. We would have forced ourselves to stay awake. We would have been more prepared to stand up to those who questioned us. But we didn’t really listen to what he was telling us, and we had let him down.
So we fled and when we got to our safe house, we locked the doors and just collapsed. What now? Where would we go? When would it be safe to go out again? When would people forget about Jesus and let us live our lives again?
But we could never forget about him. We could never forget his invitation to follow. We could never forget the different people he talked to and healed and fed and taught. We could never forget the love he showed to everyone. We could never forget the life he invited us to lead, without prejudice or putting ourselves above others, without judging, without borders. Jesus had shown us what freedom really is, when you don’t abide by societies rules, but by God’s rules of love for everyone. We’d never forget that.
And yet we were afraid. Living that way is so risky. Look where Jesus ended up. His love was so offensive to people they put him to death. Is that what we could expect? Could we take the heartache of working with the blind and neglected all the time? Could we give up our families and our possessions and comforts in order to be with the people where they are? Could we risk death to follow our friend’s ways? It was almost too much to think about.
We were in shock. We were overwhelmed. We were afraid.
And as we sat or stood or paced in that locked room that evening, the sun was just setting. We could the fires lighting the homes around us, smell supper cooking in the neighborhood, and hear the sounds of children being called in from play. We were wondering if we’d ever have that kind of normal life again.
And just then, suddenly, Jesus was there in our midst. Was I the only one who saw him there, wishful thinking making him so lifelike before me? Was this a ghost, come back to punish us, to admonish us for leaving him, for being faithless? We thought we were afraid before! Now the our pain and guilt was amplified in the presence of the one we had abandoned, after everything he taught us.
The specter spoke, “Peace be with you.” Was this supposed to be a relief—a ghost who comes in peace? Had this one who just experienced such a horrific death, really come to bring peace? Or was it some kind of trick? It was apparent that everyone else saw him, too. And he must have read our minds because he showed us his wounds—that he was not a ghost but in the flesh—and he was really present there. Why would he want to be with us? We were supposed to be his friends and we hadn’t been there for him. Wasn’t it time to get some new and better disciples?
And then Jesus breathed on us, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Spirit and wind and breath are the same word. He gave us his holy breath. He gave us the Holy Spirit—every last one of us.
We wondered what is this Holy Spirit? Of course now we know more about it. This is God’s Spirit that is always with us. It is God’s way of never abandoning us. It is a power that God has given us. We wondered how we would go on—how we would continue what Jesus taught us. We wondered how we’d heal and break down barriers and find the courage to talk to strangers and the dying and the imprisoned. But we’ve been learning to do it—not because of our own power, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we get discouraged or afraid, we remember that it isn’t by our own power, but with God’s help that we can do anything at all.
One of the most important thing the Spirit helps us with is forgiveness. We knew we were the first to need it. We had wronged Jesus so deeply when we’d left him to die. We had taken for granted our time with him. We hadn’t reached out to those in need. And yet, he came to us when we were afraid and gave us a word of peace. He’d forgiven us right of the bat. We hadn’t even asked for forgiveness. There may have been some of us who weren’t even sorry that we had high-tailed it out of there. But he offered us forgiveness nonetheless. There wasn’t anything anyone could do against us that was worse than what we’d done to him, and yet he came with a smile and handshake. We could tell by his demeanor that he had let it go. He was chatting with ease, telling us where he’d been and showing us his owies, checking in with us to see if we were ok.
We had been forgiven. There was not going to be anything we couldn’t forgive. We had to forgive ourselves, which is a lifelong journey of course. We had to learn to forgive each other. We had to learn to forgive others who hurt us, and that was always a balancing act. Some people tried to take advantage of that. We soon learned that to forgive doesn’t mean that we don’t hold people accountable. There are times when people must be held accountable or they’ll never learn the extent they hurt someone else and change their behavior. There had been real consequences to the way we had treated Jesus. He had died on the cross in agony. We’d never forget that as long as we lived.
This Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive and other power as well. How has God empowered you? What has God empowered you for? What will you use your God-given power for this week? How will you share it with others? Is this a power over, or a power you can share, to empower other people? Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive the power of God. Share the power of God. Share an experience of God’s love with those you meet, knowing it is God who gives you the ability and will give you courage to use your gifts for the good of others, just as Jesus did for us all.