Pentecost, the reversal of the fall
Pentecost is the undoing of the fall of man. Genesis tells us that the first humans received life from God when he “breathed into their nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). They were given dominion over the creation, the garden and a commandment not to eat the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, under pain of death. They disobeyed—and they died. The death they died was the withdrawal of God’s Spirit. God had given them life through the Spirit so that they were able to live in intimate fellowship with God in the garden. After the first sin, God withdrew his life giving presence from them.
This death was evidenced by several things. The first humans began to experience guilt, shame and fear in the presence of God; they were cut off from access to The Tree of Life, which was given to sustain the life that God had given them; and they were exiled from the garden and subjected to the curse of labor, in dual form (Genesis 3).
The physical death the first humans eventually experienced was merely the natural, long term consequence of the death they died when they sinned. It is like a branch that is cut off from a vine or the trunk of a tree. It appears to have life for while on its own apart from the tree, but it is, in fact, dead the moment is it cut off from the source of life; in due course it will wither and decay.
In the celebrations of Christmas through Ascension, we rehearsed again how the Son of God became man in order to save us from this condition of separation from God. Jesus lived the faithful and holy life, died the atoning death, rose in glorious conquest on Easter and returned to the Father in the Ascension. Today, because of all that Christ has done, God is able to send the Spirit to restore us to life.
The gospel and the gift of the Spirit
In today’s gospel, the gift of the Spirit is described in terms that reverse the pattern of sin. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another comforter.” And again, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word: and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The first humans showed that they did not really love God because they did not keep his word; consequently, God withdrew the Spirit from them. Now, when love for Christ is shown by obeying his word, life is restored through the gift of the Spirit.
This highlights the importance of obedience. Whatever intimacy existed between the first humans and God, it was rendered empty by the fact that they did not do what he said. Their disobedience was evidence that they did not really trust God or love him. We show our faith in Christ and our love for him by doing the things he calls us to do. As 1 John explains, “He who says, ‘I know him’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him” (2:4-5).
The commandments of Jesus are not mere rules. On Maundy Thursday Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). 1 John says, “This is his commandment: that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (3:23). Love obeys the Ten Commandments, but love is not satisfied with mere legal observance. Love fulfills the intent of the commandments; love desires and works for the glory of God and the good of those who are made in his image. This is why love fulfills the law (Romans 13:10).
When faith is shown in loving obedience, the pattern of the fall is reversed; God breathes the breath of life back into us; we are reattached to the true vine; we are restored to life.
The restoration of the human vocation.
The gift of the Spirit restores us to life in the garden in fellowship with God. In Christ, through the Spirit, guilt, shame and fear give way to forgiveness, peace and the boldness we have to say, “Our Father.”
In Christ, through the gift of the Spirit, we may now eat of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the Good Friday tree, and the fruit of that tree is the water of baptism that washes us from our guilt, the Sacramental Bread that gives us life and the Eucharistic blood that continues to cleanse us from sin. As Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day” (John 6:54).
In Christ, through the gift of the Spirit, our exile from God’s presence in ended and we are brought back into intimate fellowship with God and with all who belong to him in the Communion of the Saints.
Restoration, but not completion
We are restored to fellowship with God in the garden, but the forbidden tree is still there. The commandment to respond to the gift of life with love and obedience must, necessarily, include that possibility that we might not. Consequently, it is God’s will that we, like his people in every age, be tested. The question is the one Jesus presented to Peter. “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19). The answer is either faith that leads to obedience, or doubt that leads to disobedience.
Before the fall, the first humans were innocent and sinless, but they were not perfect or mature. It was God’s intention that they grow by faith and obedience. They were supposed to refuse the temptation of the forbidden fruit and they were supposed to feed on the fruit of the Tree of Life. Had they done that, they would have grown in knowledge in the right way; they would have progressed from infancy to adulthood and maturity.
We are cleansed from sin and restored to fellowship with God through the gift of the Spirit; but we are not yet mature or perfected. We may look like adults, but we are, in fact, spiritual children. It is our vocation to grow to maturity by faith and obedience; by saying no to the false promises made to us by the evil one, and by feeding on the bread of life through the life of prayer.
As Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word: and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.”