May 23, 2010
He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
– John 20: 22
Today’s Gospel is a story of shut & open doors. The disciples were hiding in fear behind closed & locked doors, shutting out the hostile world, a world for them full of suspicion & accusation. They felt safer huddled together in isolation. To their surprise, Jesus bursts in, oblivious of the barriers.
They were stunned, for they thought it was all over between Jesus & themselves. After all, their conduct these past few days had been anything but sterling: denials, betrayals, flight, leaving Jesus to go it alone, to die alone. The only thing they had left was their embarrassment & guilty consciences. Truly, this bunch of failures deserved to be behind locked doors.
Yet there HE was. He sought them out in their weakness, ignored the doors they thought would keep Him out. Yes, He was there, & there to speak of forgiveness & above all to give them the gift of the Spirit: the Spirit of the Second Chance, a Spirit of love greater than their shame, a Spirit that would break down doors & send them out, now as a community of wounded, forgiven healers, to preach the Good News of God’s love. What a beginning that was!
When we are ashamed of something in our lives, we instinctively hide, even (perhaps especially) from those closest to us. The temptation is to feel unforgivable, & we do not want to tarnish those we care about with our failure. All of this is the fruit of Pride. If we cannot live up to our expectations by failing in some significant way, then we must be the worst person there is. Actually, it is Pride turned in on itself & that can be very self-destructive. In one fateful moment, Jesus broke through all that to show the disciples that they are not hopeless failures. Indeed, their weakness has just become their strength, for now they go forth as people who know they are redeemed & redeemable.
They are now under no illusions about relying on their own human resources – they owe everything to the Holy Spirit, to Whom they will be eternally grateful. Pentecost is about the birth of a sent community – you & me – who have been touched by the breath of God, a community called church, a gathering of people inducted through baptism, sent to open shut doors & let out sin & despair & let in the Good News.
It is a formidable job we have been given, but we are not alone. As church, we have the Spirit. The Mexican poet Amado Nervo puts it this way: “Alone we are only an anthill / but in the Spirit we are a mountain.” Yes, that & more. In the words of St. Peter, we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart. We are church. AMEN!