Each year at Pentecost, I marvel at the unfolding of salvation history. I wonder at the love that God has for us… a love so great that God sent his only Son to be one with us, a love so profound that God remains among us. As Revelation puts it: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God].’”
For disciples of Jesus, this promise of presence is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our world and in our lives. His words of commissioning are truly powerful words in today’s gospel passage: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." These words are defining for the Christian. They embody the Church’s mission to be a servant of reconciliation in the world. This is not some abstract idea, but is a very practical and “hands-on” challenge at the best of times. Wherever there is discord or division, we are called as a community of believers to engage with and to be ministers of healing and wholeness for one another and for the world.
In our day-to-day lives we are called to fullness of life by God, who invites us into deeper and more fulfilling relationship with God and with one another. This gets worked out in our personal relationships when we take a deep breath rather than take offence, when we presume goodness in another rather than presume we’re going to be taken advantage of, when we take the first step towards vulnerability in an effort to let go of a grudge, or a sense of self-righteousness.
This message is certainly one that is taken advantage of and often misunderstood in a world where might often makes right and where ideologies and values that are not of the gospel hold sway. A common reaction among believers is to pull back from the world, and to somehow feel besieged by it. But this stance is challenged by the encouragement of Jesus to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. The world may not understand people of faith, but that is not a blanket permission for people of faith to withdraw from the public square or to shy away from standing up for what it is that we believe in. To pull back, to refuse to engage, is tantamount to a refusal to believe that God is in the world, blessing it, and calling it always to redemption.
If we wonder how we might best bring reconciliation to difficult situations, or if we struggle with difficult or awkward relationships, then perhaps a way forward for us might be possible by engaging in a simple self-reflective exercise. Imagine how you would like someone to approach you with an openness to healing of a relationship. What might that look like? What would be important to say? To do? What would be important to avoid saying? What would be important to avoid doing? Affirming the awkwardness can go a long way. Opening ourselves up to the vulnerability that Jesus showed to everyone with whom he brought healing is a huge step. Every time Jesus reached out to others to bring healing or to restore relationships, he made himself vulnerable. He opened himself up to the possibility of being rejected. He put himself in the firing line of the anger and hurt that people often bring when they are in pain. Whatever they brought to him, Jesus embraced and welcomed without reservation. He opened his heart and his soul to others, and in his own vulnerability he brought healing and wholeness to so many.
Of course, that openness was taken advantage of. Ultimately, Jesus found himself in dire straits, and hanging on a cross to die. But his death was not the end. His resurrection was his vindication and our assurance that good triumphs, that mercy and peace are God’s blessing for his faithful ones. Jesus, eager to ensure that his followers don’t forget this, entrusts us with the responsibility of bringing healing and wholeness to one another and to the world. He sends his Spirit to encourage and enliven us to do as he did. See what love the Father has for us! We are never left to our own devices. We are never abandoned or left alone. We are, on the contrary, accompanied by the Spirit of God who guides and blesses.