Second Sunday of Easter, rcl yr b; Sunday, April 7th, 2024
ACTS 4:32-35; PSALM 133; 1 JOHN 1:1-2:2; JOHN 20:19-31

Receive the Holy Spirit

In John’s Gospel,  the final thing that happens just as Jesus dies on the cross, is that he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” But there is a liberty here in translation that can lead to us missing some important connections in John’s Gospel. There is no “his” in the original greek; there’s just “the spirit.” In this way, we can see a double meaning here; by saying that Jesus “gives up the ghost” (as the King James puts it) we can hear that he both dies, and that he gives over the Holy Spirit in his moment of death.

And we know this, or at least, I’ve been preaching about this for a few weeks: John wants to connect everything he can to the cross. On the cross, the great hinge of history turns: Jesus gathers all people, and all things to himself in a healing embrace.

So it would make sense that if we are living in a new era after the cross, that the Holy Spirit would be given from the cross in order that we could lean into this new era: a new era of life, of forgiveness and reconciliation, of self-giving, a new era of a new sort of grace.

Though Jesus may give over the Spirit from the cross, when he gives it over again in the upper room, he gives the Spirit in a much more personal way. On the cross, as the new era dawns, the Spirit is given over without conditions; in the upper room, we hear more about what it means more specifically for those disciples to receive the Spirit.

To receive the Holy Spirit in the upper room is to be sent like Jesus: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So the connection to the cross remains, and it’s just not Jesus’s cross anymore; if disciples are to be sent as the Father sends Jesus, this will mean—by the power of the Holy Spirit—that we are sent to live a life of obedience, even if that means living a cruciform life, that is, to receive the Holy Spirit is to receive a life marked by self-giving, and forgiveness and reconciliation.

As Jesus reconciles the world to God on the cross, we are invited into that ministry, but now in a personal and more limited creaturely way; if Jesus’s work on the cross is to reconcile all people, and all things to himself by drawing us all into that suffering embrace, then we too are to forgive the sins of others: “Receive the Holy Spirit,” says Jesus. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

What Jesus does universally and completely, now we do the same in a creaturely and limited way: forgiveness and reconciliation, self-giving. Which is pretty heavy work, if you’ve ever had to really forgive someone, and truly reconcile with someone.

Ok. This all does seem a bit dour at this point. To receive the Holy Spirit is not to be crucified too! To do what Christ does for the world, but for and with one another: we are each of us now sent into the world as the Father sent Jesus, to live his life but in our creaturely, bounded, and finite ways.

And if all this seems a little abstract, then we can look to Acts to help us out. Acts is the telling of the story of the life of the church, of the life of the followers of Jesus that takes place after the cross, after the resurrection, and after the ascension; that is, we get a glimpse, a small little peep through the keyhole, and into the cruciform life of the earliest church.

And what does it look like, this cruciform life of self-offering and sacrifice, and of reconciliation and forgiveness? Luke gets beautifully poetic about it. He maybe … romanticizes it just a little bit. “ … the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” They were reconciled to one another.

My hunch is that Luke doesn’t show us, or tell us, about all the nitty-gritty fighting, about the metaphorical missed punches and the strongly worded emails that precede this peace, this peace that comes by way of the Holy Spirit.

You can be of one heart and one soul with a group of fellow believers. I can testify to that. But it sure doesn’t come without some work, some apologies, the truth, and a willingness to be open and vulnerable. This is our cruciform work—we get on our knees, we implore others for forgiveness, we confess our faults before God and one another. And we forgive one another. And in this we way, we are of one heart and one soul, following the way of Jesus on the cross.

But there’s more to this glimpse into the earliest church. In this community, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Were you wondering what self-offering might look like? Did you think to yourself, “yeah I give a bit to the church and a bit to charity.” Luke’s description is a far taller order than that. Everything is given here; everything is shared.

Not only that, if you had land or houses, it was sold and these proceeds were laid at the apostles’ feet. Come budget time, we (perhaps rightly) groan a bit about our apportionment, the money we send to church house to support shared diocesan ministry, in particular the bishop’s ministry, bishop Todd being our apostle. After reading this: that just about all things, all wealth, is laid at the feet of the apostles, perhaps we should be glad that Todd only asks for some things, and not for everything.

Though I would add that in this account, that even though all that wealth was laid at the feet of the apostles, it was not in order that the apostles might be made more wealthy; there is a second action that depends on the first, and that is that the apostles, upon receiving that wealth, distribute it among those who have need. We give, in order that what we give is given away again.

And this is, on a smaller scale, why we ask you to give to the church from your own wealth—it is given not to enrich me, or to keep the doors open; it is given that it might be given again, it supports ministry, mine in one way and yours in another. What you give is given again in order that we might care for one another, that we might love our neighbour and welcome the stranger, and have beautiful spaces to worship God in beauty and holiness.

This life of a people reconciled to one another, this life of costly self-giving and sacrifice, which is our creaturely, limited, Holy Spirit inspired, and finite way to live out what Jesus does on the cross … this cruciform life can be lived out by us because Christ is crucified, and the Holy Spirit is given; we can forgive one another and be reconciled, because we are already forgiven and reconciled in Christ, we can give of what we have, because Jesus has already given it all already. Jesus has given, and now we can give what he gives to us. This is our witness to the resurrection: that we offer of ourselves, that we are reconciled, that we are forgiven … that we live a life of death that leads to new life.

Acts tells us that living this life, “great grace was upon them all.” Great grace! May this great grace, the life of self-giving, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, continue to grow in us with thanksgiving to our Lord and Saviour, the crucified one who lives, and who gives that life to us.

The Revd Cannon Preston Parson PhD