John 20: 19-23
In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’
The Feast of Pentecost takes place fifty days after Easter and celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, thus fulfilling the promise of Jesus. In Christian tradition the Feast of Pentecost marks the birth of the Church as the Apostles were now empowered to fulfill the mission Jesus had given them to go out and preach the Good News and to be true witnesses to this. The events of Pentecost are recalled in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
There are two alternative Gospel accounts that can be used on the Feast of Pentecost; John 20:19-23 and John 14: 15-16 & 23b – 26. John’s Gospel (20:19-23) tells us that on the night of Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were gathered in fear behind locked doors. Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you‘ showing them the wounds of his hands and side. As the disciples rejoiced, Jesus then commissioned them to continue his mission of love through the forgiveness of sins ‘As the Father sent me so I am sending you … receive the Holy Spirit. For those sins you forgive, they are forgiven.‘ The sacrament of Penance is a gift from God given to the Church by the risen Lord as the first fruit of his own death and resurrection. Given to the Apostles, Jesus’ healing love, the power to forgive sins, continues to be worked and seen through the Church today.
A particularly striking image in this passage is that of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, creating a strong parallel to Genesis 2:7 in which God breathes life into the lifeless human form. In this sense we consider that with the resurrection we are offered the gift of a new creation.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not restricted to the annals of history but we too can continue to be strengthened and nourished by the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism and again in a very special way at Confirmation with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is through these gifts, and the fruits that they bear (Gal 5:22-23) that we are enabled to be true Christian disciples.
We are reminded by Jesus that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
May we pray for a new Pentecost, in which we, like the Apostles, are strengthened so as to be true witnesses of the Risen Lord.