CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: Love Extended
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
- John 20:19-23
The Holy Spirit has always been with us. From the very beginning of creation, when the Spirit “swept over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2), the Holy Spirit has breathed life into all things. To exist at all is to be sustained by the Breath of God.
So what do we mean when we say that the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost Day?
The Jesus Movement really took off as a world-wide phenomenon with the Spirit’s descent on the apostles and their company of disciples on Pentecost. It is the universality of God’s love that is being made known on this day, in principle and in beginning, to borrow Paul Tillich’s famous phrase.
Every human society naturally tends to be concerned with its own and not others. We have our tribe. Our people. And we define it as much by who belongs to it as we do by establishing who does not. It’s our default setting, an essential drive to our survival as human animals who are born utterly defenseless and incapable of taking care of ourselves. Not surprisingly, the Twelve and their company thought that the Good News of Jesus were meant only for their own kind. Remember their question to Jesus right before his ascension? “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
But God made us to thrive and become full human beings, not merely to survive. Like plants and trees that are drawn to seek the sun, you and I are drawn to grow and become more and more the persons and community that God has dreamt all along. Becoming Beloved Community is not merely an aspiration of the Church in response to Jesus’ new commandment that we love one another. It is a deeply imbedded desire in every human heart. As shaded and shadowed by sin as our lives are, and even though we fear one another and create categories of Us and Them, we remain nonetheless filled with the desire for communion with one another and with God. This is, by the way, why solitary confinement is the cruelest and most destructive measure we can impose on another human being. Sheltering in place has shown us our deep need for one another. Our longing for community is as profound as the deepest trench in the ocean, as high and bright as the Carolina skies.
We just didn’t know this, settling instead for the shallow ponds and little tents of our small tribes and limited societies.
Enter Pentecost, which radically altered our tribal definitions. God’s tribe is much larger than we can dream or imagine. That’s the whole point of the multilingual proclamation that the Twelve and their friends made on that day. God’s tribe includes all people. If God claims everyone as God’s own, who are we to say and do otherwise?
One of my top five prayers in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 100) comes from the Daily Office of Morning Prayer:
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Day of Pentecost gives the lie to every form and shape of ethno-nationalism, racism, and white supremacy. It demolishes our categories of Us and Them. When we try to limit whom we count as part of the family, we don’t actually diminish the humanity of those we would exclude; we severely damage our own humanity, cruelly wounding our very souls. There is no Other. Only Us.
Jesus breathes on the disciples, in today’s Gospel narrative, and gives them the Holy Spirit. In John 20, this is happening on the very day of the resurrection. The first and the fiftieth day of Eastertide are bound together as the bookends that shape our identity as “an Easter People in a Good Friday world,” as Bishop Barbara Harris (of blessed memory) was fond of saying. Jesus appears among his friends, twice bidding them his peace. And then he tells them that their mission is to be a forgiving, reconciling people. Our lives and how we carry them out make a difference in God’s mission, into which we are now drafted as messengers of peace and justice, as agents of forgiveness and reconciliation. We seek to become Beloved Community so that the world may see and know that true life is found when we end our divisions and endeavor to become one thriving, loving, liberated and life-giving human family.
The Jesus Movement took off when the community of disciples embraced the Spirit’s drive to reach out to all nations, languages and peoples. The Day of Pentecost is love extended throughout the world. May we celebrate this day by embracing its invitation to extend God’s love “with our lips [and] in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [God’s] service…walking…in holiness and righteousness all our days” (BCP, p. 101).
Tags: Caminando with Jesus