Pentecost B 2012
Luke, unlike John in the Gospel, separates the facets of the Christ-event, presenting Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and the gift of the Spirit as a threefold drama of the power of God to accomplish God’s purpose.
I mentioned last Sunday that the ascension should be treated as an integral part of the Easter event. This is true also of the Pentecost event. They should not be regarded as three successive events. They are separated only in order to contemplate more easily different aspects of a single, indivisible event.
I spoke of the Ascension of Jesus to heaven as a significant moment of change: a good-bye and accepting of a new reality. The ascension deepens intimacy by giving us precisely a new presence, a deeper, richer one, but one which can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away.
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his ascension, he told them: “It is better for you that I go away! You won’t understand this now. You will grieve and have heavy hearts, but, later, this will turn to joy and you will understand why I have to do this because, unless I go away, I can’t send you my spirit.”
Today on Pentecost, we focus on this aspect of the mystery, the imparting of the spirit. It is the letting go by God; but we are not left as orphans.
Once again let us take the example of the family where a young person is ready to leave the home and begin life on their own. There are two things that take place in this moment of transition and neither takes place without the movement of the Spirit.
Moving from a place of safety and learning to live with the gifts you have been given. Last week while golfing, I saw a tiny bird in the grass trying to fly. More of successive hops, with the mother swooping down to encourage. The scripture speaks about the action of God as an eagle that “Incites it’s nestlings forth by hovering over them and catches them on it’s pinions”.
The Pentecost event, in the gospel of John, takes place on Easter Sunday. We find the disciples in the upper room. The doors were locked. The bar was firmly in place. The
Safe, until the Lord called them out of their safety. In John’s Gospel He breathed on them. He hovered over them. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus said. And in those words they were called out of comfort, out of safety and into the dangerous life of living like a disciple of Jesus Christ, using these gifts of the spirit.
It is easy to stay in a safe place. It is easy to cling to our comfort level. But Christ continually calls us out of the Upper Rooms of our lives. He continually calls us to embrace the challenges of the Gospel.
We have our group, our safe place. Perhaps our safe place is populated by the popular crowd in school, at work, in the neighborhood. Life is focused on material things and having “fun”, with no goal more than to live for oneself. And we are comfortable being with them. Paul speaks of those who gratify the flesh and the works of the flesh. Why should we be the one who is different? Why should we be the one who is going to challenge values? Why should we be kind , gentle and self-controlled? And then Jesus calls us out of the Upper Room. He calls us to be different, to be holy. He calls us to be the one who embraces virtue. He calls us into the insecurity of discipleship.
Or perhaps our safe place is a relationship with a person that we have grown accustomed to. We can’t say that we really love him or her, but if we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that we would rather have a relationship going nowhere than no relationship at all. As a result, we are not growing. We are merely existing. And then Christ calls us out of this Upper Room to seek His Presence in others, and to bring His Presence to others. It is scary. It is frightening venturing out alone in the world. But we cannot be true to ourselves and hide in a flawed relationship. Today we celebrate the Spirit that empowers us to leave our comfort zone, to leave our places of safety, to leave our security, and to leap into the challenge of living life to the full. Today we pray that we might have the courage of our convictions. Today we pray that we will be people of Pentecost.
There comes a time to risk. For a young adult, to no longer have that physical presence of the parent, to accept the challenge of independent living. But there is also the invitation to the parent to let go with faith in your son or daughter.
A mother and a father raise their child. For years they try to love that child into ever-fuller life, coaxing, encouraging, disciplining, admonishing, trying to give their own strength, values, vision, and spirit to that child. It is a long process with pain and setbacks, on both sides. There is the constant hopping back and forth between presence and absence, acceptance and rejection, learning and falling away, loving and hating. Everything needs to be said again and again, repeated, and there is the great need for physical presence, for the parents and the child to be together, talking, arguing and sharing. “Have I been with you all this time Philip and still you do not know me?”
However, at a point, always, the need for more words, more admonition, more advice, more physical presence stops. Symbolically, it is time for the ascension. Enough has been said. There has been enough physical presence. Symbolically put, the child is grown. What is called for now is a blessing, and at the same time a backing away which leaves the child both free and empowered. Further words and physical presence can now be suffocating and counter-productive. Values and love have been spoken, and expressed sufficiently. We need to give the other our blessing, through whatever gesture or symbol we might choose. Luke uses symbols of strong wing and flames of fire.
This is the mystery of the Ascension and Pentecost, of letting go and imparting the spirit. Jesus himself illustrated it. He came and he shared, but, at a point, it was enough. The child was grown. He left us with his blessing. His spirit, the Holy Spirit, is received by all who receive that blessing. Through that spirit, Jesus is present to us in a way that is far deeper than he was ever present to his disciples when he was physically with them.
May I live in His Spirit. I know that what he wanted to say to me had already been said, many times. I know what his values are. There was no need to say it again. “My spirit will teach you all things.”