Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Pentecost

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 John 20.19-23

“Receive the Holy Spirit”

Today’s great and joyful feast rounds off the tremendous mysteries that we have been commemorating since Holy Week - the Passion, the Death, the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus culminates in the sending of the gift of the Holy Spirit on his disciples. To receive some gifts it may be sufficient simply to accept passively what is given and so take possession of it. Not so with today’s great Gift. When Jesus invites us to “receive the Holy Spirit” he is looking for an active form of receiving. True, the Holy Spirit is pure Gift – “best gift of God above” – but not as something to be possessed, rather as Someone to be welcomed.

“In the one Spirit we were all baptised”, St. Paul tells us, and so became members of the Body of Christ. Paul reminds us that a human body, though made up of many parts each with its own function, yet remains a single unit. So it is, he says, with Christ. Each of us, with all our individuality, with our personal strengths and weaknesses, irrespective of gender, status, class or race, each one of us is an irreplaceable part of the Body of Christ. As such, we belong to each other; we need and are needed by one another. We are that “variety of gifts” Paul speaks of, transformed by the same Spirit into the one Body Christ to continue his presence and his mission in the world, to be in the world for the world. There are all sorts of service to be done, in different ways by different people, but always with the same God working in us all.

Behind this beautiful vision of the Church – one and catholic, holy and apostolic – strong in unity while respecting diversity, filled with the Spirit and serving the world, lies our personal and active acceptance of, and willing co-operation with, the Holy Spirit. Today, as we celebrate the birth of the Church through the outpouring of the Spirit, Jesus invites us afresh: “receive the Holy Spirit”. With fresh resolve we respond: “Come, Holy Spirit”.

 

 
 
 
 
 

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The "Descent of the Holy Spirit" is a Russian icon painted toward the end of the 15th century. It leaves out the swirling wind and the parting tongues of fire of the original narrative, to illustrate rather the gentle stillness of the presence of God. The apostles and evangelists in the icon are still, meditative, seemingly contemplating the presence of God within them through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, repesented by the rays descending from heaven above. Jesus is no longer with them as he was during the time of his public ministry. But he is not absent from them. Risen and returned to his Father, he is now closer to them than he was previously. By the gift of his Spirit he is within them, binding each of them to himself and all of them together in him.

The Spirit binds them together in community. Although they appear in contemplative mood, with no indication of discussion reaching out to one another, they are very much together. In their hands they each hold either a book or a scroll, symbol of God's word entrusted to them. Apart from the gifts of Word and Spirit, there is no set pose, no fixed expression, no uniform colour of robes, nothing to mark them out as one. They repesent great diversity and yet they are all are held together in truly remarkable unity. This is the work of the one Spirit in them all. The Christian community is not the product of human effort or activity but is first and foremost gift of God.