If you have a desktop computer with a keyboard at home or at work, you might know about “canned air.” You know, that canister with a nozzle attached that you use to clean out the nooks and crannies between your keys. With a squeeze of that trigger – Pssssss! – all the weeks and months of crumbled cookies, salt and pepper, and dust come flying out, all over the place. It’s a genius invention – even if I never worry about where I am spraying all that nasty debris.
Well, our celebration today – Pentecost Sunday – is a lot like that can of air for the Church. I’ll explain.
Two of our readings share one and the same setting: the First Reading and the Gospel both take place in the Upper Room, where Jesus had gathered with His friends the night before He died; where He gave us the great gift of the Eucharist and the Priesthood; where He commanded us to imitate Him in His service and self giving. This is significant for us, because we are gathered now in our own “Upper Room,” which we call church.
The scene in the Gospel actually takes place first. The Apostles and other friends of Jesus are gathered there, but they are not joyful. Rather, they are afraid – cowering after the suffering and death of Christ, for fear that they are next. They are ashamed – each one – for having abandoned the Lord in His neediest hour. The doors are locked, and they have trapped themselves.
However, Jesus simply comes into their midst – despite the locked doors, despite their fear, despite their shame. And what does he do?
Well, not just like that, but the effect is the same! Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” This is God’s “canned air.” With that beautiful gesture, Jesus blew out all the gunk and crud that was holding the disciples prisoner, and He freed them – made them new. It is significant that Jesus then gives the Apostles the power to forgive sins, which we celebrate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, we too have that funky mess cleared out and are made able to love God and others more fully.
With that breath from Jesus, the Church is formed.
Second, in the First Reading, the disciples are again in that Upper Room. They are gathered in prayer, as Jesus had commanded them when He ascended to the Father. However, that’s all they are doing. In a sense, they are still bound within themselves. The Church isn’t going anywhere – yet!
The Holy Spirit fills the place as a mighty wind. The Apostles receive this wonderful Gift; they are confirmed in the Spirit; and God drives them out of that room to begin sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. They cannot now help but tell others of their life-giving relationship with Jesus.
We can often find ourselves in this position in the Church. We gather in this place and we are very comfortable. The Apostles certainly were comfy. That Upper Room was home to them. They liked it there. However, as the Church, we cannot simply we content to sit within these walls, pray, and allow the world outside to go on as it always does. Here, as the Eucharist and the Sacraments nourish us, we also receive that same Holy Spirit, and - Pssssss! – we are driven out, just like the Apostles. Our task as a Church is to share our relationship with Jesus. The Spirit empowers us to do this.
We fall into the pre-Pentecost trap when we see the fullest expression of our faith as spending one hour a week sitting in these pews, but nothing more. We get comfy sitting here, and as a Church, we simply age in place. We are concerned with “maintenance” and not “mission.” When we come here and think, “Gee, I hope no one took my seat,” we are concerned with maintenance; when we come and hope that the kneeler in my pew isn’t broken, we are concerned with maintenance; when we look around and are satisfied that the “regulars” are all here, we are concerned with maintenance.
However, the Spirit calls us to mission. Therefore, we need to ask tougher discipleship-oriented questions: “How can I share my faith with my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, my coworkers?” “Who am I bringing to this place to encounter Jesus?” “What must change in order to allow that breath of God to blow more clearly in our community?”
The message of Pentecost – the entire message of Easter – is the fact that we are called to continue Christ’s outgoing mission to bring others into a real relationship with God. As we get this blast of life again, may we open our hearts to that life and share it with our world.