When our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, they were cast out of Paradise. The gates were closed to them and an angel with a flaming sword was set at the entrance to make sure they could not be let back in. They and their children would never again enjoy peace, abundance and a face-to-face friendship with God in an earthly paradise.
The Risen Lord has ascended to heaven to open the gates of Paradise up again for us. Whereas Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he was obedient unto death. With perfect obedience and love he gave his body as an offering for sin. Now the sin which kept heaven closed to us has been forgiven, and we enjoy the hope of everlasting life. We no longer live in despair separated from our God. Instead we fix our eyes on Jesus who has gone up to heaven to prepare a place for each of us who believe in him.
When Jesus ascends to heaven, the apostles are full of anticipation. What will happen next? Will Jesus establish his Kingdom on earth? They have seen marvelous things and are anxious to know what else they should expect. But Jesus tells them to stay in Jerusalem and wait. They will be "clothed with power from on high." Now that Jesus has ascended into heaven, he will send them the power to be his witnesses. This power is nothing else than the Holy Spirit who will rush upon them like a mighty wind compelling them to preach throughout all the world the words and deeds of the Risen Lord.
The gospels tell us that the apostles were filled with joy and were constantly proclaiming the wonders of God. It would seem that they would be ready to carry out the mission Jesus left for them. But something is missing. In fact, the most important element is missing. They still lack the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without that Spirit they would be unable to convince anyone that Jesus had risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. They would be like cars without gas or toys without batteries, unable to accomplish what they were made to do. And so Jesus tells them to wait in prayerful expectation for the Holy Spirit who will give conviction to their words, power to the deeds and make the hearts of all who hear them open to their message.
We who gather here today are assembled in prayer. We are the fruits of that gospel that was first preached by the Apostles. The Holy Spirit has touched our minds and hearts to welcome the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. We have also known what it is like to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring comfort to those who are sorrowful, to convince others of the truth of the faith or to offer helpful advice to someone facing a difficult decision. We know there was something more at work than our natural talents or insights. God was using us through the Holy Spirit which made us his temple at our baptism and confirmation.
The image of the apostles who gathered with Mary in prayerful anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit is a beautiful way for us to understand our mission as a church. We cannot always be busy doing something. We also have to make time to pray and to wait. As a parish community we very often feel the frustration of so many plans and programs which never seem to bear any fruit. We expect great things and are often disappointed. It is not because we lack dedication or commitment. It is not because we lack talent. It may be that the missing piece is the Holy Spirit. It is vital for us as a community of faith to pray often for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What does the Holy Spirit provide for us who are patient enough to wait for his anointing? First of all, he gives us guidance. He inspires us as to where we need to place our efforts and energies. Secondly, he gives us the words which will convince minds and open hearts. He inspires us with the message that will touch those who hear us. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit goes ahead of us preparing the hearts and minds of those who will hear us so that they will be fertile ground for the message we will deliver to them. Finally, the Holy Spirit consoles us when things fail to go as planned. He encourages us to continue doing God's work even when we are seeing no positive results.
What we are saying about our life as a parish we could also say about our family lives, our marriages, our personal lives and even our jobs. Waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit is an important piece of every aspect of our lives no matter how ordinary or how unimportant it may seem. The Holy Spirit wants to influence our whole life, to sanctify it and make it pleasing to God.
Jesus has ascended to heaven and opened up the gates of paradise for us. In these days leading up to the feast of Pentecost, we wait and pray that he will once again pour out his Holy Spirit upon each of us and his whole Church. We pray with tears in our eyes because we know how often we fall short of the great commission to spread the gospel to all nations. We pray with deep need because without the Holy Spirit we can do nothing. We pray with faith because the Risen Christ is Lord of all. And we pray with anticipation knowing that God will do great things for us who believe.