In the popular Christmastime movie “Home Alone,” an inattentive family goes off on vacation, not noticing the absence of one of their children. Left behind with only his ingenuity, the young boy fends off a pair of bungling burglars. There are some touching moments to this film, but it basically consists of a series of humorous defeats that the child inflicts on the inept intruders. Because we are confident the story will have a happy ending, the movie probably does not raise for the viewer the serious question: How would I cope if I were left alone?
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday before the Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them. In a sense, they will be alone. Although he promises to send them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, they will have to fend for themselves; and the enemy or enemies they will face will not be bunglers. While Jesus was alive, the disciples trusted in his ability to hold opposition at bay. Where will they find the strength and direction they need when he is gone?
The passage from Acts answers this question. It provides us with a sketch of the early Christian community. We see that Jesus had been faithful to his promise: the Holy Spirit was indeed present and active in the life of the church. The disciples had not been left alone. They were part of the church, along with Paul, Barnabas, Silas, the Gentile converts, the apostles, elders and the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They would be able to derive strength and direction from the Holy Spirit working through the church.
If we look at the church today from a human perspective, all we see are limited women and men. We are people who, left to our own ingenuity, are often bunglers. But we have not been left alone. The power of the Holy Spirit has transformed us into the glorious holy city of the new Jerusalem envisioned in the reading from Revelation. That city is not only magnificent in the splendor of God, it is fortified against intruders.
Today the church has been exposed to us in all its weakness. Not unlike the community described in Acts, members vigorously disagree over diverse teachings and practices. Instead of enriching the fabric of the church, cultural differences often threaten to tear it apart. This is far from what was intended by Jesus. Fortified by the Holy Spirit, we too can live lives of openness and compassion. In the community of love, which is the true image of the church, no one is alone.