Two Pentecost Stories

John 20:19-23
Acts 2:1-21
"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" - Jesus

Pentecost is coming. For those outside the loop, Pentecost is the third great holiday of the church. It arrives after Christmas and Easter as a celebration of the Holy Spirit’s arrival and the formation of the Christian church. This story is told in the Bible in two places. In Acts chapter 2, the disciples and other followers of Jesus are gathered an upper room near Jerusalem’s busy marketplace. The Holy Spirit falls upon them and they all begin to sing and shout. Peter goes out on the balcony and tells the curious crowd that this was no ordinary drunkard’s party. The spirit had come upon them so that they could form a church and that anyone who believed could join with them. About 3,000 people joined that day.

That tale has so many fun details that we usually forget about the other Pentecost story. In John chapter 20, ten disciples are gathered on Easter evening in a locked room. They are afraid to go outside, just as we are today. Suddenly, Jesus is with them. Now, does he chastise them about being afraid to go outside? No. Instead he gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and speaks to them about the need to build community, even when it is difficult.

The keystone of this quieter Pentecost, this arrival of the Holy Spirit to a small group gathered inside in order to be safe, was the use of that spirit to bring healing and forgiveness. Jesus repeated something he probably had told the disciples countless times; you have the power within yourselves to forgive each other.

One lesson that we are learning with great difficulty during this time of self-quarantine is that we have the power within us to forgive each other. We can no longer avoid our spouse or children after we quarrel. We must intentionally restore community within our home -- what? A dozen times a day. Jesus says, “Peace be with you… if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” (John 20:19, 23)

This quieter Pentecost preceded the noisy one by 50 days. Despite our human desires, it may be again fifty days between Pentecost celebrations. In most places, it is not safe for us to go outside our locked rooms. Crowds of 3,000 are certainly unhealthy. It was important that Jesus first teach the Church how to be a lock-down group – building an intimate community and practicing forgiveness – before he could trust them with larger public gatherings. 

I’m wondering if God isn’t teaching the Church today the same lesson. What about our nation? Have we lost sight of the fact that the power lies within us to forgive each other? Neither party has welcomed the intrusion of the coronavirus into our political process. Both parties have tried to make hay with it, but neither has been helped. Being forced to forgive those we are isolated with may be good practice for healing the partisan divide of our nation. That, at least, is my prayer. Come Holy Spirit, Come.

The small group Pentecost comes first
Pentecost Sunday