The Second Sunday of Easter, 27 April 2014

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

Background:  Faith, Doubt, Belief, and Hope
I am writing this while waiting in the Dresdener Hauptbahnhof for my train to Prague.  Somehow writing this in the land of rugged Saxon Protestants while on the way to the land of Hussites and other proto-Lutherans, it seems appropriate to be addressing these issues.  If Thomas had not existed we surely would have had to invent him, so necessary he is to the story.  His doubt is really the stuff of our daily life, but it is only one of several ingredients that rounds out our response to the Risen One.  I realized as I was flying into the Frankfurt Airport that all of those elements: faith, doubt, belief, and hope, were very much a part of the realities of my flight.  I had faith that all the workers who had assembled the plane had done a good job.  I believed that the pilot and the other staff were well trained enough to keep the machine in the air, and I hoped that each of the thousands of moving parts of the plane would function properly.  Doubt was the human element that kept it all together – a healthy balance and perspective.

Doubt is the pepper in our Protestant stew.  The pepper in the Roman stew is both legend and cynicism.  All these elements keep our Christianity realistic and responsive.  And by realistic, I don’t mean the realism of a Thomas Kincaid (as if his subjects were ever real) - that supposed realism about life and surroundings that is more specious than genuine.  That is the Christian history, to tell the story over and over again, and in telling it to work it all through again, over and over again.  One wonders how long it took Peter to come to the conclusions that he speaks so eloquently in this and last Sunday’s Gospels.  My sense is that he had a few drops of Thomas’ blood in him as well – an attitude to test, to probe, to propose, to suppose, and ultimately to trust – to believe.  So thank you Thomas for having the courage to ask questions first.  The black and white of fundamentalism simply does not serve us or this country well.  But an active conversation in which all perspectives are given equal measure and hearing – that is good ground for the Spirit.

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude, "You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know-- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,

`I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.'

"Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying ,

`He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.'
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses."

What precedes this is a new creation of the apostles in the appearance of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost, and this reading constitutes Peter’s first public sermon on that occasion.  What is interesting is that Luke has Peter first, and then later Paul, repeat or reenact events or actions from the life of Jesus, as a way of authenticating their apostolic ministry.  In this case, Peter seems to be preaching in the style of Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4:16-30, where Jesus is rejected at Nazareth.  “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Peter notes those themes of rejection, and indeed is met with them himself as they accuse the apostles of being drunk with new wine.  Peter sees all of this as matched by God’s plan and foreknowledge.  It is God, Peter says, “that raised him up.”  The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign of the last days as prophesied by Joel.  The quotes from the psalms only point up the congruence of Peter’s message with the plan of salvation outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. How Jesus’ sermon and Peter’s similar?
  2. Why is important for Peter to note all of this as God’s plan?
  3. What new dreams have come to you in your Christianity?

Psalm 16 Page Conserva me, Domine

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.

For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Appropriate to the other readings in the lectionary for today, this psalm seems to be a confession of faith, and a thanksgiving for having survived death.  Verses 3 and 4 seem to suppose that the author has abandoned either fealty to Canaanite leaders or to the gods that they follow.  What is celebrated in the verses that follow is the author’s relationship to YHWH, and to the benefits that come with that relationship: “a goodly heritage”, counsel, hope, and the “path of life.”  It is a beneficial relationship that the poet both recognizes and describes.

Breaking open Psalm 16:
  1. Did you convert to Christianity?  Why?
  2. From what?
  3. Why do you still believe?
1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-- being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Earlier commentators saw this “letter” as actually a “baptismal sermon”, but now it is seen as a letter intended for reading during the liturgy.  It is also seen as a harmony of the Pauline and Petrine traditions.  In our periscope we have a rather large “thanksgiving” that was common in the Christian epistolary form. If there are themes in this reading, two especially stand out. The first is the notion of “new birth” and the other is the notion of “hope”, both appropriate to this day and season. There is a dimensionality evident in the author’s notions about hope.  Both the ideas of a heavenly realization, and a realization at the end of time, “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” are present and explored.  There are contrasts that await those awaiting the fulfillment of history.  There are both trials and tests, and an all-fulfilling joy that comes with the presence of God.  The verses that really apply this reading to today’s Gospel, “Although you have not seen him, you love him,” underscore that dimensionality previously noted.  This is the “outcome of faith.”

Breaking open I Peter:
  1. How is Easter new life for you?
  2. How is Easter hope for you?
  3. What waits for you in Easter?

St. John 20:19-31

When it was evening on the day of Resurrection, 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." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 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."
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." 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." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 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."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 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.

There are several resurrection appearances in John, and this reading incorporates two separate periscopes: John 20:19-23 – An appearance to the disciples and the gift of the Spirit, and John 20:24-31 – The Thomas Story, and a summary of the Gospel.  This follows last Sunday’s appearance to Mary Magdalene.  Here John differs from Luke’s Pentecost account where a period of 50 days passes before the Spirit is given to the disciples.  In John’s account, the gift of the Spirit is linked to the Easter event.  John’s visuals note the connection of the Passion and Resurrection to this new gift.  A gift is also given “the church”, if that could even be said to exist now.  The gift is the “Office of the Keys” as the Lutherans would call it – the gift of Confession and Absolution.

In the next periscope, “Doubting Thomas” centers more on his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” than it does on his “doubting” (actually an expressed need to see and experience more (cf. people from Missouri).  What Jesus says to Thomas might be said to all of us.  The realism that seems to be required by fundamentalists does not match what Jesus here offers to those who have faith (thus hope and trust in his word).  The appeal to Thomas, to the readers, and finally to all who use John’s resource is to know Christ through John’s narrative, and then to begin the business of believing.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is doubt in your mind?
  2. Was Thomas truly a doubter?
  3. How are you a doubter?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller


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