Fr. Charles Irvin
2nd Easter [A] 2011
Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20, 19-31
At the Last Supper, shortly before He suffered and died on the Cross, Jesus gave us the stupendous gift of His Body and Blood, now really and truly present to us in the Eucharist. He gave us this gift at the very core of His redemptive sacrifice for us. Then, when He rose from the dead, His very first act was breathe out Holy Spirit upon His apostles and into His Church. “Peace be with you,” He said to them. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean for us?
Our Church leads us now into what we might call “The time of the handing over of the Spirit.” To examine the significance of that time let’s return to God’s first breathing forth His Holy Spirit, that life-giving creative act of God that we find in the first verses in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis. There we find God’s Spirit “brooding over the waters” bringing light out of darkness, order out of chaos, and life to all of God’s creatures. Creation was brought about by God’s Holy Spirit. “Veni Creator Spiritus” we sing in the words of that famous hymn we all know.
In the fullness of time, Christ Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River the Holy Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Jesus signifying that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the One anointed by God’s Holy Spirit. At the beginning of His public ministry Jesus was led out into the desert by the Spirit, there to be tempted by and to defeat the Devil. When He died on the Cross St. John tells us that Christ handed over His Spirit. Each one of us is now destined to be a temple of God’s Holy Spirit.
It can be fairly said that the reason why Jesus was born among us and the reason why He died on the Cross was to give us God’s Holy Spirit, God’s holy presence, a presence that was lost when Adam and Eve separated themselves from God in the Garden of Eden. In going to His apostles immediately after He rose from the dead, Christ Jesus was restoring God’s presence to us once again, God’s personal, life-giving, and loving presence –God’s special presence given to us now as His forgiven prodigal children. What was lost in the Garden of Eden is now restored in the Garden of the Resurrection.
What are the elements within that presence; what is the nature of that presence? Well, certainly it is not a passive presence. On the contrary it is a dynamic, creating, moving, and energizing presence. Above all it is a sanctifying presence – we are made whole again, made whole with God. We are once again made holy, holier even than Adam and Eve… holier because, through Christ, God’s Holy Spirit is not simply present next to us or around us but lives now within us.
Who among us has never asked for a second chance? Who among us has never said: “Give me a break, give me another chance”? Who has never asked God for another chance? That’s what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about. That is why God in Christ has given us a chance at starting over again, a chance given us when God restores us into the innocence we once had when we were baptized.
Theologians tell us that Jesus Christ was sent to us with the ministry of reconciliation. God comes to us again, this time not in the Garden of Eden but in the Garden of the Resurrection. Risen from the dead, God the Son goes to His apostles and confers upon us the power to start over again. Moments ago in the Gospel account we heard: The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…”
St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians tells us: So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2Cor 5:17-19)
The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the account of God starting out all over again putting the Garden of Eden behind us and giving us a second chance and new life in the Garden of the Resurrection.
All of this is accomplished because God sent His only begotten Son to us in Christ Jesus to give us His life-giving and creating Holy Spirit, fashioning us as a new creation, making us over anew, answering all of our prayers for another chance.
The time of the handing over of the Spirit culminates in Pentecost. Dying on the Cross, Jesus “handed over His Spirit,” St. John tells us. The first act of Jesus after He rose from the dead was to give His Spirit to His apostles. At Pentecost they were confirmed in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit so they might put their fears behind them and go out into the world, into our world, and share God’s recreating, life-giving, reconciling, forgiving, and healing Holy Spirit with you and with me.
It is sometimes said that one religion is as good as another, that it doesn’t matter what religion one belongs to. I think it does matter. It really matters because I don’t find what Jesus did for us — giving us the power of forgiveness — present in any other religion. The handing over of the Spirit is for the forgiveness of our sins, it restores us to God’s life again. It is found uniquely in our wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation. That matters… that really matters. In what other religion can you find that?
One final note. Since God has been so infinitely generous in giving us this gift, a gift that comes to us through the terrible suffering and death of His Christ, ought not we be generous in sharing our forgiveness with those around us who have sinned against us?
If we feel we don’t have the strength and power within us to do so we should remember that God has given us the strength and power to forgive. For the gift we have been given is not ours to keep, it is a gift God has given to us in order that we might share it with others. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to do so. May we offer the world around us the hope and the joy that, because of Jesus Christ, is found in the power to forgive. It is one of the greatest and most necessary gifts we have to share with all those in our world around us.