Reflection for Pentecost Sunday
Reflection on the Gospel-Pentecost Sunday
Year B John 20:19-23 by Veronica Lawson RSM
Pentecost Sunday is often called the birthday of the Church. For the ancient Israelites, Pentecost (meaning “fiftieth”) was a harvest festival celebrated 50 days after the beginning of the harvest. When the Jerusalem Temple was built, this harvest festival was transformed into a pilgrimage feast to celebrate the covenant that God had made with Israel on Mt Sinai. In the decades following the death of Jesus, the early Christians reflected on their origins and chose this feast to mark the birth of God’s new covenant with God’s people.
In today’s first reading, Luke tells the new Pentecost story in symbolic language that evokes the story of Moses and the people of Israel receiving God’s Law on Mt Sinai. Just as God’s presence to Israel was marked by earthquake and thunder and fire, so God’s Spirit enveloping the people of the new covenant appears in a mighty rush of wind and tongues of fire. Luke’s account also evokes early rabbinic teaching that the voice of God on Sinai divided into seventy tongues and all the nations received the Law in their own tongue.
For the teaching at the heart of the new covenant, we turn to the gospel reading from John. The risen Christ appears to the disciples who are huddled behind locked doors. He offers the simple greeting: “Peace be with you,” the greeting we offer each other at every Eucharistic celebration. He sends them on a mission of peace in continuity with his own God-inspired mission. He breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit and tells them that God will forgive those whom they forgive, and will “retain” or “seize hold of” the transgressions of those whose sins or transgressions they “retain”.
To seize hold of wrong-doing is to expose it and deal with it. Sometimes it is best to forgive and simply allow everyone to move on. In other situations, an easy amnesty only exacerbates the problem. Much of the enduring conflict in our world derives from the inability of ordinary people and of leaders to know how to deal with transgression. The Holy Spirit is the unique source of our power to forgive, of our capacity to deal with the perpetrators of violence and of the strength we need to refrain from vengeance. Sadly, the desire for vengeance often inhibits healing in those who have suffered violence or abuse, and even in those who endeavour to support them, so that the cycle of transgression continues. With much of our world still in the grip of pandemic and our entire planet threatened by the climate crisis, we must work ceaselessly as a global community to address the causes of violence and destruction and search together for lasting solutions. As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, let us gather into our hearts all the distressed members of our Earth community and pray with greater urgency than ever: “Come Holy Spirit, renew the face of the Earth.”