Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

Narrative Lectionary: Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 (Psalm 40:9-10)

During Eastertide, the first selection is from the book of Acts, sharing the stories of the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 5:27-32, Peter and other disciples have been brought before the high priest, for they had been warned not to preach in Jesus’ name. The high priest is concerned that the apostles have indicated that the priest and other religious leaders are responsible for Jesus’ death. Peter proclaims that they must obey God rather than human authority, for God has raised Jesus from the dead. Peter claims it is the same God of their ancestors, who calls for the repentance of the people for forgiveness of sins, and he puts the blame of Jesus’ death back on the very ones who are telling him not to preach in Jesus’ name. It is wise for us, reading this two thousand years later, to remember this is an internal conflict between different Jewish groups (they were not yet Christians yet, they were followers of the Rabbi Jesus) and that it was the Roman governor Pilate who condemned Jesus to death.

The selection from Psalm 118 overlaps with some of the verses of the selections from Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. The psalmist is calling the people into worship as they enter the temple, to give thanks to God, for God’s steadfast love endures forever. The people who were rejected by the world, who have suffered severely, are the people that God has made into a foundation. They are the foundation for worship and understanding who God is for all nations, for all peoples.

The final psalm calls the people to worship, to praise God in the temple they have built, as well as the sanctuary God has made, which is the whole earth. The psalmist calls the people to praise God with all instruments and with dance, to praise God for all of God’s mighty deeds. The psalmist calls all of creation—everything that has breath—to praise God.

John of Patmos begins his letter to the seven churches of Asia with the introduction in Revelation 1:4-8a. John blesses these churches by proclaiming Jesus in the past, present, and future, the one who is the firstborn of the dead, king of all kings, and the one who freed us all by his blood. Jesus is the one who has made the believers into a new nation, and all priests who serve God. John declares that Christ is coming, in all times—past, present, and future—and is the beginning and the end.

In John’s Gospel account, after Mary has declared she has seen the Lord, the disciples have met together in the evening—except for Thomas—and the doors are locked. John’s account states they are locked “for fear of the Jews.” An excellent reference for this passage is the Jewish Annotated New Testament (2nd Edition) edited by Amy-Jill Levine, who notes that at the time John’s account was written, the Jewish followers of Jesus were beginning to split off from other Jewish groups, and these verses were intended to encourage separation, for the fear of being persecuted. Jesus appears to only the disciples, the faithful ones gathered that night, and the first words he says to them are, “Peace be with you.” He then breathes on them, inviting them to receive the Holy Spirit, and to forgive or retain sins. But when Thomas hears about what happens, he states that unless he touches Jesus’ wounds, he will not believe. When he does finally see Jesus, he believes, and Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Most scholars believe the Gospel according to John originally ended with this chapter, that Jesus performed other signs not written down, but that these were written so others might come to believe.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the last four verses of Matthew’s account after the Resurrection. The disciples went to Galilee and worshiped Jesus when he appeared to them, but some doubted. Jesus declares that all authority has been given to him, and he calls the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls upon the disciples to teach others what they have been taught by him. Most importantly, Jesus reminds them that he is with them always, until the end of the age.

The psalmist declares in Psalm 40:9-10 that they have told the congregation of God’s deliverance. They have not kept secret what God has done, but have spoken of God’s faithfulness and salvation, God’s wonderful steadfast love.

During the season of Easter, we read the stories of the disciples, how they experienced the risen Christ, how they went out and shared the Good News. We read of how some were persecuted for their beliefs. However, we must be aware of anti-Semitic interpretations of the Gospels. For the most part in the entire first century, the followers of Jesus were still Jewish, and while they sometimes worshiped separately from other Jews, they often worshiped and lived in the same communities together. Persecution that occurred was often of Romans persecuting Jews and other religious minorities, and Christians were included in that. While there were certainly conflicts with some religious leaders within Judaism, persecution by the Roman government was a much greater concern. In addition, while we may focus on poor Thomas as one who doubted the resurrection, Matthew’s account shows us that more than one doubted.

How do you experience the risen Christ? How do you follow the Great Commission? Is faith something that must be used to prove others are wrong, or can faith accommodate doubt? What does faith teach us about living in empire?

Call to Worship (Psalm 150)
Praise the LORD! Praise God in the sanctuary; praise God in the mighty firmament!
Praise God for their mighty deeds; praise God according to their surpassing greatness!
Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lute and harp!
Praise God with tambourine and dance; praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with clanging cymbals; praise God with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

Alternative Call to Worship
Blessed are those who doubt,
For faith is a journey, not a destination.
Blessed are those who question,
For easy answers are dismissed, but truth takes time to discern.
Blessed are those who have not seen,
Blessed are those who have come to believe.
Blessed are those who struggle in their faith,
For God has called us in the struggle together.
Come, worship God, and follow Jesus, who calls us into this life of faith together.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of Hope and Healing, we confess to You that we have hidden wounds, scars that run deep. We confess that we do not know the pain of those around us. We have become good liars, telling others we are fine when we are not. We have accepted the false witness from others that everything is okay when it is not. Call us to be deep listeners. Help us to understand when others are experiencing trauma how to be present, how we might best listen. Help us in our own journey of healing to recognize our pain and trauma, to seek help when needed, to know that though we may be broken, we can experience healing and wholeness. Great Physician, help us to heal each other, through the love of Christ, who was broken because of us, and who lives again with his scars. It is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
We believe in the risen Christ, who comes to us with scars. We believe in the risen Christ, who was beaten and killed by the world. We believe in the risen Christ, who comes to all and says, “Peace be with you.” We believe in the risen Christ, who embodies healing and hope. There is life. There is hope. Love is eternal. Know that you are beloved of God, and no matter what you have been through, Christ loves you, accepts you, and in Christ there is the hope of healing, and the promise of eternal life. Amen.

Prayer
Wise God, You have granted us wisdom and insight. You have sparked in us the curiosity to understand our universe. You have called us to question what we know, to explore more deeply what You have created, but also to explore our faith and understanding in You. Sometimes those questions lead us to doubts. Wise God, help us to navigate our journey of faith so that we do not fear doubts and questions, but welcome them, knowing that uncertainty leads us forward. Help us to rest in unknown, content that You hold everything for us. Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, You are the Wise God our Savior. Amen.

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