“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked ….”
Pentecost is the feast of locked doors – that are suddenly blown open!
It’s the feast of isolation, of fear, of suspicion, of betrayals, of accusations, of abandonment, of near despair – all dismissed by a resurrected Jesus whose first words are “Peace be with you”!
No recriminations. No finger-pointing. Just peace. Just forgiveness.
Pentecost is the feast of a bunch of people who failed miserably and who wanted to do nothing else but slink away, go into hiding, and wallow in their shame.
The Spirit of Second Chances breaks down the door and, with a love so vast, the ugliest kind of guilt and humiliation is instantly forgiven. The Spirit of New Life rushes in like a great wind and embraces each one of them with a sense of peace so profound that the doors of their souls fly open and a fire lights their hearts.
Then, an even greater surprise takes place: Jesus chooses them to be the wounded, forgiven healers that will preach the Good News of God’s great love! The very same ones who betrayed him and fled from him are the ones who will begin a new community – a community eventually made up of people just like you and me.
I would submit that this gospel passage of Pentecost confronts each one of us with a single challenge: where are the shut doors in your life? Where do you find your own self isolated in fear, living behind locked doors, hanging on to your anger and shame, refusing to come out of hiding?
There’s a priest who tells the story of a forty-one year old man named Tom who was dying of AIDS. His parents lived in so much shame because of this that they literally locked him in an upstairs bedroom so that no one could see him.
The priest then tells how when he was finally allowed to go up to his room and visit with him, he bent over to kiss Tom on the forehead and then took his hand in his own. The emaciated, bed-ridden man whispered to the priest with tears streaming down his face, “No one touches me anymore.”
The priest went on to report that, though he tried repeatedly to engage his parents in conversation about this, they refused to discuss the matter. The walls they built around the issue of their son were high and thick. They wouldn’t give an inch.
But, it wasn’t just his parents who withdrew behind locked doors in their heart, almost all of his friends refused to answer his phone calls and notes. As a result, Tom went through waves of despair and loneliness.
Fortunately, right before Tom died, his only brother broke through the wall of silence and embraced him. He told him, “I love you. I don’t care what you have. I love you.” His mother broke through soon after that and held him to her heart.
But his father remained behind a closed door – until Tom died. At the wake, he finally broke down and opened the closed door of his soul, and wept with shame over his neglect and abandonment.
Shut doors were finally opened.
This is what Pentecost is really all about. Not just something miraculous and stupendous that happened some 2000 years ago, but something that can happen in each of our lives right now.
It’s about the opening of locked doors in our lives. It’s about the forgiving of the sins of others. It’s about living in peace, and escaping the tyranny of fear and shame and meanness and judgment. It’s about releasing the Holy Spirit held captive within us and allowing us all to find a new dwelling in peace, that same peace that Jesus promised us on this day of freedom, the day we call Pentecost.
Keep in mind that the very last words of John’s gospel contain these powerfully hopeful words: “… he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”
That Spirit of forgiveness and peace and reconciliation is still with us. All we are asked to do is open the doors of our hearts. Then we can forgive. Then we can be freed of all our guilt and shame.
And then we can sing loudly with the psalmist in today’s liturgy: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”
Again, where are the closed doors in your life? Where is the shame and the guilt and the meanness that needs to be freed?
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.