The sheer sense of relief surging through us at the gradual easing of restrictions in our country is palpable. You hear it in the buzz of people gathered in churches. You see it in the long lines at shops that have reopened.
It is more unseen, yet none the less celebrated, in the reunions of parents with their sons and daughters and grandchildren in elderly residences, and in the quiet happiness of children’s masked faces in schools. It is tempered by the loss of loved ones, of stories of suffering too painful to tell, and anxieties that have marked children and older people alike for decades.
As we gradually open up our society, we will also meet with the scars of this unique time. Losses too hard to fathom. Grief untold. Guilt. Anxiety. Despair. Poverty. What message do we bring to these emerging realities as we open up?
Opening up is not only a reference to the physical unshuttering of our shops and businesses. The invitation is to open our doors to fresh air, to newness. It is the same with our society and Church. Unless fresh air, newness, comes in, our rooms become stale, our Easter message flat. This is not the newness of the Gospel.
To remain fresh, we are invited to be open to newness, difference; to try new things.
The early Christian communities grappled with this tension constantly. Do they allow pagans to join the new groups of Jews who believed that Jesus is truly alive? Who is this message for? Until the Church of Jerusalem understood the truly universal message of the risen one, it was destined to become a sect, closed in on itself, seeing everything not within its paradigms as an enemy, a stranger, and an alien. It was the breath of the Spirit that opened up the walls and doors of the cenacles at Pentecost and allowed for newness.
Whether it is as Church, or as a society in general, the fear or refusal to open windows on to the world, with all its glorious diversity and colour, is the surest recipe for stagnation and decline. The early Church of Jerusalem had to waken up to the reality that the Good News was not exclusive to the Chosen People, but a message of hope for all humanity. Knowing Jesus did not give one community the right to lord it over others.
It was thrust from the cultic closeness of Judaism to universality, from the closed cenacles of fear and apprehension to the embrace of diversity. It is an invitation the same Church continues to receive today. A gust of wind blowing in into the cenacles of our fears. It is a message for our nation too, as it opens up. An invitation to not cling to what used to work before, but to be open to newness, difference, richness. To try new things. To give the Gospel a chance.
The beautiful narration of Pentecost speaks of this sudden openness: “How is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2.8). The thorns of division sown in Babel with the scattering of tongues are redeemed by the one universal language of God’s spirit. It is to this openness, and to all that is good in us and the other, that we are truly called.