The Second Sunday of Easter (March 30, 2008)

Peace, Faith, Spirit, Forgiveness

Lessons: Acts  2:14a, 22-32 Psalm 16 1st Peter 1:3-9 St. John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ's blessing, 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.

Everybody who is what we might call a "regular worshipper" knows that the Day of Pentecost comes at the end of the Easter season (usually late-May). On that day we turn to the second chapter of Acts and hear about the loud sound of rushing wind, tongues of flames on the believers' heads, disciples speaking in languages they've never understood, and Peter preaching a sermon that caused 3,000 people to embrace Christian faith. It was a remarkable day. The birthday of the church. No wonder it became a festival - a day we celebrate every year.

Interestingly enough, many fewer are aware that every year, on the Sunday after Easter, we focus our attention on St. John's version of this same story. (Perhaps it is because so many of us skip church the week following Easter?)

In this weekend's text, we learn that on the evening of that first Easter Day, after Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and after she tells the others what happened to her, the disciples continue to hide behind locked doors, fearing that those who killed Jesus might soon come after them. Suddenly Jesus appears among them, and he does four things. He offers them a greeting of peace (not a small gift to that band of followers who had so recently deserted him). He shows them his hands and his side (giving them concrete proof that his crucified body had been raised from death). He breathes the Holy Spirit on them (empowering them to overcome their fear, unlock the door, and head out into the streets with Good News). And he commissions them to do the work of the church: forgiving and retaining sins (proclaiming the purpose of his death and resurrection - that our sin might be forgiven, and that we might be put right with God). Thomas is not with them that day.

A week later the disciples are again (not still ) in the house. The doors are shut (not locked ). This time Thomas is with them, and when Jesus appears, he does three things. He greets them with peace (even Thomas, who had spent the week not believing). He shows them his hands and his side (inviting Thomas to stick his finger in the wounds, if that's what it will take to help him believe). And he offers his strong blessing on those who would believe in him, even though they never have a chance to see his resurrected body first-hand (Is he referring to us here?).

St. John sums up this story, and his entire Gospel account, with the words that follow in verse 31: "But these [stories] 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." John's ultimate purpose in writing the Gospel is to help us discover that Jesus is the Messiah we need, and that only through believing in him can we experience life - real life - true life - the kind of life that God wants us to know.

As Jesus shares with his disciples the gifts of peace, faith, Spirit and forgiveness, perhaps that is what he wants them (and us) to know, as well: that he is the Messiah we need, and that only through believing in him can we experience the life God wants us to know. Thanks be to God for the Good News of the resurrection. As we celebrate this news, may it satisfy our longings, and reunite us with the God who loves us so.

David J. Risendal, Pastor  (March 25, 2008)

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. At first, do the disciples seem to be believers, or unbelievers? Trusting in Jesus, or not?
  2. What do the post-resurrection gifts of Jesus (peace, faith, Spirit and forgiveness) say about what it means to be the church?
  3. What difference did these gifts make in the lives of those disciples?

Connecting with This Week'sText:

  1. How has Jesus shared these gifts (peace, faith, Spirit and forgiveness) with me?
  2. What difference has knowing Jesus, and experiencing his gifts, made in my life?
  3. When have I been a vehicle of his gifts, in a way that has helped someone else to grow in faith?