The crowning glory of Easter is this feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Promised by Jesus, the Spirit was sent by the Father through the Son to the apostles and the waiting community of the faithful. While a more public Pentecost is related to us by the Acts of the Apostles, a more intimate and private reception of the Holy Spirit happened on the very day of the Resurrection, as narrated in the gospel of John.

The Lord Jesus appeared to the fearful apostles in the Upper Room. Jesus’ first act towards them was to grant the gift of peace. Why peace? The Lord sensed the terror in the hearts of his apostles. Who would not be afraid? The apostles must be so terrified at the thought that the Jewish leaders were now going after them. Jesus’ gift of peace flowed like a balm of love and assurance. The apostles will not live in hiding, shame, or fear all their lives. Full of peace, they will go out on mission.

Then Jesus proceeded to give his real gift, his greatest gift: “Receive the Holy Spirit!” In his life, Jesus spoke and acted with power and authority, with gentleness and conviction, thanks to the Spirit who was always in him. Now this Spirit entered the hearts of the apostles too. And the next words of the Lord will be easier to comprehend: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven; what you do not forgive is also not forgiven.”

Why such a unity between the gift of the Spirit and forgiveness? In giving his peace, Jesus showed his sensitivity to the fear of his beloved. In giving the task of forgiveness, Jesus showed awareness of the guilt in their hearts. Jesus’ enemies killed him but his apostles’ betrayal, flight and abandonment hurt him just as much. Huddled together, the apostles were “afraid of the Jews,” but also afraid of the Lord they betrayed, and afraid of themselves, for they knew too well how capable they were of cowardice and infidelity.

In giving the Spirit, Jesus forgave his apostles weaknesses. In making them instruments for the forgiveness of others, Jesus was making complete the process of healing, restoration and re-creation of these men’s identities and mission. They were not to live in guilt and shame forever. They were to serve as models of men fully reconciled with God and with one another and with their conscience.

Is there anything you fear today? Is there a mistake, weakness, or sin that fills you with crippling guilt? Is there anything in your mind or heart that paralyzes your potential to act lovingly and and serve tenderly? In faith, let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. Let us receive his courage. Let us receive his joy. Let us live again peaceful and healed. Come, Spirit of peace and forgiveness, into our hearts!