“Peace be with you” – The Feast of Pentecost


“Peace be with you” – The Feast of Pentecost

Published: 11th June, 2023

Pentecost 2023
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:26-end
John 20:19-23

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s gospel Jesus speaks to His disciples of peace: of that peace which is His gift to them. This reminds us of the promise of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s gospel, and the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace”.

Peace is such a sweet word, and rich in meaning. It is spoken by the angels at Jesus’ birth; it is spoken again by Jesus in the Upper Room, both at the Last Supper and in His Resurrection appearances. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you”. “Peace be with you”.

Peace is in many ways a strange word to use in connection with the events the Church has celebrated over the past Sundays. During these days of spring we’ve moved rapidly through the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and now we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the gathered disciples at Pentecost, in a scene that leads onlookers to speculate that the disciples are drunk. What has peace to do with any of this?

Peace is something that most people will claim to want, whatever they mean by it. And yet looking at the world around us, there is little evidence of a genuine desire for peace. There are the obvious brutal conflicts unfolding in Ukraine and elsewhere.

But there is also the sharp discord that divides so many societies: clashes between conservatives and liberals; those who are trustful of government and those who are not; racial and religious divisions; divisions between young and old; and any number of other causes of conflict which I need not go into now.

And it must be acknowledged that there is a certain pleasure to be taken in conflict, a pleasure that can sometimes be found by being on the winning side, a pleasure that can sometimes be found in the righteous indignation of those who see themselves as victims, and a pleasure that can sometimes be found too simply in looking down on one’s opponents, or in that pugnacious aggressive feeling of being up for a fight. Those who foster discord and division in our societies invariably find a ready audience for their messages of suspicion and hostility.

And this disease afflicts the Church as much as it afflicts secular society. The Church has always found it all too easy to draw sharp dividing lines, and then to hurl anathemas at those who find themselves on the wrong side of such lines. In our own day we find Christians drawn into sharp political and religious conflicts; and although there are thankfully numerous examples of Christians who quietly serve their brothers and sisters through lives of public service, the noisiest Christians in public life sadly tend to be those who have succumbed to the lure of fostering division and enmity.

And there is also the matter of inner peace. Perhaps just as most of us will claim to want peace when it comes to the world of politics, so too most of us will claim to want to have inner peace. But is that really so? Of course everyone likes the idea of an inner sense of peace. But inner peace can only come from a total giving over of oneself to God. And which of us can really and truly say that we want that? The truth is that we quite enjoy our double heartedness. There is a part of ourselves we are willing to offer to God; that’s all well and good, and it helps us to feel better about ourselves. But there is usually a part of ourselves we are quite determined to keep for ourselves; there are those dark corners of our hearts that we don’t want to open to the bright burning flame of Divine Love. We may say that we desire inner peace; who doesn’t? But when it comes to it, we nurture that double mindedness that makes inner peace impossible, and which guarantees us a life of inner struggle and turmoil.

And so we are brought back again to the Cross. The gift of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today is the culmination of a series of events that begin with Palm Sunday and Holy Week, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and His betrayal, trial and death. It is through Jesus’ self-renunciation and self-offering that the Holy Spirit is given. It is through Jesus’ willingness to stand in the place of sinners that the Holy Spirit is given. It is through Jesus’ renunciation of the right to judge or look down on anyone else, and His acceptance of the profound humiliation of the Cross, it is through these things that the Holy Spirit is given.

Thank God that it is through the work of Jesus that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given. And thank God that Jesus is faithful to the Church even when the Church is flawed and failing. Thank God that when we indulge in childish self-assertion, petty games of hate and blame, manipulative strategies of division and discord, the Holy Spirit continues to be at work in the ministry and liturgy and sacraments and fellowship and prayers of the Church.

The first disciples did not go chasing after the Holy Spirit. Their role was passive; the initiative was God’s alone. Their part was to remain together, obedient and faithful in the breaking of bread and in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and in the prayers. God did the rest.
And so too for us. If we desire that peace which the world cannot give, let us wait patiently and obediently on the Lord. We do not need to go chasing after novelties, nor do we need to go about winning arguments or asserting the righteousness of our way of looking at the world. But we do need to be willing to bring our whole selves to the table, just as the Lord brings His whole precious self to the Table. And so we come to meet Him here, our hearts open anew to the gift of His Holy Spirit, that we may know that peace which is His promise and His gift.

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.