Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"The Other Pentecost Story"

John 20: 19-23

Acts 2: 1-13


        Today, we mark the beginning of the liturgical season we call “Pentecost.”  This morning, we

remember specifically the Pentecost episode recorded in Acts chapter 2; that fiftieth day after Passover when

the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with great power, and sent them into the

streets of Jerusalem to boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a language which everyone

could understand.  But did you know that there is another Pentecost story; another narrative of the

disciples receiving the Holy Spirit?  It’s tucked in the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, and is often

overlooked.  John’s Pentecost story doesn’t shout out to us the way the Acts story does.  In John,

there are no rushing winds; no tongues of fire; no speaking in other languages.  Instead, the other

Pentecost story softly and gently beckons us onward - to watch, and listen, and wait with the first

disciples.  Let’s read it now.

          (Read John 20:19-23)

      John’s story is set on the evening of Easter in a house where the disciples were gathered.  They

were neither jubilant nor triumphant.  Quite the opposite in fact. They were confused; dejected;

dispirited, standing at the brink of defeat and despair.  Granted, some of their number had seen

the empty tomb that very morning; the stone rolled away from the opening; the linen cloths in

which Jesus body had been wrapped.  And Mary had even said to them that she had encountered

the Lord, and spoken to Him. Yet who of them dared to believe such words, or to even trust what

their eyes saw now. After all, they had no doubt seen from a distance Jesus’ limp, dead body removed

from the cross.  How could the work of death be undone?           

      And so it was they were gathered together that evening; sorrowful, afraid, uncertain what to do

next.  Jesus had promised them so many things – His peace, His presence, His unending joy – all

these promises lingering in the air around them.  Yet that was all they had left: Jesus’ promises.  And

now those seemed so frail; so empty; so devoid of hope.  They were gathered together to mourn; to

cry; to pray; to perhaps plan their next moves.  John tells us that out of fear, they had shut the doors

of the room in which they met.  They closed the doors to shut the world out, and themselves in; as

we often do in our seasons of grief and mourning.  The world without Jesus was too frightening, and

they needed a safe place.  We’re told they locked the doors “for fear of the Jews.”  Yet I think their

fear was much deeper.  The disciples shut the door for fear of the voices that told them Jesus was

dead, and His promises void; the voices which conceded that the world never would or could be

different; the voices that threatened to extinguish every ember of hope in a new life.  They felt the

weight of the world just outside the door, so they gathered together in fear, seeking refuge and


      We wonder, how could they on Easter evening – on the very day of new life – be so feeble; so

timid; so afraid?  Mary had seen the risen Lord.  They had all heard Jesus’ promises with their own

ears.  Why then did they seem so ready to accept defeat?  How could they let their fears get the

best of them?  Friends in Christ, as we gather together on this Pentecost, maybe we, too, are

afraid; timid; all too ready to accept defeat.  Like the disciples, we too have heard the words:  I

have seen the Lord!  We too have heard Jesus’ promises.  But there are days – so many days –

when we are afraid; afraid of the decisions we have to make; afraid of risks we’re called to take;

afraid of what happens if we take Jesus at His word; afraid of what happens if we do not; afraid

because of our seeming helplessness in the face of injustice which multiplies daily; afraid that the

world is right – that death is the victor, and that we will live forever without hope and joy.

      So like the disciples, we gather together in our room; our sanctuary; the weight of the world just

outside our door.  Fear of course is not the only reason we seek sanctuary.  But this room, this hour

provide a place of refuge for us.  We come here because we know this is a safe place.  And it’s okay

to feel whatever we feel here – fear, doubt, grief, helplessness.  We will never be derided for it in

this room, because one of the things that holds us together as God’s beloved is our common struggle in this journey

we call faith and life.  We all know just how hard it is.  We come to this sanctuary because we can be honest here -

with ourselves; with one another; with God.  And like the disciples, we together cling to Jesus’ words of promise.

      It is the wonder of this other Pentecost story that into this fearful, cloistered gathering, the risen

Jesus appeared.  The closed and locked doors could not keep Him out as He suddenly stood among

them and fulfilled one of His promises:  “my peace I give to you, not as the world gives to I give to

you.”  As he spoke to the disciples, He showed them His hands and His side.  And when they recognized Him,

their fear was turned to joy.  This, too, was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise before His resurrection:  “So you have

pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” 

The disciples rejoiced in the sure knowledge that Jesus is a promise maker and a promise keeper.  The faithfulness of Jesus,

the faithfulness of God in Jesus, is the beginning point of new life for the church.  Herein lies the church’s birth:  the One who makes

promises keeps them, and the reality shaped by this promise-keeper is to be trusted.

      Jesus knew – and knows – His disciples needs; made – and makes – Himself completely available

to them and us.  He found them in their fearfulness, and gave them joy and hope.  He offered up His

wounds to them as affirmation.  He spoke words of peace to them.  And while the disciples rejoiced

at Jesus’ gift of peace, He kept one more earlier promise:  “And I will ask the Father, and he will

give you another Advocate to be with you forever.  This is the spirit of truth…..”  Jesus breathed on

them the very breath of God and gave them the promised Holy Spirit.  In doing so, He created them

anew for a new life;  a life to be lived out beyond the closed doors.  This gift of Holy Spirit was ac-

companied by a bold commission:   “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are

forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Jesus knew, and offered to the disciples,

that hope for a new world rests in seeing ourselves and others differently.  No sin is forgiven if we’re determined to retain it;

no matter how much penance is done, no life will ever be able to begin anew if we continue to keep score according to the old rules;

even those which were a part of the ancient Law, such as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  No.  The Spirit rests upon us and

calls us to let go of that which  is past; to forgive that which keeps us in spiritual bondage in order to be available God’s exhaling and the

indwelling of God’s new order.  And in all areas of our life – in our public politics; in our personal relationships; in our families; in our communities;

in our treatment of others – we must trust in the forgiving power of the Holy Spirit to work genuine transformation. 

Jesus exhorts His disciples – all of us – to let the past be the past so that new life has a chance.  And the gift of Holy Spirit marks a new beginning; a new creation. 

      The good news of this Pentecost Sunday is this:  into this sanctuary -- overflowing with our fears,

doubts, grief, helplessness --  the risen Jesus comes to breathe on us anew.  Even when we shut the

doors of our rooms, our houses, our hearts, even when we shut the doors out of fear, Jesus enters

and transforms our fear to joy.  Jesus is here to offer us peace; to give us the Spirit of new life that

makes it possible to open the doors creating a new way, forgiven and forgiving.  This is a gift of

Pentecost – the presence of the risen Jesus; assured by the Holy Spirit who will come even here;

even now; even among us.  So gifted, we can unbar the doors and face what life holds – even the

very weight of the world – because we have confidence in the faithfulness of Jesus’ promises.

We thank You, O God, for the gift of Pentecost; that in Jesus Christ, all things are made new.  Breathe upon us daily

Your Holy Spirit, that we would remember Your promises, trust in Your promises, and open our eyes to see Your promises fulfilled.  This we pray in Jesus’ name, even as

we are indwelt by the Spirit He’s promised.  Amen.


Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102