Where often only death and decay seem present, we see also the hope-inducing presence of God blowing new energy into our lives and places. The Spirit, the living memory of the Church, reminds us that we are born from a gift and that we grow by giving. Pentecost is a continuing event that dares us. It dares us to become a community of fire that keeps the flame of passion for God and the world that God loves, burning despite dark days and nights. Pentecost is not just a celebration of the birth of the church, but a celebration of being church. We celebrate that unseen, immeasurable presence of God in our lives, our world and church that animates us towards Gospel justice and mercy that we might bring God’s life and love to our broken world.
At times, we are out of breath. We make mistakes because we are rushed in many directions, temptations and social changes. After Jesus’ death, the disciples gathered in fear and disarray – as well as a deep sense of failure and betrayal from within. They, too, were out of breath. They had to face their own misguided ambitions and weaknesses. As with the disciples, we live in a world where fear can stifle love-the fear of loss of privilege, status and power that gives rise to systemic inequality, entrenched poverty and even brutality. This fear is manifested in many places and in different ways. We have seen, as In the USA, the fear around the Covid-19 fueling racial tensions and violent protests. Many people of Asian background in Australia have been affected as well. We witness fear and hatred of people of colour, sexual orientation, the stranger, and race. People continue to be brutalised in our name by the state (e.g., refugees) and many have been indifferent as people are dehumanised and condemned to hopelessness as they live in the shadow of poverty, violence, houselessness, and hunger. We can fail, but God does not fail us. It was in this state of vulnerability that the Spirit transformed the disciples into a transforming force for the Reign of God.
Jesus is among the community filling them with his peace. He did not just bring them together to experience his presence but also to make him present in the world. They are sent. They were not told who they had to go to, what to do and how to act. They were to be in the world how Jesus was in it. They were to reproduce his presence in the world where he still bears his wounds in the wounds of people. But these are signs of his commitment. They are what we are to look for in the world. They had only to see the people Jesus connected with and reached out to; how he related to the vulnerable and helpless; how he showed through his relationship the possibility of humanising life through liberation and forgiveness. He saw what people had to bear in their lives without judging them for how they bore it. Unfortunately, many people are unable to see the peace, the love, the joy, the energy of Jesus in us as the living Jesus is prevented from being present.
We all have our histories of loss, betrayal, disappointment sickness, old age, unbelievable hurt, life’s unfairness, death – but these are all next to the last words. The last word is the Spirit who will renew all things. Though the disciples in that locked room heard of death, disappointment and disaster as last words, the new word as Jesus entered was ‘Peace’ or ‘Shalom’. It continues to be so as the Spirit consistently, in the worst of times, in times of misery, surprises us. It raises up people who advertise its presence. In the chaos within 13th century church and society - came Francis of Assisi. In the extreme poverty in USA - came Dorothy Day. There was the voice of Charles de Foucauld in the In the desert to touch the lives of Muslim people – came the voice and fraternal embrace of Charles de Foucauld. In the poverty and abandonment of people in India and beyond - came Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Amongst US warmongering was the call to peace and see everyone as a sacrament - came Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Then there is the great cloud of witnesses who responded to the gospel call and the call of humanity to people living with HIV/AIDS, Covid-19, and to their sick, aging or needy neighbour.
The readings today tell us about human unity, mutual responsibility and care of the most vulnerable. Without this we cannot be church. Without this is no Pentecost. Pope Francis is continually reminding us that we and creation are interconnected. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on so many lives and communities yet, in many places, courageous people have tried to unite in the common efforts of care and concern in the face of death. It continues to happen. Many have come to see that despite our diversity and different social and geographical locations, we are all one. The invitation is to reach deep within ourselves to discover what truly binds us one to another. It is the Spirit within creation, all life, and all people. Without realising that we, and all living things, are one, peace is not possible. Pentecost needs to be a way of life, something lived out, not an annual celebration.
The list of peoples named in the first reading emphasises that everyone is included and all are loved by God. The living Spirit moves the community fear to fearlessness, from powerlessness to passionate power. Where people maintained and protected their differences behind ethnocentric walls, they discovered that nothing was lost by being at one with all others. It is about ‘justice’ not ‘just us’. It was when it became an inclusive community could they go out into the streets and acknowledge, Paul does, that we form one single Body of Christ – not based on being Jew or Greek, slave or free, woman or man. What began in that upper room must be completed in the streets. The good news of the Resurrection must go public. Taking to the streets requires living out the inclusiveness of the Spirit. The lines of nation, race, and culture cannot limit this movement. When Jesus breathed the Spirit upon the disciples they realised their responsibility to become agents of the new creation – as we are too - and bring forth justice, to transform social policy, to be a life-giving force, and liberate us to move beyond human failure into light and peace. That Spirit must also make us aware of incongruities, inequalities, and injustice in our community. We cannot see them if we are looking to the heavens!!! (Cf. last week’s first reading)
When Jesus shows his wounds to the disciples we see where his preference are. His scars reveal that he is still tortured by what empire can unleash upon the most vulnerable on our planet. By showing his wounds, Jesus says, ‘Whatever you do to the least in my family, you do to me’ (Matthew 25). This contradicts the attitude expressed earlier, ‘To hell with children; to hell with people of colour and strangers; to hell with asylum seekers; to hell with those who bear the brunt during this pandemic; to hell with the planet, to hell with the poor who will be the first to suffer from climate change?’
Jesus’ footprints are still on the earth – they now become ours. The Spirit comes in different places, different circumstances and different people with fullness of life and healing. Their words were spoken from the margins of the Roman Empire. They still speak from the margins of our world. The Jesus who comes with the wounds in his hands, feet and side reminds us that the Spirit will take us into those places of suffering in our world and that those places of suffering call forth from us our compassion and touch. In a world, which is increasingly hostile and intolerant towards differences, we need to be connected with the same spirit who transcends all divisions. Thus, Pentecost commits us to being messengers of peace and reconciliation. Pentecost challenges us to be a Church that models the spirit of unity in diversity. We need to demonstrate in practical terms that our common faith, common baptism, common spirit does bind us in a bond of love and friendship. The glaring gaps between people, even those of good will, in our politics and church life, seem to be increasing. The misuse of power and the unjust summary dismissal of individuals and groups based on race, gender and education level often appear overwhelming. Our words can broaden and deepen those gaps. We shout about whose lives matter most. As followers of the God of justice, we cannot remain silent and complacent when those in power try to impose a ‘new normal’ that reflects only their interests. As we reflect on people in our own communities and beyond that suffer from illness, famine, abuse of state power, dismissal of certain groups in the church, we must listen to their tongues and speak out. We are invited to listen to the cries of broken and hurting people in order to speak their language. It means feeling their pain and suffering. In the face of fear and uncertainty, we must step up, speak out, and act together – be prophetic. Out of chaos and suffering, God birthed the Church. And so in this time of struggle, may the Church with its people give birth to a ‘new normal’ that is founded upon justice and peace.