03 April 2016, Second Sunday of Easter
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Acts 5:27-32 John 20:19-end
Last week after the solitude of Lent, the Church burst into life rejoicing in Christ’s resurrection from death and his return to us.
By contrast, the Apostles, yet to experience Christ’s return, are completely crushed by events. With Jesus gone, they are leaderless, their whole mission, like Jesus, utterly destroyed. All they believed in had gone it seems, all for nothing. Now they were desperately hiding in fear of their own lives, thinking; ‘if they killed Jesus, surely are we next?’ As far as the Apostles knew this was the end, a dark desperate end.
Across the Middle East, in the ancient lands where the Good News was first proclaimed, like the Apostles, to-day Christians live in fear of their lives and are being killed for their faith.
The evil for which ISIS lives by in Syria and Iraq is very real and it touches everyone who does not buy into their murderous ideology. Jesus is also there, offering a counter against this evil. He is living side by side, in hope and comfort, against the depths of darkness. One Christian mother, living in fear, tried to protect her son by giving him a false identity. Her son told her ‘No, Jesus said ‘if you deny me before man, I will deny you before my Father in heaven’. Later, the boy was taken by the terrorists and forced to deny Jesus, he told them ‘I want to be faithful to my Lord and Saviour’. So they killed him. For us living in our, thankfully, secure and stable society, it’s a sobering reminder that our faith is a precious gift not to be squandered.
As the young Syrian, like Jesus, had died for his faith, in sharp contrast, the Apostles were about to receive faith and become alive. They were in for a great surprise, with no idea of what was about to happen to them. The Apostles are hiding in a room, fearing for their lives, when Christ appears right in front of them. He is alive and He is with them and they are filled with joy. Overjoyed. Jesus tells them “Peace be with you” and they are filled with peace. He breathes the Holy Spirit deep into their hearts; their spirit’s become alive, they are energised, they are transformed.
Christ passed himself after death, through the Holy Spirit, into his Apostles. They came alive with a living faith. They went out and passed on the Holy Spirit living in them to people around them. Christ had lit the touch paper of faith. Christ’s spirit is the origin of our faith touching from person to person to person, generation after generation spreading out to all corners of the world, to to-day reaching each of us right here in this place. Our faith that lives inside us comes directly from Christ on the cross.
Thomas wasn’t with the Apostles when Jesus appeared. So when they kept telling him, no doubt very excited, full of joy; ‘We’ve seen Jesus, we’ve seen Jesus’. You can imagine Thomas thinking ‘They’re behaving very, very strangely indeed, no longer hiding, no longer fearful, no longer grieving, Jesus is dead and they are happy?’. Thomas has soon had enough and snaps sharply ‘I will never believe what you are saying unless I actually see Jesus with the nail holes in his hands, and can place my hand in his side’.
‘I will never believe’ – never? – doesn’t sound much like Thomas doubting. This isn’t Thomas being uncertain or needing a little persuasion. ‘I will never believe’ is the language of complete rejection, it’s final, it’s what an atheist would declare.
You can picture the following week being very stressful for Thomas, with his best friends bouncing around overjoyed, in a state of peace. By contrast, Thomas is still in deep grief. Why on earth weren’t they? They had somehow changed and he was not part of them anymore, he was out on his own, excluded, feeling rejected.
So, later, when Jesus re-appeared, Thomas did see the holes in Jesus’ hands and the deep cut in his side. Jesus said believe and Thomas did believe. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit had touched Thomas. He erupted by exclaiming ‘My Lord and My God’. So transforming was his experience, Thomas was the first person to recognise Jesus as his God. For this doubter, this refuser, who had died within, now had come alive. He had received faith, his own form of resurrection.
Just like the Apostles, each one of us comes alive in faith through the Holy Spirit working within us. Perhaps not in such a dramatic way, our faith might be gentler. Faith, though, is not something we own, faith doesn’t belong to us. Faith is Christ’s gift to us, his living spirit in us. By its very nature we cannot hold faith to ourselves, to do so would be to imprison Christ’s spirit within us. As well as being a profoundly selfish act, we have no need to keep our faith quietly to ourselves. Faith is infinite, like a flame which passes from candle to candle, the flame grows and spreads without diminishing.
Christ filled the hearts of the Apostles with the Holy Spirit – the flame of God’s love and he told them, “As my Father sent me, so am I sending you.”
The Apostles, through the living spirit within, had the confidence to share their faith to those around them. Person by person, then generation after generation, the flame of Christ’s spirit, never extinguished reached the young Syrian boy, reached us.
For us, in our day to day living, how are we passing on the flame of God’s love? Amen