The reading from the Gospel of John for this Pentecost Sunday, the last day of the Easter Season, takes us back to Easter Sunday, the day on which this Season began. It begins with the words: “It was evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week.” These words situate this scene, like so many of the Gospel stories that we have heard on the Sundays throughout the Easter Season on Sunday, on the day Jesus rose from the dead. Whether it was the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or the story of Doubting Thomas, so many of the stories that we have heard throughout the Easter Season, have focused our attention on the fact that Christ appeared to his disciples after His resurrection as they were gathered together on a Sunday. One of my favorite reminders of the importance of Sunday is actually that which we heard in the story from the Gospel of Luke, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Here, like today’s Gospel story, Jesus appears to His disciples on a Sunday and celebrates with them that memorial supper that He asked them to celebrate in memory of Him. This emphasis that we hear over and over again throughout the Easter Season on the importance of Sunday, is a powerful reminder to all of us that this is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It is the day He invites us to celebrate together and be reminded of who we are as His people.
As we celebrate on this Pentecost Sunday the birth of the Church, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in order that they may be sent out into the world to share the Good News, I have to confess to being a little sad that our own churches have been closed throughout this Easter Season. In the Gospel this Sunday, we hear that the disciples were locked in the room where Christ appeared to them. This year, as a result of COVID 19, our churches have been locked and those who might desire to come and receive the Lord have been kept out. This has been a hardship to so many people and a cause for great sadness for many across our Archdiocese. Today, I think in particular of the many young people who in our own community would have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Had they received it, they, like the disciples in today’s first reading, would have received that gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to the disciples in today’s first reading from the Act of the Apostles, and they too would be sent, like all of us from the Church, where we had received and encountered Christ in the Eucharist, into the world to proclaim the victory of Christ over death.
In the face of the sadness of our closed churches, I take great comfort and hope from the words that St. Paul offers us in the second reading for this Pentecost Sunday. Paul reminds us that any faith we have is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as he writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The longing that we have to return to our churches and encounter Christ again is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This Spirit, Paul tells us, was given to each of us on the day of our baptism. By this gift of the Spirit, we were all of us made members of Christ’s body the Church. Paul’s words in this regard are so important that they are worth repeating. He writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” These words remind us that the Church is not a building. The Church is the people of God and each one of us is a living member of the Church, sent out to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.
We sometimes think that the “church” is a building and that now that these buildings are closed, our “church” is also closed. Pentecost serves to remind you and I that we are the Church, each one of us are members of Christ’s Body. It is certainly true that what we do in the churches is what makes us the Church, but it is the members who are the Church and we become this by doing in these “church” buildings the things that Christ has asked us to do in memory of Him at the Eucharist. Many Christian scholars have said that there are three things that have always constituted the Church. These are: Sunday, Baptism and the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist depends upon an apostle to celebrate it, I would add a fourth element to what constitutes the Church, and that would be its apostolic nature that we profess in the creed. It is through the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist that the community comes together, hears God’s word, and is built up through the gift of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood to be sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s Good News. Saint Augustine used to say as he gave out the Eucharist on a Sunday, “Christian receive what you are to become, the Body of Christ.”
As we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, in a way so different then when the disciples were locked inside the building with Christ, I would just like to reflect a little upon the importance of Baptism, Sunday and the Eucharist in our own faith lives so that we may anticipate the day that we are all once again able to gather in our parish churches.
As we have heard throughout this Easter Season, the disciples encountered the risen Christ on the first day of the week—Sunday. All of His appearances take place on this day. At the heart of being a Christian is to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. This He did on a Sunday and we are called by Him to remember His resurrection on this day. So often we think that being a Christian is simply about being a loving person. So many people, regardless of their religions, are loving. The Christian is a person who believes that Jesus rose from the dead and celebrates this on the day that He did so—Sunday. As we stay at home throughout this pandemic, every day can seem the same. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the day for Christians to gather and encounter Christ as a community is “the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose form the dead.” Sunday is the day that makes us Christian. Let us continue to pray that we may gather again soon in our churches on Sunday.
Paul reminds us that it was through Baptism that we received the Spirit and were made members of Christ’s Body—the Church. The Holy Spirit is given to us in every sacrament. When the apostles baptized and laid hands on adults, they initiated them with both the sacramental effects of Baptism and Confirmation. In our Latin rite, it was discerned that this laying on of hands should remain with the bishops in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism and Confirmation became two sacraments often celebrated firstly when a person is a child and the latter a little later on in life. In Confirmation, we are given that gift of the Spirit that calls us to witness to Christ and His presence in our lives. I believe this Pentecost gives us a wonderful opportunity to think about how we can witness in our own lives to Christ’s victory over death. To be a Christian is not just to speak lovingly to people. A Christian is called to witness to Christ and the power of His resurrection. We do this by belonging to the community of believers and continuing Christ’s work in our daily lives. Sometimes I think the best witness we can give to our neighbours is by just going to Mass and speaking of the place that Christ has in our lives. During these days that we cannot go to Mass, perhaps we can witness by speaking to others of what we miss about attending Mass or perhaps we might resolve to bring a friend to Church once we are able to gather again.
Because the Eucharist is Christ, it is the source and summit of the Church and our life as Christians. As Jesus appears to His disciples in today’s Gospel, He says to them “Peace be with you.” This is the same peace that He shares with us before we receive Him in the Eucharist at every Mass. The Eucharist is the sacrifice that Jesus has told us to make “in memory of me” in order that we might be His people and know His presence in our lives. He has promised us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day…Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” As we recount the day of Pentecost, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we recall how we too received this same gift of the Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist and long for the time that we might do so again in our churches. Because He has made us members of His Body through these sacraments, we know that Jesus abides with each of us during this time of crisis. Through the Holy Spirit, we know the peace of Christ and are certain that He is with us. However, as we are kept from our churches, let us look forward to the day that we might once again be inside them with the Lord, so that we might be strengthened to proclaim His love all the more fervently.
This Pentecost, instead of being locked in our churches with Christ, like the early disciples, we are locked out of our churches on account of COVID 19. This causes all of us sadness. Happily, because the Holy Spirit has been sent upon the Church, and all of us through Baptism have been made members of Christ’s Body, we know that Christ remains with us and abides in us. This is so because of the sacraments that we have celebrated together and will celebrate again in the community of believers which is the Church, Christ’s Body on earth. Let us use this time of separation from our communities to ask the Lord to help us realize what a gift the Church and the sacraments are. It is through them that we have come to know Christ’s love for us and to be made His people. Pentecost celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and reminds us that we, the members, are the living Church on earth. It also focuses us on the reality that we are only the Church because of what Christ did for us on Easter Sunday and that we are called to live and celebrate that gift through our baptisms on Sunday at the Eucharist with our community, the Church.
On this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and hope that we may soon celebrate Christ’s resurrection again on a Sunday together by receiving His Body in the sacrament of the Eucharist which He has given us as a commemoration of His life, death and resurrection.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.