The readings on Pentecost Sunday highlight two moments of ‘reception’ of the Holy Spirit. Chronologically, the first is that in the Gospel, when Jesus passes through a locked door, turning the fear of the disciples into joy, and breathes on them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. This simple event is quite different from the much more dramatic Pentecost event when the apostles, again hidden away in a room together, experience the Holy Spirit as a powerful wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak foreign languages.
What unites these two accounts? In both cases what is emphasised is the activity of God and the receptivity of Christian believers. In neither case had the disciples done anything special to invite the Holy Spirit, yet they appear to offer no resistance to what occurs, and in both cases the Holy Trinity is the protagonist, the ‘mover and shaker’ in the scene: ‘As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit’.
In our time, we prefer activity to receptivity: we want to be in the driving seat of our lives, not merely open to the possibilities that our life might propose. If someone fails to grasp hold of their life, their happiness, their dreams, we think of this as a moral failing. These people have no ‘guts’, no ‘drive’.
Pentecost teaches us to think twice about this hyperactive mentality. We must be responsible, of course, but if some of the greatest gifts in life are in fact beyond our little reach, and accessible only to those who have opened their hearts to receiving them, then perhaps learning to receive is one of the most important things we can do in life.
Learning to receive, however, is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Our culture has trained us to think of our worth in terms of what we produce and achieve, and this way of thinking can infect our prayer life too. It becomes difficult simply to rest in the presence of God, receiving his love – try it the next time you are praying and you will see what I mean. We begin to feel uncomfortable, to feel that we should be doing something, saying something. If this is what you experience, simply allow Christ to enter into the locked room of your heart and hear his words again: ‘Peace be with you… Receive the Holy Spirit’.