The Second Sunday of Easter (4/19/2009)

Lessons:     Acts  4:32-35      Psalm 133      1st John 1:1-2:2      St. John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day:      Almighty God, with joy we celebrate the day of our Lord's resurrection. By the grace of Christ among us, enable us to show the power of the resurrection in all that we say and do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." 28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

St. John 20:19-31, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This coming Sunday we celebrate "The Second Sunday of Easter." Christians from the liturgical tradition hold that the resurrection of Jesus is so central to what we believe, that we don't just celebrate it for one Sunday. In fact, we celebrate it for a week of Sundays. So get ready: for the next few weeks, at least here at Saint Peter, we'll begin our time together with that familiar proclamation: "Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!"

However, this Sunday could just as well be called "The Feast Day of Thomas: Patron Saint of All who Ask Hard Questions." He is called "Doubting Thomas" only by those who misunderstand him, and who don't take time to read the Scriptures carefully. Thomas is one of my heroes, and I'm grateful that his story is told in the Bible, and during worship on the Sunday after Easter every year.

The Synoptic Gospels only refer to Thomas when they list the disciples who formed the inner circle of Jesus' followers (in Matthew 10, Mark 3 and Luke 6). It is St. John who actually helps us to know Thomas.

In the 11th chapter of St. John, Jesus learns that his dear friend Lazarus has taken ill. Jesus has just recently been in Jerusalem, and while he was there the leaders of the Jews wanted to stone him to death, and tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. When Jesus hears about Lazarus, he announces that he is going to go back to Jerusalem and see him. The disciples protest (11:8) but Jesus insists (11:9-15). It is then that Thomas, displaying a strength of character and a depth of faith that is rarely attributed to him, says: "Let us also go, that we may die with him." (11:16)

Fast forward to the Easter season. Mary Magdalene reports that Jesus appeared to her in the garden on that first Easter morning, but the disciples continue to hide inside, afraid of those who put Jesus to death. On Easter evening, Jesus appears to ten of the disciples (Thomas was not present), who had locked themselves into a house. They rejoice at seeing him alive again, but it doesn't accomplish anything. Nothing happens during the following week that St. John finds important enough to record. The disciples tell Thomas what they have seen, but he is not convinced.

A week later, they are gathered in the same place, and Thomas is with them. (This time the doors are not locked - only shut - maybe they are making some progress...) Thomas has insisted that he won't believe until he can stick his finger in the wounds of Jesus. But Jesus appears again that day, and the sight of him is enough to make Thomas utter the strongest proclamation of the resurrection to that point: "My Lord and my God!"

Much has been made of the fact that Thomas didn't initially believe the proclamation of the disciples. (Curiously, not so much of the fact that the others didn't initially believe Mary's proclamation.) But for my money, I'd prefer to have a few more like Thomas in my congregation: people willing to die for what they believe; people who are uninterested in just going along with the crowd, but who are willing to take their own doubts and misgivings seriously; people who are eager for a first-hand experience of the Risen Christ in their lives.

Legend has it that Thomas travelled extensively, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ. Some assert that he went as far as India, and personally converted the Parthian King Gundafor of Peshawar to Christian faith. Along the Malabar Coast there continues to a be a group of Christians who refer to themselves as "The Christians of St. Thomas."

May we be inspired by the honesty and courage and dedication of Believing Thomas, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. Why was it so hard for Jesus' followers to believe at first?
  2. What convinced the 10 disciples that Jesus had risen?
  3. What convinced Thomas that Jesus had risen?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When have I struggled to believe?
  2. How has God helped me deal with my doubts and struggles?
  3. How will I express my gratitude for God's patience and presence with me?