Devotional Message: The Second Sunday of Easter; Year C (4/28/2019)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Psalm 150 (alternate)
Revelation 1:4-8
St. John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day

O God of life, you reach out to us amid our fears with the wounded hands of your risen Son. By your Spirit’s breath revive our faith in your mercy, and strengthen us to be the body of your Son, 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.

Message: Doubters in Good Company

I love Easter Sunday. This past weekend at Saint Peter was such a blessing. The music was inspiring. The worship center looked beautiful. The liturgy was stirring. The room was packed (our hosts had to set up extra chairs at the 8:30 service). We had a mob of kids at both services (always a highlight for me!). A number of our college students were back in town, and it was nice to visit with them. And one of my favorite aspects of Easter is this: I was able to connect with a few people who only come by and worship with us a time or two each year.

I don’t presume to understand why all those friends of ours aren’t with us every weekend. I’m sure the reasons are more complex than most of us could imagine. For some, though, it seems that faith doesn’t come very easily to them. There is something appealing about Christian faith — maybe even something appealing about Christian churches — but there is also the impression that weekly worship is for those who truly believe, and who are deeply committed to their beliefs. It is easy to be surrounded by a singing congregation and imagine that you are the only one in the room who doubts; who struggles to connect with God; who is at times persuaded by those who have given up on faith altogether.

If there were some in the room who felt like this last Sunday, I hope the words of the Easter Gospel from St. Luke caught their attention. Nobody on that first Easter morning began with any kind of a faith in the resurrection. The women at the tomb are perplexed and terrified. The eleven and all the rest hear them out, and conclude that their witness is an idle tale. Peter is the only one reported to take a look for himself; he ends up amazed. And these are the ones who know Jesus the best! Who followed him, listened to him, watched him for months; some for years!

I wish our occasional guests would all come back this Sunday; especially those who struggle with doubt and uncertainty. Now we’re at the evening of that first Easter Sunday. The disciples — all of them — are hiding behind locked doors because they have concluded the most powerful reality in their lives are those who put Jesus to death (they’re terrified the same might happen to them). It isn’t until Jesus shows them his physical wounds, and infects them with God’s Holy Spirit, that they begin to respond with faith instead of fear. And Thomas — faithful, courageous Thomas (if you doubt me, take a look at St. John 11:16) — doesn’t experience this until he too comes face to face with the Risen Christ.

Friends: if you wrestle with doubt and uncertainty, you are in good company. Even those who were closest to Jesus didn’t become people of faith until he intervened, and drew them to the other side. We’ll never have the honor of a face-to-face meeting with him in this life, but we have the proclamation of those who did. We’ve heard how profoundly it changed them. And we have seen the fruits of their labor: how many have come to believe through their witness.

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Believers, doubters, seekers all: this Easter season has just begun. We’ll continue to focus on the story those early believers have to tell. May it shape us, and inspire us, and draw us towards a life-giving faith. Christ is risen, indeed!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why are the women perplexed and terrified on that first Easter morning?

  2. Why do the eleven remaining central disciples of Jesus conclude that the women’s report is an idle tale?

  3. What it is that eventually causes these frightened, doubting followers of Jesus to become people of faith?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What doubts and uncertainties do I find myself facing?

  2. How are these women, and the eleven disciples, a sign of hope for me?

  3. Do I find my church to be a place that will help me wrestle with hard and troubling questions?