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The Meaning of Pentecost

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Pentecost Sunday. Fr. Aelred Connelly preaches on God's greatest gift to his people.

Today's reading gives us a clue as to what the experience of the first Pentecost meant. It does not dwell on the fire, wind and noise, but on the experience of the devout men and women living in Jerusalem from every nation under heaven. They heard these Galileans speaking foreign languages, so that each one of them hears the apostles really preaching in their own language about the marvels of God.

The miracle is the reversal of the tower of Babel experience. In one sense this shows forth the seeds of the Church as one holy, catholic and apostolic.

The gift of the Holy Spirit does not rule out difficulty, suffering or human effort. St Paul in today's second reading reminds the Church in Corinth that the Church is like a human body and that the gifts of the Spirit are not about enthusiasm or special knowledge for an elite group, but a variety of gifts for building up the body of Christ:

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in them all. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.

Paul's reminder is reinforced by today's Gospel reading. Jesus comes to his closest followers who had deserted him to bring them a peace which is not just a calming of hearts and conscience, but the surety of heart which will enable and embolden them to go out and preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Having overcome death, to be the Lord, whom the Spirit will enable them to declare, he gives them the power to overcome the sins of the world, which he bore on Calvary on the cross:

Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.

So Pentecost is literally a very 'down-to-earth' event, the display of the overcoming of death and sin. We marvel in the gift of the Holy Spirit, but accept the way it is given, to be worked out in history, in a 'human way'.

In the Gospel's view it is the battle against sin and death. In St Paul's view it is the ever-continuing struggle against the factionalism of the early Christians, who thought they had 'made it'.

It is also a warning to those who think the Holy Spirit is just there to sort out their own personal mess without effort. As a physics teacher at my old school used to say: You can't not do your work and expect a prayer to the Holy Spirit to save you in the exam.

The real marvel is that the Holy Spirit works through us, and in us in our world. The Spirit was there from the beginning at creation and 'before', and has delighted in his work with humanity ever since, above all in the work of Christ the Lord, and is there working in and through us in our world to bring the peace of God to us.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit - wisdom, insight, counsel, power, knowledge and fear of the Lord - enable us to grow and work, showing forth in our life the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control.


Acts 2:1-11
1 Cor 12:3-7,12-13
John 20:19-23


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