The Peace of Christ completest the Paschal Mystery
Pentecost Sunday. fr Nicholas tells us how Jesus Christ creates peace among us.
Today we celebrate the completion of the paschal mystery by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a pouring out of the Spirit which unites us to Jesus, makes us members of His Body, adopted sons and daughters of God. Through this union with Jesus, through becoming members of His Body, we share in Jesus’ death and we share in Jesus’ victory over death at his Resurrection. Through the Spirit that is poured out at Pentecost we die with Jesus, and through this same union in the Spirit we rise with Him to a new life in which the power of evil to enslave us has been broken. The Spirit binds us to the sacred humanity of Jesus: He is the Head, we are the Body, and where the head of a body goes the rest of the body will soon follow. Jesus our Head has ascended ahead of us and prepared a place for us at the right hand of God, prepared a space for humanity in the eternal happiness of heaven. In the power of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost which unites the disciples to Christ, the followers of Jesus are sent out to preach to the four corners of the world so that every people and nation might enter into this heavenly space, enter into eternal life with God and share in the joy of friendship with Jesus. We celebrate this Sunday, then, a pouring out of the Holy Spirit that allows us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and at the same time empowers us to build up that Kingdom here on Earth, a Kingdom in which the wounds of sin are transfigured by love of God and love of neighbour.
Now all of our readings this Sunday allude to this healing of the wounds of sin brought about by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the peace brought about between nations, tribes, families, even within an individual that is the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We heard in our first reading how, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles began to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord in different languages so that ‘devout Jews from every nation’ heard the Gospel proclaimed in their native tongue. The outpouring of the Spirit allowed for communication, for understanding, for love to arise between people that had previously been separated by language barriers.
Now according to the book of Genesis, the fact that these language barriers existed in the first place is a consequence of sin. At the tower of Babel in Genesis chapter 11, in a tragic repeat of Adam and Eve’s mistake in the Garden of Eden, humanity once again tried to rival God: this time by building a tower into heaven. And as happened before in the Garden of Eden, again the consequence of humanity’s pride and the consequence of humanity’s sin was division: their languages became so confused that human beings could no longer understand each other, and from this failure in understanding grew fear and suspicion and all the pain and suffering and violence that inevitably follows when love is cast out.
We heard in our first reading how the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost healed the divisions and fear and suspicion of Babel. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the gift of languages, the power to transcend the language barriers that divided human beings from one another, and at the same time turned these mutually unintelligible languages, these wounds of sin, these signs of the division of the human race against each other, into instruments through which the Gospel is preached: the Holy Spirit does not erase the past, but transfigures it. Even our mistakes and the mistakes of others can be turned to good. The gift of languages given at Pentecost turns what had been a sign of humanity’s mutual misunderstanding and division into a sign of the richness and the abundance of God’s Word, a Word which unites peoples and cultures without destroying their distinctiveness or particularity.
We see the same healing power of the Spirit casting out fear in our Gospel reading. This time the barrier separating the disciples from their neighbours is not an unknown language but a door locked ‘for fear of the Jews’. Once again, fear casts out love, fear obstructs love of neighbour. Yet Jesus comes and stands in the middle of this frightened assembly and says to them:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he said this he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
The Spirit is breathed upon the disciples, then, by Jesus. The Breathe of Jesus, poured out upon the disciples, gives us a share in Jesus’ sacred humanity and it is this union with Jesus through the Spirit that heals the wounds of sin in our lives. The Spirit unites us to Jesus by creating in us a share in the goodness and merciful love of God. Being touched by the Spirit causes a new goodness to arise in our hearts; being touched by the Spirit causes or creates a new power to love to arise in our hearts. This means that when Jesus says in our Gospel reading, ‘Peace be with you’ to the disciples locked away in the upper room, he was not just expressing his hope or even giving them a command: he was actually creating in them that peace, creating in them that mercy, creating in them that love which bore such fruit in the apostolic Church and empowered the mission to Jews and Gentiles alike. The touch of the Spirit, poured out upon the Church at Pentecost, creates love and goodness in our hearts: it creates peace, the peace of Christ, the peace given by Christ to those united to Him in love.
Our entering into the peace of Christ through the pouring out of the Spirit is what finally completes the Easter celebrations. This is a peace that we enjoy now through our union with Jesus in the Spirit, and a peace that will be perfected in us in the eternal rest of heaven. In the meantime, empowered by the Spirit and the love and mercy His touch creates in our hearts, we are to share the peace of Christ with others. We heard in our Gospel reading:
“Peace be with you, As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.
The Father sent the Son to heal the wounds of sin in our lives and to elevate us to share in the Divine life. As the Son is sent, we too are sent to witness to his victory by allowing his love to heal the wounds of sin in our own lives, by allowing the Spirit to cause a new love and a new goodness to arise in our hearts. It is this love that our hearts long for, and it is in this love that we will finally find peace.
Readings: Acts 2: 1–11 | 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13 | John 20: 19–23