Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13 John 20: 19-23
It may be a bit confusing to hear different accounts about the handing over of the Holy Spirit such as we did today. On the one hand there was the very descriptive, and even colorful recollection of Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: he writes of wind and fire and being understood in different languages. On the other had, there is the Gospel account in which Jesus is said to breathe upon the Apostles and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
There is no real contradiction. Rather, the different writers of Scripture emphasize different experiences which took place to assist those who read or listen to their words in understanding that the Spirit of God embraces us and is known to the world through us.
The desire of God to be known and to be recognized in the wold is the main purpose of the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. This is also an on-going and continuous process. God is not apart from us. God is not separated from us. God seeks to be united with us. Because through the declaration of Christ the Spirit of God is present with and in us, the revelation of the goodness of God is to be found with us. This is our task. This is our opportunity as believers who are filled with the presence of God, the Holy Spirit.It is incumbent on us that the Spirit of the Lord be made evident now just as much as in the days of the early Church.
In the life and the history of the Church, the greatest sign of the presence of the Spirit has been viewed as the simple survival of the Church over the centuries. It has survived despite the human frailty and sinfulness present with it from the highest leadership all the way down. It has survived, as well, despite persecution and many different efforts to destroy the Church that continue even to the present day. That survival only confirms that the Spirit of God is present.
The real presence of the Spirit of God in us individually and in us as the body of believers we are as Church is not simply survival in the midst of failure and opposition. That presence is also found in the manner in which each of us and all of us reflect and reveal God. So, how is this presence to be known?
In the tradition of the Church, as derived from the sacred writings of Scripture, the presence of the Spirit is known in a variety of ways. These ways are referred to as gifts of the Holy Spirit,. We are to exhibit the wisdom that is the deep appreciation of the complexity and beauty we are as creations of God. We are to show that understanding that is an insight into the mystery of life and love. We experience the counsel that gives direction to our choices. We are strong in the fortitude of living out our full potential. Our knowledge is a constant process of learning about God, about ourselves, about all of creation. Our piety is evident in our respect for ourselves, for others and for God. In all of this, the fear of the Lord is the awe present in our lives as we observe the wonder of all that is and all that we are.
Through the gift of Christ we are endowed withe these signs of the Divine Spirit with us. It is this Divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that leads us and guides us to reveal in every aspect of our lives a true reflection of our good and gracious God.
Acts of the Apostles 1: 7-11 Ephesians 1: 17-23 Luke 24: 46-53
The thinking of the Apostles, in the way that Luke described them to us, may well have been that now Christ’s ministry was over, his presence among u is finished. They were looking “longingly” as Jesus departed from them. On the other hand, the Apostles were quickly reminded that this event of the “Ascension,” Jesus’ departure from them, actually was turning a page. They were challenged, as are we. What are we to do now in response to what the ministry of Jesus was all about?
God became man in Jesus Christ to restore mankind, to reconcile mankind with God. This was proclaimed by Jesus totally giving of himself in the crucifixion. God’s action was not defeated by the death on the cross. It was not the end of Gods’ acting on our behalf. In and through the Resurrection what was proclaimed and what was realized was that over all things, even death itself God triumphs. God overcomes in the Resurrection.
But it does not stop there. Understanding this is the key to the celebration of the Ascension. Rather than a conclusion, it is a beginning. The ministry and mission of Jesus Christ, to reveal God to mankind, was not the action of one person alone at a given time in history. Rather that mission and ministry of Jesus takes on a new dimension, a new direction, in and though us, as the living, vibrant, Body of Christ in the world today. We are to continue that restoration and reconciliation as Church.
I have often made use of the term”Church.” Most persons, I imagine, identify a reference to “Church” as meaning the institution or structure. While hierarchy and organization are important parts of what we identify as “Church,” especially in terms of teaching, leading and unifying, we must also realize that we are joined together by our belief and by joining together in Eucharist, the “Comm-union” we share. We are to stand before the world as those who are truly affected by our belief and as those whose lives seek to live life in view of that faith. We are to seek to make known our loving God in what we are and how we live – as “Church.”
The reality of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world continues now with us. It is to be witnessed to the world in which we live and act today. This world, the world now, needs so desperately to learn the truth of God with us now, As the Apostles went about their work, in the world then, they did so in an amazing fashion, traveling long and difficult distances, from Spain to India, spreading he Gospel. We can do no less today with means that stretch the imagination.
What is to guide and inspire us is found in the words of St. Paul. Filled with the Spirit of Wisdom and with hearts that are enlightened may we make known the hope that we are to be, may we show forth the real power of God’s presence with us, may all parts of us – Christ’s Body the Church – radiate an enriching fullness of life because God’s love is lived and revealed in us and because the power and potential of God’s presence is known in us.
We celebrate the Ascension as a reminder to ourselves that we are not to be idle in our lives but that we are to go forth, here and now, declaring in our lives the truth of our good and gracious God.
Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29 Revelation 21: 10-14, 22-23 John 14: 23-29
I find it fitting that we conclude the Easter Season this week, on a positive note, considering “What can be, what is to be.” What is to be through and in us in view of the faith that we profess, a faith in the person, the message, the actions of Jesus Christ.
Although John uses very descriptive and unusual language, in what we have heard today, he had both vision and certainty of a new reality, a new Jerusalem, that is evident among those who believe and live their faith in Jesus Christ They are to be a new Jerusalem, a new sign, a new symbol, a true revelation of God’s presence on earth. Jerusalem, in the Old Covenant, was the center, the place where the presence of God was understood to dwell. It was the central sign and symbol of God’s presence in the world. In John’s vision, that sign, that symbol, of God’s presence, the New Jerusalem, was not a temple, but was to be visibly experienced in the Church, in us.
It may not be immediately evident but the account we heard from the Acts of the Apostles today points to the same vision. It does so, however, in a specific and very human way. A dispute has arisen between believers from the Jewish tradition and new believers who were not part of that tradition. Arguments of this nature are part of being human. The practical manner of resolving this dispute did not rely on a decision of a leader of the group, but recognized the active presence of the Spirit of God with then, and that this presence was a real part of the life and action of the Church.
The clearest insight today into “what can be, what is to be,” is found in the farewell address of Jesus to his close followers. The experience which they had for the last two years was now over. The adventure they had been sharing was now taking on a new dimension. Jesus tells these followers two things. One was that unless he goes, the Spirit will not come. Unless he goes, they will stagnate. They will not grow. The other is that in his going, he gives them peace – a deep, inner peace. It is a peace that comes from the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit with them. It is a deep union with God in this way, and with its attendant love, that will bring true peace and security.
“What can be, what is to be.” This is the vision we have as we are renewed in faith. It is a vision we represent. It is a vision which we show as we gather today in Eucharist. This act of worship now is not a static attendance, an observance of an obligation. It is a dynamic encounter with our God who is present and active through the Word, through the Eucharist, and through us.
This is an encounter with God that occurs when as we bring our belief to be shared with one another. This is an encounter with God that we experience in the presence of God in the Eucharist we receive.
What we share in this Eucharist is what we take from this place. This is what can be,what is to be. It is a declaring by our lives – in our actions day after day – of the peace of Christ we experience with one another in loving union with our good and gracious God.
Acts: 13: 14, 43-52 Revelation 7: 9, 14-17 John 10: 27-30
I have found many of the messages that we hear from Scripture during the Easter Season to be somewhat troubling because they appear to contrast so much with what is experienced or evident in our world today. One of the things that is apparent to me is a significant fear of what is different. Such differences include a person’s place of origin or color of skin, or form of worship, among other things. Such fear, expressed in various ways, is contrary to what we believe. Such fear calls into question or suspicion so many persons and things. Yet everything around us, all persons with whom we share the gifts of life, are part of and reflections of God’s creation.
What we celebrate at Easter is the deep assurance, the deep conviction, the deep confidence, that comes from being a part of the magnificent plan of our loving God that gives life, that give hope, that embraces all of creation.
What our God tells us through the Scriptures that we have heard today is that if we firmly believe that we are part of the eternal life that Christ has won for us through his resurrection, then our attitude toward life is to be one of confidence and not fear. We are to have faith on other human beings as creatures of God rather than immediately questioning them or doubting them. We are to look at the world, both large and small, not with skepticism an d doubt, but with hope and with trust gained through faith in the Risen Lord. Cynicism and negativity simply do not have a place alongside genuine faith.
When Paul and Barnabas were rejected by their own people who plotted against them, they confidently and fearlessly turned to the willing ears of the non-Jews. This was a radical step in the life of the early Church, but they were confident in their action and in their faith. They were rewarded for this by the response of so many.
The vision of John as he was addressing the ones who had survived persecution, tells those who have been through trials and distress, who have suffered persecution for their faith, that they can be confident and without fear because they will come to a point where there will be no thirst or hunger, no weeping or tears.
Our greatest confidence, our greatest reason to be without fear, comes from the words of Jesus as he describes himself as the Good Shepherd. He knows his own. He knows us and will care for his own. No one will take them out of his hand, no one will destroy them. They will, indeed, have eternal, unending life.
The Resurrection of the Lord that we celebrate during this Easter Season is the basis, the reason, that we who profess faith have no cause to fear. Jesus repeatedly tells us: “Do not be afraid.” We may well describe a variety of persons and situations which cause fear, but doing so is really a challenge to us. It is a challenge to rise above the prejudices of a limited and selfish vision. It is a challenge to us to examine the depth and degree of our genuine faith and trust in our good and gracious God.