Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Narrative Lectionary: Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20 (Psalm 40:9-10)
The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary for the season of Easter comes from Acts. In this portion of Acts 2:14a, 22-32, on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly declared that the work of the Holy Spirit was among the disciples. In this selection, Peter explained the purpose of Jesus’s death—though crucified by human hands, Peter believed this was part of God’s plan to free Jesus and all of humanity from death. Peter quoted from the Psalms, presuming the author to be David, and interpreted the life and words of David as foreshadowing and prophesying about Jesus, of whom Peter, the disciples, and everyone present on that day of Pentecost were witnesses.
Psalm 16 is a prayer for help and assurance that God is the one true God. The psalmist asks God for deliverance because they have remained faithful to God, choosing no other gods. The psalmist refuses to participate in the worship of other gods, but blesses, rejoices, and give thanks to God who has provided for them. God has not abandoned them to death, but instead, God has instructed them in the way of life, and there are always blessings for those who remain faithful to God.
The Epistle readings for this season of Easter are from 1 Peter. In 1:3-9, the writer speaks of the new hope given to us through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. At the time of the writing of 1 Peter, Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension had occurred a few generations before, and believers were weary in waiting for Christ’s return. The writer assured the believers that in faithfulness, God would reveal all. The faithful were struggling and suffering in that time and needed assurance. In their genuineness of faith and trust in Jesus, the author wrote that they would come to know unspeakable joy. They may rejoice in their salvation because Jesus was raised from the dead.
John 20:19-31 continues the story of Easter Sunday, with the appearance of Jesus to the disciples the same evening Mary found him in the garden. However, Thomas was not with them. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” to the disciples as he showed them his hands and his side, and he breathed on them, sharing with them the Holy Spirit. Since Thomas was not with them, when they told Thomas what happened, he said he wouldn’t believe unless he also saw Jesus’s hands and side. The next week, Thomas was with them, and even though the doors were shut (just like the last week) Jesus appeared to them, and showed Thomas his hands and side, and told him not to doubt but believe. When Thomas finally declared that this was Jesus who has appeared to him, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” When one follows the story of Thomas through John’s Gospel account, one sees a follower who goes from great zeal “Let us also go that we may die with him” (11:16), to “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (14:5) to scattering with the other disciples after Jesus’s betrayal, to missing out on the first appearance of Jesus to the disciples. Thomas thought he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus’s movement was about. When he realized he didn’t know, doubt entered in. But the faith of his friends brought him back to the room where it happened. Also, paired with the Narrative Lectionary reading below, in Matthew’s account we know there were other disciples who also doubted, they just were not all named (Matthew 28:17).
The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. When the remaining disciples went ahead to Galilee, where Jesus had told the women he would meet them, they worshiped when they saw him, but some doubted. Even in seeing him, there are others who doubted (Thomas was not the only one). Jesus declares he has received all authority in heaven and earth and now gives that authority to the disciples, to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to teach them everything Jesus has commanded, and to remember that Christ is always with them.
The supplemental verses of Psalm 40:9-10 share the author’s profession that they have shared the news of their deliverance in front of the congregation. They have not held anything back. They have been a witness of God’s salvation and faithfulness to all.
This is a good Sunday to talk about doubt as part of the faith journey. Even after Jesus’s death and resurrection, some of the disciples doubted. Even as he stood before them and they worshiped him, some of them held doubts. This is part of our faith journey. It is the showing up and continuing to follow the commandments that makes us faithful. The father of a child possessed by demons brought his child to Jesus’s disciples, but they were unable to cast out the demon. Jesus told the man that all things were possible for the one who has faith, and the father declared, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-25). Doubt is part of the struggle of the faith journey. And there are times when we may even want to walk away from it all, as Thomas did. The good news is that we are not alone. What makes us faithful sometimes isn’t our own faith but the faith of those around us, the ones we can rely on. The other disciples didn’t give up on Thomas. The disciples who doubted in Matthew 28:17 still worshiped. They still received the Great Commission. As far as we know, they stuck around and continued the ministry, even in their time of doubt, because the faith of others urged them on. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy, sometimes our prayer is, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Help me through the times of doubt and struggle. Help me when I want to walk away from it all. And when I can’t even pray, may others pray for me.
Call to Worship (from 1 Peter 1:3, 8a; Mark 9:24)
Blessed be our God and our Lord Jesus Christ!
I believe; help my unbelief.
We have been given a new birth into a living hope.
I believe; help my unbelief.
A living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I believe; help my unbelief.
Although you have not seen Christ, you love Christ.
I believe; help my unbelief.
In this time of worship, may we hold on to the faith of others,
May we pray for each other, and follow Jesus Christ.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that at times we have shared empty phrases and platitudes to assure ourselves when others have struggled and suffered. We have tried to force a faithful response instead of sitting with the questions and doubt. Forgive us for putting our feelings above another’s struggles. We also confess at times others have done this to us, and we acknowledge the pain and hurt we have felt. We confess boldly that doubt is not the opposite of faith, and that there is no shame in holding doubts and sharing our struggles. We ask instead, O God, for the wisdom to help one another on the journey of faith. We ask for the strength to sit in silence. We ask for the courage to listen without judgment. We ask, O God, for Your love to prevail, for it is love that sees us through our struggles of faith. It is the love of others that assures us and presses us forward. May we love one another as fully as You have loved us, and may we love ourselves in our times of struggle. We remember Your prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, and Your cry on Calvary, and know that You, too, know what it is to struggle in faith. We confess boldly that we are not alone, and that You know us and love us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. Blessed are you on the journey of faith and doubt. Blessed are you when you love one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. Blessed are you when you allow others to pray for you, comfort you, and assure you. Blessed are you when you forgive one another and do not hold doubts and misgivings against one another. Blessed are you when you share the Good News to the world. Go and share the Gospel of Love. Amen.
God of Resurrection, help us to acknowledge the signs of new life all around us. Help us to find hope and joy and gratitude. These are signs that encourage us on the journey of faith. Open our vision to take notice of all the good things You are doing in the world and in our lives. Open our hearts to a deeper understanding of Your grace and peace. For Your love is written not only in the words of Scripture, but in the sap rising in the trees, the green blades of grass, the turning of seasons, the calm after the storm, the lofty clouds and blue skies and the rain. We give thanks to You, Risen One, in all the signs of life. Amen.