God's Word on Sunday: We need to go where the Spirit leads

  • April 22, 2019

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28 (Year C) Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31

The spread of Christianity began not with reasoned arguments or carefully planned strategies. People responded in droves to what Luke describes as “signs and wonders” — language that resonated with the events of Exodus.

Very simply put, people were attracted by what they perceived to be the presence and power of the living God. This power and presence were expressed in acts of great mercy and compassion. The sick, lame and possessed, moved by a mixture of hope and despera￾tion, converged on the apostles and their followers.

As fulfilled in the passage from Isaiah 61 read by Jesus in Chapter 4 of Luke, they were healed and comforted. This had always been understood as a sign of God’s visi￾tation. From meagre beginnings, the faith spread like a brushfire throughout the cities of the Roman Empire.

We might wonder at the apparent lack of signs and wonders today, and the anemic condition that afflicts Christianity. Some would say that the signs of the Spirit, along with the signs and wonders, were a temporary con￾cession on the part of God to ignite the spread of the faith. But there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the Spirit has a limited shelf￾life. It was promised to all who believed in His name and followed in the path of Jesus.

If the fires have burned excep￾tionally low and even sputtered out at times, we should not accept that as normal. It is more of a wake-up call. We don’t experience the Spirit in a powerful way because we don’t expect to — we have talked ourselves out of it.

In this time of great crisis in the Church, and indeed in most religious bodies, it would be helpful to stop pointing fingers or blaming culture and accept personal and collective responsi￾bility. Only by a massive change of mind and heart and an outpouring of the Spirit will the Christian faith regain its power and vitality. There is a catch — we will have go where the Spirit leads and this is where human resistance usually begins.

The enigmatic visions of John of Patmos always fascinate and perplex us. They are filled with symbols and resonances of the Old Testament. The vision of the Son of Man flows from Chapter 7 of Daniel, in which the one like a Son of Man is the judge and ruler of creation.

The early Christian communi￾ties believed that the passage from Daniel prefigured Christ. The voice that addressed John carried words of assurance. Despite all the terrifying things that he would see as the vision unfolded, John should remember that Christ is the beginning and the end, the one who lives forever and holds the keys of Death and Hades.

Regardless of what believers encounter in the world, Christ is always more powerful and, in the end, victorious. We need not let fear or doubt paralyze or overwhelm us.

The resurrection from the dead was a hard sell in the time of Jesus, just as it is today. It defies both logic and experience, and yet Jesus stood alive in their midst. They were stunned and speechless as Jesus granted them the peace of God as He had promised, and then breathed on them.

The divine breathe was both the gift of the Spirit and the beginning of a renewal of creation. With God’s Spirit within them, they were ready to carry on the mission of Jesus — to reveal the true nature of God to a world imprisoned in ignorance and fear. It is the same Spirit that we are supposed to carry within us and the same mission.

Thomas’ doubt can certainly be both understood and forgiven. He was not a witness to this event and it was difficult to believe. When Jesus appeared again and invited Thomas to touch His wounds, all doubt vanished as Thomas professed his faith.

Jesus issued a challenge: It is fine that they believed — they saw and touched Jesus. Those who do not have these advantages and yet believe are blessed and to be admired.

The Resurrection is difficult to defend today to a skeptical world and we may have twinges of doubt, too. One thing gives assurance and sweeps away doubt: encountering the Risen Lord, and that is the grace we should all seek.