I believe we in the Catholic Tradition do not do Pentecost. At least, I believe we do not do Pentecost well. I mean if I said the four major events, or points, in the story of our salvation are, the crib, the cross, the empty tomb…how many of us are able to name the fourth as the Upper Room? I think we do the crib well. Even with all the commercialism and razzmatazz, if we have any little bit of faith at all, we tend to look at the crib, and at least nod at the little baby. Hopefully we do more. Even on a most peripheral level I still love Christmas. Of course it’s not the same when one’s parents are gone, but thus far, I have managed not to buy into, the rather cynical notion, that it’s just for the children. I still dream of a white one, I never open my presents until Christmas morning, I love the singing, especially Adeste Fideles and Silent Night, and I continue to be thankful the Holy Spirit still nudges me to tears of gratitude: deep gratitude that God loved the world so much, that he sent his Son, as a helpless baby, so that none of us would be lost. The Cross, and the irresistible drama, that is Holy Week, draws us all in, and most of us can unite some personal suffering, loss, or shame, to the Passion of Jesus. Whilst the Empty Tomb is not as accessible to us, not least of all, because it is empty there is a yawning absence. There is no little baby and no crucified Lord. Most of us know, that it is a good absence, a good space, because it is the absence of suffering. Suffering, sickness and death, have all been beaten. However a pertinent question for today is, how many of us make it to the Upper Room?
If you are planning on getting there, leave on time, remember it is ‘upper,’ there are stairs. Remember also, you may not find it, that easily. Remember that they are under siege, and they will be choosy about who finds them. Maybe, no harm to note, they are terrified, and terror does strange things to people. Of course, don’t forget the doors are locked. They are wise to have the doors locked. They are wise indeed to be terrified. They are on the wanted list, men and women. Mug shots of many of them, are circulating around the city. Some suspect them of being rebels, associated with the local paramilitary, the Real Zealots: others see them as a crowd of blasphemers. Some questions are ‘rumbling’ along in the background. Is the Upper Room a real place? Who is in it? How long does the siege of the Upper Room last? Do we get there? Do we want to? If you get in, can you get out?
Most of us recognise the Upper Room as a place where the companions of Jesus had gathered and where the church was born through a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. However few of us will recognise the Upper Room as a process or a stage that we must pass through. In fact the Upper Room is a rite of passage. Successful negotiating of the Upper Room is the hallmark of a mature Christian. It’s only after one’s graduation, from the Upper Room, that we can call ourselves, adult followers of Jesus. This graduation could be marked by requesting the Sacrament of Confirmation, or not. Those who felt ready for it, could request it, at whatever stage they saw fit. For some, this might be at twenty or thirty years of age, or at seventy, but never at thirteen. This would mean dismantling the conveyor belts of religion, and yet, respecting the uniqueness of the pilgrim’s individual spiritual journey. Instead of the thousands of children, and the parents, going through the conformation pre- party service, Confirmation would be celebrated on Pentecost Sunday with maybe forty or fifty women and men who have reflected on, prepared for, and shown an understanding of this beautiful Sacrament of the Holy Spirit. What do we mean by graduating from the Upper Room?
We make progress in the Upper Room, when we acknowledge that we are under siege: when we are able to name what stalks us. Unmasking the threat, naming the dragon, is a huge step in inching through the room. The room had been a less safe spot than they realised. The difficulty is, it becomes so familiar to us, that it is easy to get stuck. The mire we flounder around in, may be our job, house, behaviour or relationship. With the naming of the paralysis that binds us, begins our first tentative steps towards freedom. It is here in the presence of the faith community that we seek the Spirit. With the arrival of the Spirit, everything is changed, renewed. How come this group of nervous wrecks, jumping at any unexplained sound, charge courageously out of that Upper Room, propelled into a life of unstinting gospel service, culminating, for most of them, in martyrdom? The answer is, of course, God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit can be a still gentle breeze or a growing fire within us. With its arrival though, is a sense of the sacred. It is characterised by a new awareness. Prudence helps us to be humble, and yet Courage urges us to speak the truth. The positioning of the Upper Room is crucial. It is after the Cross and the Empty Tomb. You don’t drop in, or stumble upon the Upper Room, no rather, actually you set out, quite deliberately to find it, negotiate the locks, risk getting stuck in it. It is only then, having acknowledged the chains that we are bound by, we can pray, with a free heart,
Come Holy Spirit.