Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

May 28: Pentecost Sunday

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Spirit descends

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

The world is a different place than it was just a few weeks ago. People have died and babies were born. Couples have married and couples have separated. Young students graduated from college. Tornadoes destroyed entire towns in the South. Some politicians were elected to office, others left office. There was another school shooting. Some people got their first job and other people were laid off.

Today, we remember an event that forever changed our world. It happened in far-flung and troublesome part of the Roman Empire. A small group of people who were followers of a rabbi from an obscure Galilean village had a religious experience that in a relatively short time shook the world.

Two thousand years ago, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from across the empire, a group following a rabbi was paralyzed with fear. Jesus of Nazareth, their beloved teacher, was executed by the Romans on trumped-up charges of sedition.

They thought that they could be next, so they went into hiding. But then something happened that changed their lives. These few fishermen from Galilee emerged from their hiding place in the city.

Jesus’ disciples had an overwhelming experience of his presence among them, believing him to be alive and with them, but with them in an entirely new way. They believed that the Spirit of Jesus was within them, animating them, energizing them, strengthening them, empowering them, emboldening them.

They threw open the doors of their hiding place and began telling the Jewish pilgrims about Jesus of Nazareth. They said that he died for the forgiveness of sins, but had been raised from the dead and that all those who put their faith in this Jesus would have everlasting life.

The world has never been the same. The message proclaimed by these one-time fishermen from Galilee has gone to the ends of the earth and has been proclaimed by generations of believers. Today, the number of those who believe in Jesus is more than a billion and every day new believers are added.

The Spirit of Jesus that changed the lives of the small group of Jesus’ disciples is with all those who believe that he came from God to lead the human family back to God.

That Spirit animates believers with the very life of God. That Spirit empowers believers to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and emboldens them to witness to that Gospel. That Spirit leads believers to make visible the presence of Christ in the world.

During World War I, a village in France was caught between the two contending armies. Artillery shells shook the buildings. In the course of one barrage, a shell fell near the church, toppling a statue that depicted Christ with his hands extended in blessing. The fall severely damaged the statue. Its hands were crushed beyond any hope of restoration.

After the war, the church was repaired, but the pastor returned the still damaged statue to its pedestal. He placed an inscription on the pedestal that read, “You are the hands of Christ.”

The Spirit enabled those villagers to be the hands of Christ, to be a source of blessing in the lives of all they encountered. The Spirit empowers all believers to be authentic and effective witnesses to the presence and power of Christ in the world, to be sources of blessing.

Jesus’ disciples were paralyzed by fear, but the Spirit transformed their lives. The Spirit urged them to leave their hiding place to go out and proclaim Christ crucified and risen to the Jewish pilgrims who filled the streets of Jerusalem.

Those pilgrims heard Jesus’ disciples, emboldened by the Spirit, call them to believe the good news of Jesus Christ. Led by the Spirit, many did believe and became the nucleus of the church.

The church appropriated the biblical feast of Pentecost, giving it a new meaning. For Christians, this feast celebrates the gift of the Spirit, promised by Jesus and given by God to all who believe the Gospel. The Spirit empowers believers to be Christ’s presence in the world. Spirit-filled believers are the hands of Christ blessing all people.


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