The Second Sunday of Easter

Sermon by By Reverend Matt Harbage

John 20.19-end
Acts 5.27-35

“May you come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I really enjoy a good sci-fi film. Definitely in my top 5 is The Matrix. It’s something of a classic, with Keanu Reeves, and Lawrence Fishburne, set in a dystopian world where artificially intelligent machines have taken over the world. Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, is rescued by Morpheus who tries to help him understand that the world (as Neo knew it) was an illusion. Morpheus takes Neo to the top of a skyscraper and says to him:

“You have to let it all go Neo: Fear, doubt and disbelief. Free your mind.”

And at that, Morpheus launches himself into an impossible jump, off the building and lands safely on another skyscraper a block away. The look on Neo’s face is brilliant as he sees the impossible become possible.

I think sci-fi can be a gift to our Christian faith, because it’s a way of exercising and expanding our imaginations. We all know a film is fiction. But the activity of expanding our minds might just help us get a glimpse of the infinitely supreme God who made us, loves us and became one of us in Jesus Christ.

We need to free our minds, just as those first disciples had their minds radically freed by their encounters with Jesus.

I want us to know something like that too: I want us to have encounters with Jesus. I want us to be blown away like Thomas was when he saw the resurrected Jesus and cried out: “My lord and my God!”

I want, in the words of Morpheus,
“to let it all go: Fear, doubt and disbelief. Free your mind.”

Fear. Doubt. And Disbelief. Let’s consider Doubt.

Doubting Thomas is a favourite apostle for many, especially Indians! We don’t know a lot about him, but we know he doubted,

“The other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands…I will not believe.’”

And I suspect you and I would have doubted too if we’d missed Jesus’ first appearance back from the dead. When Thomas eventually sees Jesus in the flesh, Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

Jesus, here in our Gospel this morning, is calling out to us across the centuries: We may not see him in the flesh, and yet we are called to have faith – faith that God the Father raised Him from the Dead, and will one day raise us from the Dead too.

We may not see Jesus in the flesh, but the evidence of his RISEN life is all around us: in the church community of which we are part. In the beauty of creation. In the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I pray we might eagerly seek God’s Spirit; allowing the Spirit to speak to our hearts as the Spirit did to those saints, whose lives inspire us across the ages.

Thomas does not just doubt though. His legacy to us is also captured in his words when he finally saw the Risen Jesus,

 “My Lord and my God!”

This is a most profound theological claim: That Jesus Christ, the man whom Thomas and the other disciples had been following, is in fact none other than God himself, God in human form. This declaration propels Thomas into someone whom we should imitate: to have our doubts dispelled by Jesus and to proclaim our faith to others. The legacy of Thomas encourages us not to tiptoe around our doubts, but instead to be honest about them and to proclaim theological truth, with joy and freedom.

Finding the right place for doubt in our faith puts me in mind of maths tuition. I used to support teenagers with their maths, and often what I would find first would be fear. They wouldn’t want to engage because they wouldn’t want to get anything wrong, or they feared being overwhelmed and confused.

So a big part of tuition was to build confidence. It was in a sense to remove some doubt, but then, once confidence had started to be built, I would introduce some healthy doubt as I encouraged the children to check their answers. To doubt their answers, but to have faith too, that they were on the right track.

 In more usual terms, our Christian faith – like Thomas’ declaration, should be joyful and bold, confident and strong while also being humble, gentle, and with a loving sense of curiosity as we deepen our relationship with our Lord and our God.

I wonder how you might cultivate a loving sense of curiosity in your relationship with God.

“You have to let it all go Neo: Fear, doubt and disbelief. Free your mind.”

As we build confidence in the resurrected Lord Jesus, we put doubt and fear in their rightful places.

The legacy of the Pharisees as we heard in our First Reading this morning reminds us of how fear can dominate our relationship with God. Although a people who desired to be close to God, the Pharisees were more concerned about the letter of the law than the Spirit of the Law. I wonder if they couldn’t let go their fear of making mistakes. Rather than trusting in God and holding on to that loving curiosity, they seemed to decide that following the Rules was the main thing.

The Pharisees show us that God wants a relationship with us far more than he wants us to be legalistic, obeying the law simply out of fear of getting it wrong.

 I think God wants us free our minds, and free our hearts and free our souls. He wants love to grow, and trust to grow, for this world and the next.

As we gather in a moment around the great feast of God’s love in the Eucharist, may we truly recognise the risen lord Jesus in the Bread which becomes His Body,
and as we consume his life, may our hearts whisper with Thomas – joyfully and confidently: “My Lord, and My God.”