Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29 or Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Narrative Lectionary: Thomas, John 20:19-21 (Psalm 145:13-21)
The first selection for the Revised Common Lectionary during the Easter Season is from Acts in lieu of the Hebrew Scripture reading.
Peter and other apostles were brought before the council and the high priest in Acts 5:27-32. Previously, they had been arrested after performing miracles and signs at the temple, but an angel let them out of prison and told them to continue to teach the people. The captain and guards went and brought Peter and the apostles from the temple again, and the high priest told Peter and the others that they were already ordered not to teach in “this” name. Peter declares they must obey God rather than human beings, because they are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. A word of caution on this passage: the priest is concerned that the apostles are blaming the religious leaders, and in extension, the Jewish people, for Jesus’ death. Peter’s response is “you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” Peter’s “you” is meant to be a universal you to all in authority, or even to all of humanity, but it has far too often been used in the very way the high priest criticized Peter for it.
Psalm 118:14-29 encompasses both Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday’s Psalm selections into one. The psalmist declares that they shall not die, but they will live. Calling the congregation to worship in the temple, as the people prepare to process in, the psalmist reminds the people that though the world rejected them, God has chosen them. This is God’s day—rejoice and be glad! The people rejected are now the chief cornerstone. God shines a light on the people who know God’s salvation. The blessing is given to one another, for all who come in the name of God are blessed.
An alternative is Psalm 150, a song calling the congregation to worship and praise. Praise God on earth and above with all instruments, with song and dance. May all living creatures praise the Lord.
John of Patmos writes an introduction to his sermon in Revelation 1:4-8. John’s letter is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, now modern-day Turkey. Poetically writing about God as the One who Was, who Is, and Who Is to Come, the writer also includes the seven spirts before the throne—the heavenly representation of these churches. John uses imagery similar to the writer of Hebrews, referring to Jesus as the one who made us all priests as Jesus is our priest, and Jesus is the firstborn of the dead as we are all now born anew. John echoes the gospels in the image of Jesus coming on the clouds, and uses the images from Daniel and Zechariah to proclaim that Christ is coming again, as he was the one who came before. This vivid image-filled introduction gives authority to John, that the same Christ who came before is with him as he addressed these seven churches.
The Gospel lesson is the same for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary. This story of Thomas doubting also begins with a word of caution: the disciples were in a house with locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” All the disciples, and Jesus, were Jewish. The Common English Bible opts for “Jewish authorities,” but it doesn’t quite address the problem. The writer of the gospel of John and the Johannine community were probably Jewish in background but were opposed to the Jewish communities that didn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. This tension has fueled antisemitic interpretations of these texts to today. The disciples certainly feared persecution and feared Roman authorities, but we must understand this conflict as between two communities forty to sixty years after Jesus’ death and not what was necessarily happening in the time of Jesus. This is confirmed by the other Gospel accounts that show different views of Jesus’ death (see Luke 23:48, where the crowd returns from the crucifixion beating their breasts, a sign of mourning).
In John 20:19-31, Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked and shut room and declares, “Peace be with you.” He breathes on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit, and have the power to forgive sins. However, Thomas was not among the disciples gathered that night. Thomas is given a passing mention in the other three Gospels that he is called the Twin (Thomas in Aramaic sounds like the Greek name Didymus, which means Twin), but Thomas first appears in John in 11:16. When Jesus speaks of going to Lazarus, which the other disciples warned him against because of the authorities that wanted to kill Jesus, Thomas declares, “Let us go so that we might die with him.” This first appearance of Thomas is bold, willing to die for Jesus. Yet a few chapters later, in 14:5, when Jesus has told the disciples they know the way to the place he is going (referring to his death), Thomas replies, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Thomas’ journey is one of boldness to doubt that first Sunday after the resurrection. Unless he sees and touches Jesus, experiencing the resurrected Jesus himself, he will not believe. However, when Jesus appears before Thomas the next week, Thomas answers, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’s journey is woven through John’s narrative of Jesus—what we think we know will fall apart, but what we hold on to in faith will not die. Doubt is a part of our faith journey, but if we allow doubt to separate us from others, we will miss out.
The Narrative Lectionary’s secondary reading is Psalm 145:13-21. This psalm praises God for faithfulness from one generation to the next. God’s reign is everlasting. God lifts up those who are struggling. God provides for all people and all creatures in due season because God is just and kind. God stays near to those who call on God in sincerity, watching over the faithful, and hearing our cries—but God will execute justice against those who do evil. The psalmist concludes with a commitment to praise God and a call for all of creation to bless God.
How does our faith endure when terrible things keep happening? How do we stay true when everything around us continues to fall apart? We remember that we are not alone. This is why we come together as the ecclesia, the church, the gathered body of believers. When we fall, others lift us up. When we doubt, others encourage us (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that two are better than one, and woe to the one who falls and does not have another to lift them up). When we think of the disciples, all of them fell short, all of them failed, but they all came together again after Jesus’ death, except for Judas. Perhaps that was the great betrayal—he not only betrayed Jesus but all of them by opting out. Thomas tried to opt out, but the others encouraged him, and in their encouragement and inclusion, he experienced the risen Christ.
Call to Worship (from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Two are better than one,
For they have a good reward for their work,
For if they fall,
One will lift up the other.
Woe to the one who falls alone,
For we were not created to be alone.
We were created to be the body of Christ,
In whom we live, and move, and have our being.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Breaker of Chains, Render of Tombs, we confess that somehow we still think we can do this all alone. That we don’t need others, and at times, that we don’t need You. Somehow, we think we are strong enough, but when we fall, we feel hopeless and helpless. You are the God who rolls away the stone. You are the God who breaks the chains. You are the God who brought a people out of oppression through the wilderness to their safety. You brought a people out of exile into liberation. You bring forth life from death. Remind us of how much we need You, O God, and help us to rejoice and give thanks that You have not left us alone, but created us to be in community. For You are the God of us all, the God of the people, and we praise Your name. Amen.
God never leaves us alone. Even when we run as far away as we possibly can, God is still within us. God brings the people into our lives that we need, and God provides a home for us on this bountiful earth full of God’s creatures. We are never alone. We are always loved. We are always needed. Know how much God loves you and needs you as part of God’s beloved community. Go, embrace others, forgive one another, and share God’s love with the world. Amen.
God of Wild Winds and Rain, You move in awesome ways upon our earth. After the storm in autumn, the trees are stripped bare and the nakedness of the world is revealed, a stripping away of the old to prepare for winter and the rebirth that comes. Following the storms of spring, the grass is bright green, full of life, and the soil ready to burst forth with life. You are the God of all seasons in all parts of our world. As storms roll through our lives, help us to be ready to serve those in need, for those who face destruction and loss, and help us to be ready for opportunities of new life to flourish. In our own seasons of need, may Your love be made known to us in the love of others. May we become the living hope others need in this time. Amen.