This Sunday is the conclusion of Easter’s Fifty Days. The season of unabashed joy and gratitude is coming to its end. Although we tend to view Pentecost as a singular, standalone event, it is in fact the pinnacle of Easter. The 50 days between the bursting open of the tomb and the overflowing of the Spirit, does the full awareness of what it is to live in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ finally dawn. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, like the empty tomb, is hard for us to get our heads around. But as with the Easter event, there is some wonderful “evidence” left behind, clues that give us a glimpse of the ineffable, the unimaginable. I’m not talking doves or tongues of fire. The Spirit is evidenced by faith in action – the faith of the first church and our faith today. We know the Spirit is with us today because the church continues to journey together in spite of great human frailty, intractable pride and sexual sin. There is a new book out by Brian Flanagan that I want to read, entitled “Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church.” We know the Spirit is with us because there are still heroes among us who choose justice over law and pay the prophet’s price. We know the Spirit is with us because men and women from many nations and faiths hear the same message of peace, compassion and human dignity.
We also know that forgiveness is integral to the mystery of salvation. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus connects healing to forgiveness. He says, “Your sins have been forgiven you” or “your faith has saved you.” And in his last breath, Jesus proclaims his forgiveness for the ones who have crucified him. Forgiveness, freely given by God to us through Christ, is our gift to one another as inheritors of His Spirit. Forgiveness is not an option. If we want to live like the redeemed, it must be our currency in the world. It must be ours because it was His. In the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Reconciliation the prayer says: “For though the human race is divided by dissension and discord yet we know that by testing us you change our hearts to prepare them for reconciliation. Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries join hands, and peoples seek to meet together.” Our first reading today gives us the description of the Pentecost event. But, as I said in the beginning of this article, Pentecost is not a singular event….it is the pinnacle of the 50 days between the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Our Gospel reading today is “on the evening of the first day of the week” – so Easter Sunday night. Jesus appeared to His disciples and He breathed on them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” We commonly interpret this passage to be the beginning of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and it is. But, the Holy Spirit empowers all the baptized, not just the ordained priest, to be reconcilers. We are all called to forgive the sins of those who trespass against us. If we are to make a life of loving and forgiving one another, we need the Spirit now every bit as much as the apostles need the Spirit after the resurrection. The good news is, we have the Spirit, and this gift is the only one that really keeps on giving!
Blessed end of the Easter Season!