John 20:19-23, Pentecost
How can we begin to talk about the invisible, intangible, impalpable Spirit of God?
Perhaps we should begin with a very common expression we might have heard or even used ourselves: I still feel her spirit with me. We use those words to express that inexplicable but very real experience of feeling, hoping, knowing that someone whom we love — a parent or teacher, a close friend or lover — is still with us, even though they are no longer physically present to us. We use those words to describe the feeling that those whom we love never really leave us, even though they are far or even if they have died; they continue to exert a hold on us. We hear them speak to us in our thoughts. We sense their advice and encouragement in our deliberations. Most of all, we feel their love in our hearts. If you have ever lost someone whom you love deeply, perhaps this sounds remarkably real to you.
In the same way that we speak of how the spirit of someone we love remains with us on our journey through life, we might also speak of the way God’s Spirit is with us. Though as our readings today indicate to us, the ways in which God’s Spirit is with us is more real, more certain, more intimate.
Consider our Gospel reading today. It begins with two important details of the time and place in which we find our disciples after the terrible events of Good Friday. 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. We see the disciples hiding behind closed doors in the cover of the darkening night. In spite of hiding, the Risen Lord finds them where they are, giving them his peace and joy, breathing upon them His Spirit. There in the depths of failure, when their journey seems to have come to its end, there the Lord finds them and gives them the Holy Spirit. And with the gift of the Spirit which brings forgiveness for all that has gone wrong before, He sends them to begin their journey once more. So it is in our own lives, when we feel locked in our own failures, when our journey seems to have come to an end, there the Spirit comes to meet us, bringing us peace and forgiveness, sending us once more on our journey.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, coming down like tongues of fire, enabling them to speak in foreign languages. The early disciples felt that it was the Spirit who gave them the gift of speech, allowing them to be understood by people of diverse origins. It is the power of the Spirit within us that brings us out of isolation and gives us the words, the right words, to speak to all people in order to bring communion with one another and with God. Words of rigidity, discrimination, discord and hatred can never come from the Spirit of God. Rather from deep within us, the Spirit teaches us to speak words of compassion, justice, peace and love.
For the Spirit within us is the same Spirit within all human beings — regardless of their race, religion, political allegiances. On a day like today, when we are trying hard to make sense of the madness of the violence we have just witnessed, it is so difficult to see how the Spirit of God lives within people who carry out violence in the name of God. Indeed, like them, we too can choose to stop listening to the promptings of the Spirit in our hearts and in our minds. In a time like this, we must strive even more to pray for unity, recognising that the same Spirit which sends us out is the same Spirit which calls us back, the same principle for diversity is the same principle of unity as St Paul says: Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.
The Spirit is our companion, our helper, our comforter in our journey through life. She comes to us in our despair at journey’s end and helps us begin again. Along our journey, She gives us the gift of speech that we might relate meaningfully to others who are so different from us. She calls us back from our varied encounters, from the many paths we might take, and reminds us of the deep unity we have with each other by virtue of the same Spirit that lies in each of us.
How then can we begin to talk about the invisible, intangible, impalpable Spirit of God?
We do so by recognising the Spirit of God that is always with us on our journey — at the beginning, middle and end; in moments of soaring joy and deep confusion. We speak of the presence of the Spirit as more real, more certain, more intimate through all of this. And because God’s Spirit is in me, I can say: I am never alone.