The first disciples are struggling as they live and participate in history-making of what we refer to as Holy Week and Easter. Their lives have literally been turned upside down and inside out. We look back because we know the story and how it develops. They hadn’t been there before and they were doing their best to come to grips with the reality of what had just happened to Jesus, and how he apparently had risen from the dead, yet not knowing what to do next. They heard stories and testimonies of people in their small group that had evidently witnessed the resurrected Christ, and a few had witnessed first-hand. Others like Thomas just could not buy in unless they had more evidence to go on.
When Jesus says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”, He is referring to all people in that generation that had not seen Jesus, and it includes all of us who have not seen the resurrected Christ, yet we believe.
Just as “Jesus breathed on the early disciples “that had gathered in a locked room for fear of the religious authorities, so Jesus desires to breathe on us with the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit”! (John 20: 19-31)
In 1 Peter we read these words: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls”. (1 Peter 1:9) In the context of this passage, the writer is saying that we are receiving “right now, in this present moment, the salivation of our souls”, with a promise for the future. You might call it the installment plan, a little now and the full deal to come later on.
Just as the early disciples were trying to make heads and tails about this faith and experiencing the fears and trials of the time, so we too are living this life of faith, experiencing various trials, which are strengthening the genuineness of our faith, “being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire”! By the mercy of God, we are given new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”. (1 Peter 1:3-9, NRSV)) So we can taste and see that the Lord is good, but we know it is just a taste of the wonderful things to come.
One of the verses in our Psalm for today says: “My boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed I have a goodly inheritance” (Psalm 16:19, NIV) Boundaries, (and I’m not talking about geographical boundaries) but spiritual boundaries; spiritual roots; our relationship with an interactive God. We all have come to this place, this place we know as St. Alban’s Church, from different places and unique journeys. Every one of you has a unique and extraordinary journey of faith. If I were to take a survey, and I have done that in our adult discussion classes, I would say that the ratio of those who were brought up in the Episcopal Church and those here that came in from another church background would be about 50-50. Some of you come from a good family background with fond memories. Some of you do not come from a life of happy or fond memories, and the church has been a healing place for you; a place to find comfort, a new start and a place to create better and healthier memories.
I know some of you grew up Roman Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Baptist and Lutheran, among other things. We can be proud of our Christian roots, whatever they may be, that have led us all to this place. We journey together, yet we also have our own personal journey. I like the Proverb that says: “Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up”. (Proverbs 22:28, NRSV) We can’t change our spiritual roots. I was brought up in the Pentecostal tradition, and I am not ashamed of that and I will not apologize for that, and neither should you apologize for your spiritual roots. My parents brought me to church whenever the doors were open, and as a child did I always like that? “Of course not”. But, I remember Sunday school teachers that cared and prayed for me, taught me Bible stories and made me familiar with the Christian faith. I was taught to pray before meals, before bed and at family devotional times. I do not desire to move those ancient boundaries that my parents and others helped establish in my life, nor could I change them even if I wanted to.
Do not be ashamed of the way you were brought up and encouraged in your faith. Look for the good things in those markers, those formative building blocks of your faith; learn from them, as things to appreciate as you go forward into the next phase of your Christian journey. When our journey ends whether we are Episcopalian, Baptist, Roman Catholic or another brand of Christian…it really doesn’t mean anything.
There is a danger of talking about religious things and not about the spirituality of a life in Christ. The Gospel message of Easter is about “this Jesus that God raised up…and all of us are witnesses of this event”. We are talking about the “resurrection mystery of Jesus Christ”. In our opening Collect this morning our prayer was this: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith”. We are rich in our faith. We have the treasures of God right here in our lives to enjoy and to share with others. I encourage you to share your faith with relatives, loved ones and friends.
The power and presence of God is to be enjoyed and experienced, not just talked about and explained. The message on this Easter journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem is a message of welcoming, accepting, receiving, forgiving, and encouraging. It’s not a message of what you can’t do, a message of what you must do, a message of do’s and don’ts. No, the message is not meant to be a guilt trip. The Easter message is a message of love. Christ loves you, died for you, and you have a green light to enjoy the resurrected life right now, a life of joy and freedom.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.