What a rousing group of readings! What do you think of that last paragraph of the Gospel? "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone's sins, they are retained." Was Jesus speaking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Was he exaggerating? Was he saying that the Holy Spirit would make the disciples infallible? What was he saying?
Think of the phrase "body and blood" we use for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? We mean "the whole Jesus Christ" all of him - his mind and heart, desires, intentions, humanity, divinity." The same is true with the opposites that John uses: "forgiven" and "retained." They mean the whole authority of a leader or judge - "forgive, " "retain" and everything in between. Like what? What about negotiation, setting priorities, boundaries, choosing leaders, trading, sharing? In other words, Jesus gave the disciples complete authority to carry on his mission with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That was the evening of the Resurrection. Then Jesus left them, coming back occasionally for 40 days. By that time Jews from all over the known world were starting to arrive for the festival of Pentecost (50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread)- - one of the three main holydays. The disciples hid in someone's upper room because they were afraid that they would be killed like their leader, Jesus.
When Pentecost arrived, the power of the Holy Spirit, appearing in wind and flame, banished all their fear. They began to understand that they were being called to embody the ministry Jesus had begun, to internalize it and carry out!
And by the way, who are you picturing was there? Just a group of 11 men and Jesus' mother, Mary? What about the women disciples, like Mary of Magdala and the other Mary? The other disciples? One account (Acts 1:15) indicates that there were about 120 people. Later in Acts it says that there were only the eleven Apostles and all were men.
What did the power of the Holy Spirit bring? Obviously joy, enthusiasm, knowledge, understanding, courage. Some had the power to heal the sick, speak in tongues, travel to the distant parts of the Roman Empire to teach people about Jesus and his mission. Did they understand everything all at once? Apparently not. We read later in Acts they that had arguments, some stole from the general fund and did other things that showed that they didn't get it completely.
One thing they did feel was the need for community. They needed to get together to pray - to worship God as Jesus had taught them, to pray for guidance, to eat the Bread of Life and drink the Cup of Salvation. That naturally led them to a love so great that they would die for what they believed and for each other. It led them to open their eyes and have empathy for those around them, their own community and those outside. That empathy led them to actions. That was what Jesus had done. That's what they would do.
We are direct descendants of those disciples. We have received the Holy Spirit! We also need community. We also need to worship God as Jesus taught, eat the Bread of Life and drink the Blood of Salvation. We need to pray for guidance and show great love for each other and those beyond our community. We also need to do what people everywhere do when they come to a gathering of family and friends. We need to have a leader who calls the group together, a group of people who plan liturgies and recruit people carry out the various tasks: from setting up to cleaning up, and everything in between.
We're going to be personally recruiting more of you to be an active part of keeping this community alive and healthy, part of the ministries of lector, Eucharistic minister, hospitality ministry, usher and more, part of visioning the future. You already tell others we are available for those who want to be part of an inclusive Catholic community. We want more people to know that this is a spiritual home for all people searching for inclusive leadership, language and ministry in the sacramental tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. We want to be a community that is listening for and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost calls us to gather around the table of Jesus Christ. Like those Christians at the first Pentecost, we, too, can have our faith enflamed by the Holy Spirit! Let's go there together!
Maria Thornton McClain, RCWP