Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Fr. Bob Pierson, OSB
Pentecost Year C - Sunday, May 19, 2013
John 14:8-17, 25-27
When I was a child, one of my favorite Saturday morning TV shows was a program called, “You Are There.” Each week, actors would reenact an event from American history like the Signing of the Declaration of Independence or the Crossing of the Delaware, and we would be able to watch the event unfold just as if we were part of the scene as it was happening for the first time.
Since then, I have found myself thinking about the events of Scripture in a similar way. What would the coming of the Holy Spirit be like on “You Are There?” I think it could be pretty impressive. With computer graphics being what they are today, one could come up with a very convincing violent wind, and tongues as of fire would not be hard to reproduce at all. We have the speech that Peter gave and we have some idea what first century Jerusalem might have looked like. I think it would be really great, just like it really happened with us right in the scene.
There's one small problem though. We have two accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, and the details of each scene vary dramatically. We heard the other account of the coming of the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago on the second Sunday of Easter, when John recounted his version of the story. Instead of the event occurring on Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover, John has the Spirit coming to the apostles on the night of Easter day, just a few hours after the resurrection. It's Jesus' first appearance to his disciples in the Upper Room. No violent wind, no tongues as of fire, no strange languages, just Jesus proclaiming “Peace be with you!” In Luke's account of the event in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus has already ascended into heaven. In John's account, Jesus is with the apostles, breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them.”
So, which account of the coming of the Holy Spirit do we give to our director for our reenactment? Which is the true account? They both appear in the Bible, and we say that the Bible is without error. Thankfully, we are not Biblical fundamentalists because, both accounts are true, and the differences between them make it difficult to pick one version as the “real” one. Each account has its value, depending on the particular point the author of that account is trying to get across in telling his version of the story.
John wants to connect the coming of the Spirit directly with the resurrection so that's why he places the event on Easter night. Luke puts it on the feast Pentecost, probably to connect the sending of the Spirit with the feast in which the Jewish people celebrate the giving of the 10 Commandments to the people of Israel. John has Jesus “breathe” the Holy Spirit on the disciples alone in the Upper Room, the place where the Last Supper occurred to link the event with the first Eucharist. Luke has the Spirit arrive in a powerful wind, calling to mind the wind that blew over the chaos “in the beginning” at creation and has the event witnessed by “devout Jews from every nation” because he wants us to remember that the gospel is not just for one group of people in one time and place but is the universal Good News for everyone to hear.
The one detail that both accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit do have in common is that both accounts have the disciples becoming empowered by the Holy Spirit for their mission to the world. And that's the really significant point for us today, because we have also received the Holy Spirit in our baptism, and we too are called to preach the Good News of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension to the world.
In a very real way, “we ARE there,” witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit in our midst, just as those disciples experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Holy Spirit reminds us again and again that we ARE God's children, right now, and if we are God's children, as Paul tells us in Romans 8, then we are also “heirs of God.” We are adopted members of the GOD family, and we have the same Holy Spirit the disciples received to live out our call to serve, to preach, to heal, and to baptize.
God the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our defense attorney, pleading our cause and teaching us everything we need to know to live the life of Christ today. Christ's peace is in our hearts as it was in the hearts of those disciples, and we are called to share that peace with the world. We continue to be empowered with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be the body of Christ in our world today. We are anointed by the Spirit “to be prophets to [God's] people, to be apostles to the world, to be confessors of [the] Gospel and of the wonders [God has] done for us.” “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.”