Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering?
And shall it be said that my eve was in truth my dawn?”
These words from Kahlil Gibran’s book “The Prophet” came to mind as I was going through this week’s readings. Having lived in the city of Orphalese for 12 years, Al Mustafa the Prophet is about to board the ship which will take him back home. At that moment people come from all parts of the city, and the book narrates the Prophet’s wise parting words about different topics to the people he got to love.
As a faith community, we are in a time when, after Christ’s Resurrection, the Church’s liturgy is preparing us for his return to Heaven and the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit. We re-listen to the final words of Jesus, as he gathers his disciples during the Last Supper. We hear Jesus promising the gift of the Holy Spirit. And we see the first communities of Christians being born.
Like all beginnings, the birth of the first Christian communities did not happen without problems. People had to adjust to new realities, to let go of what they were used to for hundreds of years. In this case, they now had to learn how to allow themselves be guided by God’s Spirit.
Perhaps the magic word here is “new”. As St Paul would write to the Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The New Jerusalem of this week’s second reading is no more the city-symbol of one people. It’s gates welcome people from all corners of the world. Some of the early believers found difficulty in accepting this new, universal opening, this new way of being Church. It was not easy to let go of their old cults, rituals and belief-systems. In this case the leaders of that first community were mature enough to come together, pray and talk about the issue. The end result was a strong show of unity, embodied in a letter they sent to all believers urging them not to be disturbed by those who were not willing to embrace the new. Perhaps the most powerful statement in this letter is when they wrote “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. For them the presence of the Holy Spirit is so real that it seems he was physically with them at the discussion table. As a consequence of this, the believers could find peace. They need not be troubled any more.
This is precisely what Jesus had promised on that Thursday evening. His words echo like balm in times of confusion, trouble or fear. “Do not let your hearts be troubled … do not let them be afraid … Peace I leave with you.” This was supposed to be the effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit who was to be sent to the believers. Jesus calls him the “paraclete” or “advocate”, literally meaning one who is called to be with, to accompany.
We are not alone. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure, he wanted to make sure that they understood the fact that they would never be abandoned. Christ’s departure only implied a new way of having God at their side. Indeed, what seemed to be the evening of Jesus’ life became dawn.