There was a widely told joke back in the 1980s that went something like this: “Ah, kids today… they are surprised to learn that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.” Well, the years go by and now kids say: “Who is Paul McCartney?” Such is the passage of time.
I was reminded of this recently when I met some friends who I hadn’t seen in many, many years. We were reminiscing about college and that made me feel old. Our waitress, a young woman, came by and I handed her my camera to take our picture. She said sure… and then proceeded to look at the back, holding the camera out like a dirty diaper and poking at the screen. This is the cellphone camera generation and I had to show her how to look through a viewfinder and click the shutter button. Talk about making me feel old…
But this happens. It is about the passage of time and as you progress through it, you gain a different sense of it. You start to reminisce and remember how things used to be. The past begins to fade a bit and we often romanticize it the further from it we become. And sometimes, it can even seem strange or quaint.
Today, we celebrate the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and the birth of our Church. Critically important events, sure, but they happened a really long time ago. Way back in the past.
Why do you think we remember and celebrate what happened so long ago? Because it’s the very basis of our faith? Yes. Because the stories are meant to teach us? Sure. Because we, the present Church, can be inspired by these stories of the first Church? Definitely.
But how relevant is that all to us today? The people in that room all had the benefit of witnessing, of seeing, of experiencing the Resurrection first hand! The Gospel states that Jesus showed them his wounds and thus they recognized who he was. In the first reading, we hear that they felt a strong wind, saw great tongues of fire which landed onto them.
Seeing the Risen Jesus. Feeling powerful but unexplainable winds. Witnessing flying fire. How fortunate they were. Surely, they… the first Church… would truly believe.
But that was in the past. I myself have never seen Jesus standing in front of me showing me his wounds and I have never observed flying tongues of fire. I don’t really know what flying tongues of fire would look like. Have you ever seen anything like that? It all seems rather strange and quaint in a way.
I appreciate being inspired by these ancient stories but I’d like something… a little more current please. Something that is more decidedly NOW.
Jesus knew this. Jesus knew we would feel this way. So these two gifts were given to us, to you and to me: the Advocate and our Church.
First, the Advocate. The Holy Spirit was meant to be here with us now. Just as the Holy Spirit entered those who stood in that room, we are all called to invite this protector, this guide, this companion, this Advocate to enter into our lives and hearts. Now.
And this Church. It has been said that the greatest evidence of the Resurrection is the Church that followed after. Having been terrorized and given every reason to not continue on with the faith, we ended up with a small band of disciples and followers who sought to transform the world. And they did. With courage and conviction and great faith.
Today, you and I carry on this work. You and I are evidence of the Resurrection. And though our Church is sometimes criticized or even persecuted, though we are thought to be old fashioned or out of touch, and though we sometimes hold views considered unpopular or crazy… the world needs us. They need us. Because our Church is the greatest force of light and good that the world has ever known, even with all our blemishes.
That’s not a two thousand years ago thing. It’s a right this very second thing and you and I are the ones invited to grab a hold of the Advocate and to proceed forward… with courage and conviction and great faith.
Pentecost is about something that happened two thousand years ago.
Pentecost is about this very moment in time.
This very moment. Our moment.
We know what that first Church did with theirs. What shall we do with ours?