Then I had to give that webinar last week, an introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and as I got into that, probably because of where my mind and heart had been with the GIFT presentation and my predilection for starting from liturgical experience, I decided to approach the RCIA from a "Pentecost perspective." What I mean is, anyone interested in RCIA has been at Mass for the last 90 days, through Lent and Easter, and remembers the experiences and texts of the Triduum. And the webinar was scheduled on the Thursday between Ascension and Pentecost, so mystagogy and preparation for all that was fresh in everyone's mind. So I decided to look at RCIA through the lens of its fulfilment, that is, through the ends of eucharistic life and mission, in order to consider how preparing catechumens, and for that matter, calling the unchurched into belief, might be based upon a vision of what we hope we all intend to be: apostles and martyrs.
The new creation that is Pentecost gets two different interpretations in the New Testament. One is the version in Acts, heard as this past Sunday's first reading; the second is from John, utterly different in delivery, but towards the same end, directed toward the mission of reconciliation. I gave an overview of this a few weeks ago, right after Easter, in a post called "The Fifty Hour Pentecost." But it is liturgically remarkable that this same brief gospel holds the center of the mystery both at the beginning of the Easter season (on Easter 2) and again on Pentecost, at the end of the season. This says to me that I should be paying special attention today, because the Church wants me to hear this gospel on two Sundays in two months, a unique occurrence in the lectionary cycle.
We get a lot of insight about Christ, the Father, and the Spirit in these few lines of John 20.
- The breath (spiritus) of Jesus is an act of creation, recalling Genesis.
- Shalom is the new normal, the conviction of Christ's living, abiding presence that overwhelms his death.
- This new creation is oriented toward mission: "I send you."
- The mission upon which the church is sent is the Father's mission. ("As the Father sent me...")
- The mission is related to God's forgiveness, and needs to be an visible manifestation of divine mercy. The church, in other words, we, ought to be a sacrament of the forgiveness of sin, the inalienable mercy of God, inviting, inviting, inviting. It's us or nothing. We have to be a clear alternative to "business as usual" in the world of Caesar: peace through violence and threats of violence. While some hear the end of Jesus's summons to forgiveness ("whose sins you shall retain...") as an authorization not to forgive, I hear the whole statement in context as saying, "What you do matters. My Father's forgiveness will be seen when you forgive. When you don't forgive, people will see that as God not forgiving. So for God's sake — forgive!"
But the issue, I suppose, is not just figuring that out, or admiring it, or disproving it, but doing something about it. And all of this reflection about mission and Trinity and the mystery of the paschal God sort of set us up for next Sunday, doesn't it? And just as urgently, it urges us with the voice of the white-robed strangers (angels? neophytes? are they the same?) from the Ascension story to do more than sit around gazing up into the sky. Christ is right here among us, in everything we do for others, and in all those whom we meet who are in need. We proclaim an alternative vision: an "empire" of mutual service, with an emperor-God who leads the way by washing feet and not clinging to godliness. The dying breath of Jesus is the breath of life that God breathes into the clay that is us, the church. "When you send out your breath, things are created again. You create the world all over again." Violence becomes service. Imperial might becomes bending down. Judges become healers. Let's believe in that world, and get busy living in it.