It seems strange to have today’s Gospel reading. I say that because we also had this Gospel reading – a shortened version of it – the first Sunday after Easter. It was then when we were into our 3rd week of lockdown and isolation and I made the comment how we were somewhat like Jesus’ disciples – locked away in fear. They were locked away for fear of the Jews who had just crucified Jesus on the cross. We were locked away for fear of the Coronavirus – COVID 19. Today’s reading is shorter. It doesn’t include the situation of Doubting Thomas who wouldn’t believe that Jesus came to visit them after his resurrection – unless I see the nail marks in his hands. Today’s focus is on the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples to prepare them for leaving the physical safety and returning to the world – the world of which they were afraid. That day for us also is getting nearer and in some aspects is already upon us.
John’s Gospel is quite different to the other 3 – Matthew, Mark and Luke. John doesn’t have a lot of the parables and accounts that the other 3 have. And John’s Gospel has stories that the other 3 don’t have
But something that particularly stands out for me is that John tells the story of Jesus as a retelling of the Genesis story of Creation. John’s Gospel and Genesis begin in a very similar way: In Genesis – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In John’s Gospel – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were created; without him nothing was made that has been made. So, they both start the same way – In the beginning – and both speak about creation.
Interestingly today’s Gospel reading also images the Genesis account of life being created. In Genesis chapter 2: Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. That breath of life is the Holy Spirit which God breathed into lifeless Adam. In our Gospel reading, in John 20, we see again the breath of God creating life: Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” We were dead in our sin but the Holy Spirit now breathes God’s forgiveness into us.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring life. But not just any life but God’s life. A life that brings order and purpose into life. Look at the disciples before the Holy Spirit was breathed into them. Their lives were chaotic and meaningless – ruled by fear. Locked away in fear – that’s not quality of life. Their lives were very much like Creation in the beginning before God breathed life and order into it: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Look at the people gathered together in Acts on the Day of Pentecost: Gathered in Jerusalem was a whole host of languages – Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome.
And the Holy Spirit came and brought them together as one and removed the language barrier that had been confused from the time of the Tower of Babel.
God’s Holy Spirit created new life in them to hear the Gospel. And that’s what the Holy Spirit does in our lives too. Our new life begins in our Baptism when the Holy Spirit is given to renew our life with God. The old is washed away by the forgiveness of our Original Sin and a new life emerges to dwell with God. In Jesus’ own life this is when it all begins for his Ministry. At his Baptism he sees the Spirit of God descend from heaven and land upon him and the voice of God declaring – this is my Son whom I love. So, in each situation – there is life already there but there is no order or meaning. Adam was just dust on the ground before the Spirit of life was breathed into him. Jesus ministry began when the Spirit declares his Sonship. The disciples were a disorganised rabble of fear with no life.
And the people gathered in Jerusalem were a babbling mess brought into order by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And our lives were in darkness before the light of the Holy Spirit was given in our Baptism.
There are differing views on what the Holy Spirit does. And they are all valid – all mentioned in our second reading: Speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, gifts of prophecy, teaching and leadership.
And then there are the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But these are all results of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us what the purpose of those fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit are: For the common good The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to create order in God’s creation. So when Paul talks about the Holy Spirit in 1st Corinthians it was because Corinth was a church that lacked order because they didn’t understand the Holy Spirit: And Paul says that God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As we continue to journey this unprecedented journey together as Church, the Holy Spirit has been the essential gift of God that has kept us united and in order. He has been our comforter in times of worry and distress about our church services being cancelled and our health concerns. He has been our intercessor – praying of us in those times when we just did not know how or what to pray. And he has been our paraclete.
A word that means someone who stands beside us. And that’s what God has done through his Holy Spirit.
He has stood beside us just like Jesus came and stood among his disciples in their fear.
Just like the Day of Pentecost where scattered nations were drawn together as one as they heard the gospel message preached by Peter, so too we have journeyed together at times not sure what to do or where to go but kept together by the Gospel. And now that lockdowns are starting to ease we’re having the same challenges to our life and order. Should we start services – should we wait. Should we have communion – should we wait. Should we have several services with 20 people each – how do we do it – who does all the cleaning and sanitising. I want to restart Holy Communion services more than anyone but we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we don’t become like the Corinthians – a church of disorder. This needs to be a spiritual beginning and not just a physical beginning of our worship again. There are many physical requirements we must meet before we begin but more importantly we need the Spiritual wisdom and presence of God through his Holy Spirit. So we need your prayers more than ever and we need God’s wisdom which is also the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us never forget that even while our church doors remain locked, Jesus still comes in and stands among us. In the midst of our uncertainty and not knowing which way to go, Jesus comes and breathes his Holy Spirit onto us and says – Peace be with you.