The miraculous appearance of Jesus among the disciples in a locked room shows that he is no longer constrained by physical limitations.
Although the disciples have been told by Mary Magdalene that she has experienced the risen Lord, they have not done so for themselves, and so are still fearful of the Jewish authorities who were so hostile to Jesus and brought about his execution. Once Mary’s message has been confirmed by their own experience, they respond with joy and the peace which the risen Jesus has bestowed on them.
Jesus “breathes” the Holy Spirit on them: at the moment of his expiring on the cross, he handed over his spirit to the two figures at the foot of the cross, his unnamed mother, who represents the community of disciples, and the anonymous disciple whom Jesus loved, who stands for the individual follower of Jesus. Earlier, the evangelist had observed that there was no Spirit since Jesus had not been glorified. For John, the crucifixion is the exaltation of Jesus in glory, so the Spirit can now be poured out. On the evening of Easter Day, the risen Jesus confers the Spirit on the assembled group of disciples to empower them to carry on his mission, which can only be accomplished with the presence of the Spirit of holiness. The peace that Jesus brings is not to be a comfort which allows the disciples to remain safely locked away, but will allow them to confront the world, just as Jesus did: we remember that the reason for Jesus’ mission is that “God loved the world”; it is in this spirit that the disciples are now to take up and continue Jesus’ work
This Gospel account is often referred to as “Little Pentecost”, as it is so different to the dramatic account of Luke, with its “mighty, rushing wind” and “tongues of fire”. Some writers refer to the Holy Spirit as “the forgotten person of the Trinity”: if this is true, it is very unfortunate indeed, since the Spirit is the life-force of the Church and should be the driving power in the life of the individual Christian. But like any source of power, it will remain unused unless it is connected to the person and actively engaged in the disciple’s life.
One way of understanding the Holy Spirit is to liken it to electricity, which can transform a simple light bulb, composed of metal and glass, into a source of light and heat, too bright to look at directly, too hot to handle unprotected. Perhaps some of us are reluctant to turn on the switch, afraid of what the Spirit might make us capable of. It can be more comfortable to stay in the locked room, safe from danger, real or imagined. That is not the purpose of the Spirit: it is to enable us to live as true disciples of Jesus and to teach others about our faith by example, if not by word. Often, attraction is more effective to others than direct and explicit promotion.
- In the New Testament, the term “spirit” is neuter in gender: the appropriate pronoun would be “it”.
- In the Hebrew scriptures, the term “spirit” is feminine in gender: the appropriate pronoun, therefore, would be “she”.
Pentecost is a Jewish festival (also known as the “Feast of Weeks”), commemorating God’s self-revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Law. (the Torah).
Switch on the light: consider the effects of the power of electricity. Apply this image to the Holy Spirit and yourself.