Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Day of Pentecost, 2018.

In terms of centrality to the Christian experience, everything we do, indeed everything we are, revolves around Easter and the resurrection of Christ crucified. For if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, and all who have fallen asleep are truly perished out of existence. Without Easter, much of what we do would be better characterized not by “Let us pray,” but “Let us play.” The rite of baptism would be an ineffectual ceremony of water, the Eucharist would be an empty symbol of bread and water, and on and on.

It is a fearful thought. Yet I think in all reverence we can approach the possibility that during the ten days when the closest disciples were together with Blessed Mary, devoting themselves with one accord to prayer—devoting themselves, that is, to the breaking of bread, to the teachings of Jesus and their experiences with Him from conception through His resurrection, and to daily prayer based on the Our Father prayer—that during these days of high excitement and anticipation at what Jesus had meant by the “promise of the Father” which was yet to come, these days of great joy after witnessing the Ascension of Jesus fulfill and surpass Ezekiel’s vision, that somewhere in the thoughts of those gathered in the same room where Jesus instituted the Eucharist on the night before He died, perhaps a passing thought before they lay down to rest each night, that perhaps this all was empty. Again, I say with great reverence, perhaps they wondered whether this all was not true, that Jesus, whom they loved, just died. And in dying, would be erased from existence. That all His teachings were nice sounding ideas, but like so many ideas, died with the teacher. And that they were alone, that God had forgotten about them.

Perhaps, if not quite that bleak, they thought about the odds they faced. And why wouldn’t they? The numbers were certainly against them. All of Jewish world had yelled “Crucify Him!” and leaders of the Roman world along with leaders of the Temple had conspired to make that happen. Why wouldn’t the disciples gathered in the Upper Room for those ten days wonder, “Who are we against so many?” We are talking about a core Remnant of about 20 men and women, and perhaps a hundred more close followers. That is not many more that we have in our Parish of Tazewell County. Even if they were able to put aside those bleak thoughts and affirm indeed that Jesus is the Son of God, the long-promised suffering Savior of the world, indeed through Whom all had been made, and through Whom themselves remade, how could this small group of rag-tag Jesus lovers accomplish anything against a world so set against them, and set against Him Who is at the center of their lives, their joy, their anticipation? How could it possibly happen?

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

And that’s how it happened. It happened because of the power of God. It happened because God sent forth His Spirit, and all could witness who it renewed the face of the earth. It happened because here again, their experience rang in ten-part harmony with their previous experiences and with the scriptures. The disciples had learned of the Holy Spirit’s annunciation to Mary, and here was the Holy Spirit announcing His presence and announcing salvation through Christ Crucified. The disciples had heard of the experience Peter, James and John had had on the mountaintop at His transfiguration, and how Peter thought this was the Feast of Booths, the Jewish harvest feast that also celebrated all the covenants between God and Israel and commemorated all the previous manifestations of God—and here, what was transfigured before them by the Holy Spirit but their prayer life over those ten days—their prayer life of fellowship around the teachings of Jesus, of breaking bread in the Eucharist, and of daily prayer based on Jewish tradition and the Our Father.

Just as Moses had led the people in preparation through the desert to God’s manifestation on the holy mountain of Sinai, Jesus had led the disciples to gather in the Upper Room to wait for the manifestation of His promise. And just as at Sinai where the mountain, burning like a furnace, trembled with thunder and lightning in a terrifying spectacle, at Jerusalem there was a stupendous sound from heaven like a strong wind, a wind that would have immediately reminded them of the account of Elijah:

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And that fire had been a common means in the scriptures that God manifested His presence, such as in Psalm 29: “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.”

And again, this experience of the Coming of the Holy Spirit rang true to Easter evening, when, the doors being shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” and showed them his wounded hands and his wounded side. Because they saw the wounds, they knew that these words: “Peace be with you” indeed were words directly from heaven. Whenever we exchange the peace with each other, there is a window to heaven if we allow ourselves to see it.

Whenever we exchange the peace, there is available a small but heavenly Pentecost experience, a coming of the Holy Ghost as we look into each other’s eyes, recognize in those eyes a member of the Body of Christ, and speak a word, “Peace,” which is lit with celestial fire, a word through which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted, a word itself with an abundance of grace, a word that itself teaches us to know the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And word itself that, everywhere and in all places, allows us to life in the Spirit, allows us to walk in the Spirit, and allows us to be on Mission in the Spirit. Let us pray:

Come, O Holy Comforter, come in all your fullness and power. Enrich us in our poverty, inflame us in our feebleness, melt our hearts with your love. Make us wholly yours, until your gifts are ours and we are utterly in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Father, one God, in Trinity of Persons, now and forever. Amen.