A sermon preached by Alice Lawhead on 11 April 2021.
Last year about this time, a friend sighed: That was the lentiest Lent I ever lented.
Today in our liturgy we add ‘Alleluia’ to many of the responses, and it expresses our feelings, doesn’t it? We have been through Lent and come out the other side: Alleluia! But it wasn’t easy. Perhaps you struggled, as I did, to think of something to give up for Lent this year, having lost so much already.
So, now ….. We have observed Lent. We’re eating chocolate again.
And we’ve celebrated Easter, but some of us today may feel a bit like Thomas in today’s reading. Doubting what we’ve heard, doubting what happened. Did Christ really come back to life after He was undeniably dead? Really? Today and in the coming weeks we will confidently proclaim that Jesus Christ, who lived like us, who taught us with the words he spoke and the things that He did, was killed but then … came to life again. Alleluia!
This is The Great Vindication of all that He said and did. He predicted that it would turn out just this way and so we now look back on everything else He predicted, everything else He said, and must take it very seriously indeed if we didn’t before. It’s true.
It’s true. And if it’s true ….. what, then? Are we just sitting with an amazing fact, an amazing fact like the waggle dance of the bumblebee, or the ever-expanding size of the universe?
Well, no. We come to this truth with wonder tinged with doubt and in the midst of our questions and unbelief Jesus Christ comes to us as he did to the disciples and his breath falls on us and we are given the most amazing thing of all – God’s own indwelling Holy Spirit. That element of God’s being that lives in us and, given the chance, inhabits our personality and psyche, changes us in subtle and often dynamic ways. We have an internal Comforter, Guide, and Companion.
You know, as we go through the liturgical year with its holy days and festivals and such, we may look like nothing more than a Christian reenactment society, dressing up and acting out events long past. There may be a bit of that in our observances, but it’s not the whole story. The events we mark are not just historical, they are also experiential – something that happens today. In some ways, it’s just begun, because God’s plan is continuing to unfold and we have a part to play in the drama of redemption.
So now, after recalling and reliving the suffering of Christ and the Great Vindication of Christ, we are real-time actors as the breath of the Risen Christ falls on us and he says: Receive the Holy Spirit.
And if our response is ‘Okay, yes, I will receive the Holy Spirit’, when we open ourselves to this occupying and life-giving and empowering presence of the Living God, we become different people. People whose belief is greater their doubt. People who can and want to do something as bold and brave and counter-cultural, even counter-intuitive, as share all we have with each other – as the first believers did, according to the book that we aptly refer to as The Acts. People who forgive each other, who will live together with our brothers and sisters in unity and peace – as the psalmist said. People who attempt great things for God.
The next great festival of the church is Pentecost. And at Pentecost we will remember when the Holy Spirit came on the apostles like a violent wind, with tongues of fire – and we will reflect on that event and what it means for us in the weeks to come.
But today, we are in a locked room with our closest friends, fearful, doubting, stunned by what we have experienced and the Risen Lord comes to us, and we are hesitant, yes, but there He is: we see His familiar face, we see His wounds, and He comes close and He breathes on us and we can feel that breath on our face, and He tells us what to do now: Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God settles gently, but make no mistake, the game here is transformation and we need to understand that and be ready for that.
Without the breath of the Holy Spirit, this will be just another Easter following ‘the lentiest Lent we ever lented.’ Breathing in the Spirit, we are propelled from the events of Easter and indeed from the events of our entire life up until now — perhaps one step ahead, perhaps farther than our eyes can see or we every imagined — into the new, transformed, glorious life that God wants for us, and that was the whole point of His teaching and His example.
These are the days of The Great Vindication – of what Christ said and did, and of our own acceptance of His message. It happened just as He said it would. It’s all true.