Pentecost Sunday - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2015

How do you handle symbolic visions?

In his collection of prophecies, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a vision he had of God that launched him on his prophetic mission.

He was in the temple. He saw God seated high on a throne. Around him were seraphs [or angels]. The whole temple shook wildly and was filled with clouds of incense smoke.  Isaiah was terrified, becoming intensely conscious of his unworthiness, and the sinfulness of the people among whom he lived.  One of the seraphs took a flaming coal from the fire beneath the altar, and touched the lips of Isaiah, proclaiming, “Your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged”.  Then Isaiah heard God ask, “Whom shall I send?” and the now-purged Isaiah cried out, “Here I am, send me.” 

Last week we celebrated Luke’s description of what we have come to call the Ascension of Christ. I believe it would be better to call it the Enthronement of Christ.  As Luke described the scene, we had Jesus lifted up and enthroned at the right hand of God. There was the surrounding cloud of smoke, and we had interpreting angels as well.

Luke was describing in graphic symbol the mystery behind the Resurrection of the crucified Christ. At the Incarnation God had become human, in the process emptying himself, as St Paul put it, of his divinity. The divine was humanised, while somehow still remaining divine. With resurrection, the humanity of Christ was received into the inner world of God. The humanity of Christ was divinised, without ceasing to be human.

That Enthronement of Christ is complemented today in Luke’s description of the follow-up. No longer do we have Isaiah but a large group of disciples. We have the whole house shaken as by a cyclone. We have the flaming fire purging the sinful disciples, and equipping them for their mission to the sin-scarred world. Luke then explained, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages” [that is, to communicate with the whole world].

John approached the same mystery in a more subdued, but intensely intimate way. No terrifying cyclone, but Jesus simply showing up among the frightened disciples in their locked room and greeting them “Peace be with you!”  The message of mission was clearly there, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” There was no flaming coal purging their lips, but the intensely intimate gesture of Jesus breathing on them, inviting them to “receive the Holy Spirit”, and equipping them to confront the world’s sin with the offer of unmerited forgiveness.

God is love. The Holy Spirit is the joyful dance of love of Father and Son. We are sent to the world. What we have to bring it is no more and no less than the joyful love of God. When thinking of love, I prefer the warm symbol of Jesus intimately breathing into us than Luke’s more rousing symbols of cyclone and tongues of fire.

Over the past week the Royal Commission has confronted us with a hurting world and a hurting Church, indeed, a sinful and bewildered Church in a rightly angry and hostile world. Yet despite its sin, at its heart the Church remains the Body of Christ, which in this very moment in other quarters of the globe is enlightening and empowering countless martyrs.

Hurting and humiliated as we might be, we are still being sent to this world and indeed to our brothers and sisters in our Church. We do not need to have answers or explanations – they are hard to come by, anyway. What we do have is simply the Holy Spirit breathed into us by the risen Jesus – the creative, life-giving, healing, saving and joyful love of God. We can lovingly listen to those who want to talk, gently support those who need support and humbly respect those who feel angry and even hostile.

To give that Spirit, we must first receive it. We need deliberately, silently, personally to open ourselves to be first loved by God.