Acts 2: 1-11; Gal 5: 16-25; John 20: 19-23
One of the first images that crossed my mind as I read this gospel this week was the words that are etched on the Statue of Liberty of “the huddled masses yearning to be free”. It’s the image that strikes me as we, now have traveled through fifty days of Easter only to find ourselves once again in John’s Gospel, back on Easter Sunday even as we celebrate Pentecost, locked in the upper room. There they are, a huddled mass, beat up, broken down, group of disciples, yearning to be free and not yet knowing even what it is that they desire to be freed from in their lives, still running from the outer authorities when an internal freedom is most desired. It’s Easter. The Spirit is breathed into them. And yet, appears no freedom. No liberation from death. Merely a huddled mass, yearning to be free.
We speak a lot of freedom in this country and for many over the centuries, it was and has been the place of refuge, but as you delve more deeply into the spiritual life and learning the promptings of the Spirit, you learn more and more that we are far from being a free nation and a free people, in the sense of freedom that the disciples yearned for on that Easter day, now Pentecost, and that we yearn for in our own lives. If you could imagine them in that room, there they are, fearful, probably smells with them all huddled in, in lock-down, there is nothing that speaks of Spirit and life, rather, quite the opposite. The upper room has become their tomb. Merely a huddled mass, yearning to be free.
None of us knows how long it would have taken before the internal reality of having the Spirit breathed into them would take to come to fruition in their lives, other than what we have heard and listened to in Acts of the Apostles this season. We know, following John’s Gospel, they leave that upper room still wondering and still living with fear of their own lives, or at least the lives that they had made for themselves. They left it all behind to follow him but now once again, they will be called forth to leave it all behind but with a greater understanding of what it is they are to leave behind. This huddled mass, truly yearning to be free and liberated from death will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving of themselves. Yes, will pay the ultimate price of their physical death but before that comes to be, they will be asked to give up themselves, even the way they have related to who they thought god was, who they thought they were, and it is only through the action of the Spirit being breathed upon them can that begin to break forth in their lives, a Spirit that has been from the beginning, leading them to this point of conversion and liberation. They will have to let go of their own ego, their false self, the illusion of who they thought they were and fall into Love, gently led by this Spirit breathed into them on this Easter and Pentecost. A huddled mass, yearning to be free will eventually set the world on fire of the mighty acts of God!
This is what Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians. He says that they have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. Now he doesn’t mean flesh in the sense that we think of it, being the body, but rather the illusion and the world that we create for ourselves, to protect us from pain and suffering, or living under the law, in his words. We become so attached to this illusion that we don’t even know we need to be freed, that we are the huddled masses. We begin to think as the wold thinks that freedom comes from violence, that freedom comes from getting the bigger and better, that freedom comes when we finally have succeeded. But for Paul and from a biblical perspective, freedom comes when the huddles masses that we are allow ourselves to die before we die through the promptings of this Spirit, falling freely into Love and becoming the manifestation of that love, our greatest gift we can offer the world.
We do finally see the effects of the Spirit when we move to Acts of the Apostles; who is already within is seen by the peoples. The Spirit comes upon them as she does each of us. The people are then called to mirror to the world God’s abundance that was celebrated 50 days following Passover on Pentecost. This is not the abundance that we would think of, in the sense of all that we have, that’s a pretty good indicator that we still believe the illusion that the disciples held onto, but rather the abundance of God’s love in and to and for the world. When we finally begin to trust this Spirit that is so close and yet so beyond us, our lives change for good and we manifest that love in the world and in the way we live our lives. The huddled masses become free and become witnesses of this freedom to the world and the mighty acts of God; finally, they become liberated from themselves which frees them from the external authorities as well, freeing them to face death and to live.
The problem for us, as the huddled masses, we aren’t always aware of this deeper desire within. We remain unhappy with life, unfulfilled, settled with something less than a life in the Spirit. We do it as individuals and as community. We become content being locked in our own upper rooms, filled with stench, complaining, living our lives in fear, stuck in the past, well, quite frankly, we become crusty and lifeless. Who the heck wants to live their live like that!?! Yet, we do because the demand of the Spirit breathed into us is so often too much to bear and we convince ourselves that somehow we are unworthy of such a life led by the Spirit with such freedom and liberation. The Spirit asks us to give up something that we hold tightly, our self, and that’s a tough shell to crack for all of us.
So as we celebrate this great feast of the Church, we come mindful that God remains patient with us and knows it takes time. None of us give up our lives very easily, but it doesn’t mean that the Spirit won’t and doesn’t continue to work within and through us. Even at this moment she’s being breathed into us, trying to set us free for life. A good sign, when we have vitality, excitement, energy, and an openness to change in our hearts and minds, that the Spirit is moving us to a new way of life where we manifest that love and become the mighty act of God. People have traveled to this country as the huddled masses yearning to be free, and many are freed from the external oppressors of this world by coming here, but God invites us and the Spirit leads us today to a deeper freedom, from the oppression of our self so that we may be witnesses of God’s love in the world and to be people of Spirit and life!