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(From now on I will post the Scriptures from the lectionary at the top for easier reference in the future)
Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Ah, the Second Sunday of Easter, more commonly known as the Sunday after Easter, a Sunday in which many clergy take a vacation and so often do many of the church members, after a busy Lent and active Holy Week. This year, with this Sunday falling on May Day, the first day of the month, I imagine there will be more members present than usual. In my experience, attendance is at its highest on the first Sunday of a month barring any other holidays. In American Baptist congregations and many other denominations, the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday.
So what to do this Sunday? There are a variety of options. Some have guest preachers. For some, this is the student intern’s day to preach. Others have laity give the sermon. Still others do a hymn sing or a non-traditional sermon. One suggestion I have for those who lean on the artistic/dramatic side of their gifts is to do a narrative sermon, to present the Easter story from a disciple’s point of view. As the lectionary passage for this Sunday is almost always John 20:19-31, it is a great opportunity not only to explore Thomas’ story but the story of all the disciples after the Resurrection.
In my view, Thomas gets a bad reputation that isn’t entirely fair. He is not the only disciple who doubts. Luke’s account of the Resurrection doesn’t name names but in 24:36-43 it states that some thought they were seeing a ghost, and others were still disbelieving. Matthew in 28:17 clearly states that “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Thomas may be unfairly singled out in John’s Gospel, but throughout John’s Gospel, Thomas specifically is given many opportunities to see and understand Jesus and he fails to do so. In 14:5, just after Jesus says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going,” Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going? How can we know the way?” Jesus answer famously that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But again, it’s a bit unfair to single out Thomas because if you follow that conversation in John 14, Philip adds on to the confusion of the disciples, telling Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replies, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
We often focus on the betrayal of Judas during Holy Week and the denial of Peter; but we forget the doubt of Thomas, the misunderstanding of Philip, the striving for greatness of James and John, and all the faults and failings of the other disciples. The truth is, Jesus has chosen all of us to be his disciples. We are all chosen, and we all have faults and failings. Our story is the story of the disciples. We can find part of us in each one of them. And perhaps why Thomas’ story is so prominent right after the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday is that for all of us now, many years removed from this time–whether we were a generation or two removed by the time John’s Gospel was written or whether we are two thousand years removed–all of us struggle with times of doubt in the story. All of us wonder could this have really happened? Did Jesus physically rise from the dead? Do we understand the Resurrection the same way the disciples did? Do we experience the Resurrection the same way the disciples did?
But maybe there’s more to it than doubt surrounding the Resurrection. 1 Peter 1:3-9 shares that “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.” Even though we have not seen the body of Christ in front of us, we experience the body of Christ in our lives through our church community, through celebrating Communion and sharing in prayer. The feelings of joy we share together, the worship and prayer experiences, the contemplative times of wonder and amazement, and the experiences we share together doing Christ’s work on earth in helping our neighbors and caring for others, this is all part of our faith. We call it our faith life for a reason–because faith is our way of life.
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 is Peter’s proclamation on the day of Pentecost that they are all witnesses, all who have gathered in Jerusalem, all who have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit (as John’s account also includes the breathing of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and is another part of the Pentecost story) that Jesus has been raised. When we experience the Holy Spirit in our lives–when we share in the gifts of the Spirit of teaching, preaching, healing, prophesying, sharing, caring together–we have experienced the Resurrection.
Psalm 16 is a psalm of comfort, a prayer of trust, of having faith in God despite the choices of the world, despite what others choose to follow. We all know those who follow other gods–gods of wealth and success, fame and security, but when we choose to follow God’s ways, we find we have security, we have wholeness, we have strength, and we have this when we are in community together with God.
But I still feel there is more to this story. When we look at the disciples, when we look back upon Thomas who refuses to believe, there is another layer there. Thomas does not just simply refuse to believe in a Resurrection because he hasn’t seen Jesus for himself; he is refusing also to believe in his friends. He is refusing to believe what they are sharing, he is refusing to trust this group that he has been with throughout Jesus’ ministry. Do we struggle as a community of faith when we fail to trust each other? Do bitterness, jealousy, mistrust and doubt threaten to divide us? Churches by nature are often diverse–even if not outwardly. The members of one church may be mostly white, upper-class, conservative, but still you will find differences of opinion on Scripture, differences in behaviors that are acceptable, differences in values. Do we reject differences, or do we embrace the struggle that differences in a community can foster?
Thomas refused to believe, but yet the others still included him, for a week later he is with them when Jesus appears. Who knows if there were heavy theological arguments or petty “You’re an idiot if you don’t believe it” accusations, but whatever happened, they maintained their community despite the struggles, inward and outward (remember they were shut when Jesus appeared to them). And Thomas is there, and believes. And Jesus does not appear to scold him. His first words aren’t, “Thomas, you doubted me, you are a failure and cannot be my disciple.” Instead, Jesus says to him. “Peace be with you… Do not doubt, but believe.” Jesus does not condemn him. Jesus seems to not only understand, but desires to continue to welcome him as part of the faithful after the Resurrection. Perhaps we can still learn from Thomas and the other disciples about how we ought to live in community, and rather than get worried and fret over theological differences and arguments, we ought to say, “Peace be with you,” and face the struggles and challenges together.
Call to Worship:
Leader: Where is this Jesus, the one you call Messiah?
People: Christ is Risen! Christ is here among us!
Leader: I do not see him. I don’t believe you.
People (louder): Christ is Risen! Christ is here among us!
Leader: Let me see his body, his hands and his feet.
People: We are Christ’s body; We are Christ’s feet.
Leader: You see the suffering in the world? Where is Jesus now?
People: We are going into the world to be the body of Christ.
Leader: Let us go together, let us partner with others.
People: For we are the body of Christ: let us share the Good News!
Prayer of Confession:
Holy God, we confess our doubts. When our childhood understandings fall away, we feel naked. When our long-held beliefs seem to crumble, we feel lost. When our convictions are questioned, we feel ashamed. Guide us into right paths, O God. Guide our feet into the way of peace; guide our hands to care for others; guide our hearts to love our neighbors. Call us back to You, O Christ, and renew our faith. When the ground is unsteady, loving God, put us back on right paths by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with You. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon (from Psalm 16):
The Lord is our chosen portion and our cup. God binds us in, counsels our minds and instructs our hearts. God helps us to stand firm for justice, mercy and peace. When we fall, God lifts us up, forgives us, and remembers our sins no more. Amen.
Messiah, Christ, Anointed One, You have risen in our lives, You have risen from the dead, You come to each of us and say, “Peace be with you.” You show us the path of life, to live for others, to do Your work in our world to build Your kingdom. Continue to inspire in us the joy of the Resurrection, to share the Good News with the world in word and deed. For many walk in darkness, in the tunnel-vision of daily life and struggles of addictions, hopelessness, and despair. You have called us to be Your light in our world. May we share the Good News of the Resurrection: New Life begins now, and is available for all. Call us into doing Your work, O God. In the name of Christ. Amen.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019