Saturday, April 26, 2008

Handing On The Spirit

(6th Sunday of Easter, A)

Easter is the longest of the privileged seasons of our Christian year, but it always seems to go by very quickly. And again we find ourselves in the last couple of weeks in the great fifty days of Easter. So where are we left? The Lord’s Resurrection, which we recall every Sunday, we have celebrated in a most special and joyful way in these days. We have heard each week of the miraculous progress of the early Church of the apostles, empowered as it was by the overwhelmingly good news of the Gospel and the power flowing from Christ’s Resurrection. But what about us, we who sometimes seem to live in a time and place so far removed from the events we hear about in the Sacred Scriptures?

It seems to me that the end of the Easter season, leading up as it does to the great feast of Pentecost, is exactly about this question. We live in that middle time, the time after the Ascension of Jesus to the Father and before his return at the end of time. Jesus Christ is present to us neither as he was present to his apostles, in the human life of Jesus of Nazareth, nor in the undeniable way he will present to the whole world when everything rolls back into God at the end of time. So for us who live in this “in between” time, how is Jesus Christ present to us?

In the Gospel we hear today, Jesus himself helps us to understand how his presence remains with us, his disciples, after he leaves us to return to the Father. He gives a few different names to the mysterious but very real Presence of himself that he leaves behind. He calls this Presence the “Spirit.” He calls it “love.” But most of all, he calls this Presence of himself remaining with us the Paraclete. Our translation of the Scriptures renders this word as “advocate.” But we could also translate paraclete as “comforter” or “helper.”

Jesus leaves us the Holy Spirit to be our helper, comforter, and advocate during our sojourn in this “in between” time. We are a people who remember what God has done for us in Christ, celebrating this Eucharist which is first of all a memorial of Christ’s work of our salvation on the Cross. We are a people who look forward to Christ’s return when all creation will come to its final destiny in God.

As we remember, on the one hand, what God has done for us in Christ, and look forward, on the other hand, to the final fulfillment of history at the end of time, we have as our advocate, helper and comforter the Holy Spirit who is the Presence of Jesus Christ abiding in his people. This Spirit which Jesus leaves with empowers us in so many ways, but I’ll just mention three:

First, as Jesus says, the Spirit is the spirit of Truth, and thus the Holy Spirit enables us to know and speak the truth revealed by God about who we are and what we are to do. And our aimless world of violence and manipulation, overshadowed as it is by the “culture of death,” needs this Truth very much. As St. Peter says today in the second reading, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” And it is the Spirit that enables to do this with courage, reverence, and gentleness.

Second, the Holy Spirit present among enables us to continue the work of Jesus in the world by becoming ourselves reconcilers, healers, and peacemakers. That is what it means to become the Body of Christ we receive in this Eucharist, to allow the saving and healing work of Jesus to continue in us.

Finally, the Holy Spirit empowers and compels us to pass on the grace we have received. In the first reading we hear about how Peter and John laid hands on the Samaritans that they might also the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean by Tradition; it is a “handing on” of the grace we have received in Christ. Our word tradition comes from the Latin verb trado, tradere, to hand on. It also comes into English as our simple word “trade” and is also the root word of “betray,” to hand someone over in the negative sense. As Peter and John handed on the Spirit of God, so we are also called to hand on the truth, faith, and grace we have received in Christ. From the apostles and martyrs down to our own mothers and fathers—both spiritual and biological—all of these made great sacrifices of themselves to hand on the faith and the Holy Spirit of God to us.

As Jesus handed over his life for us and as his Spirit was handed on to us by those who came before us, so it is now our privilege and work to continue to hand on the Holy Spirit.

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