Today’s rich array of scriptural readings brings out the Church’s sense of being a community equipped by the Spirit to take up the mission of Jesus.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, locates the imparting of the Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, a pilgrimage feast celebrated fifty days after Passover.
In biblical tradition, wind and fire signal the presence and power of God, as when Israel stood before God at Mount Sinai. What is described here seems to be a central fiery mass from which distinct “tongues” (“as if of fire”: not real fire!) separate off and come to rest on individuals.
The sense is that the Spirit, which rested solely upon Jesus during his own life, is now, as he promised (Luke 24:49), being distributed among those who are now to carry on his mission—in first instance to Israel, eventually “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The variety of people who hear and understand the testimony of the apostles in their own language foreshadows this worldwide mission. In many languages the Church will communicate the single message of God’s reconciling love.
The Gospel (John 20:19-23) associates the gift of the Spirit more closely with the resurrection. On Easter Sunday evening the risen Lord breathes out upon his disciples the Spirit that will empower them to take up the mission that he has received from the Father. Central to this will be passing on the reconciliation (“whose sins you shall forgive …”) that he, as Lamb of God (1:29), has brought into the world.
Fr Brendan Byrne