The Second Sunday of Easter, 8 April 2018

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
I John 20:19-31
St. John 20:19-31

Background: Doubt

The richness of the Gospel for today will be diminished by people’s proclivity to focus on Thomas and his doubt, while the powerful themes of being recreated in the Spirit (he breathed on them) and the giving of the ministry of forgiveness and confrontation will be set aside. Let’s take some time and talk about the doubt, however. I shall deal with the other nuggets in the Gospel in comments on it, below.

We live in a time that seems to be characterized by doubt. It is not only a time of religious doubt, but of a general skepticism about a great number of things. The Pew Research Cneter recently polled young Americans and found that 31 percent of the respondents, all under 30 years of age, entertained doubts about the existence of God. When we look at climate change, gun control, or several political issues we have doubts scattered quite liberally between the left and the right. There are doubts about the value of education, or the relevance of science.

Christopher Lane, in an article in Psychology Today[1] writes, “For too long doubt has acquired the hallmark of paralysis and stagnation when, as so much of the literature underscores, it’s actually a catalyst for change and renewal.” He comes to a different conclusion about doubt, one that is more informed by his atheism than anything else, but as Christians we can listen and learn. Perhaps doubt is part and parcel with the mystagogy that we ought to be experiencing in these days of Easter. Perhaps, Thomas’ stated doubts are more honest than the disciples who remain suspiciously silent.

The First Reading: Acts 4:32-35

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Luke gives us a clue as to how radical the response was to the good news of Easter. There is no rule or law that emanates from the good news, rather there is a choice to do something different, something born of the Spirit. This is more than an individual spirit as well, for Luke shares that they were of “one heart and soul.” This is both friendship and community, for the necessities of life become a place for the friendship in the Spirit to be lived out. The benefit of their largess was also a community effort, for their gifts are “laid at the apostles’ feet.” It is humbling to hear the result of this goodness, “there was no needy person among them.” Were that true in our churches and our society today. Greed seems to have won the day in our time, and yet Easter calls us to something greater.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. With whom and how do you share?
  2. Who is needful in your community?
  3. What will you do for them?

Psalm 133 Ecce, quam bonum!

     Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2      It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3      Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4      It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5      For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

If Luke/Acts gives us a picture of community, Psalm 133 gives us a similar picture that rejoices in the human community. The psalmist gives us something to remember as he rejoices in the abundance of the community of humankind, and the abundance of the land. There is the oil that comes down, first from the hair to the beard, then from the beard to the robe (it is so abundant), and finally the dew that comes down to water the earth and increase its abundance. Isaiah writes of such abundance, and the Feeding of the Five Thousand is another tale of abundance. The understanding of the abundance in the psalm is that it, the over-abundance of the gifts of the earth, are something to be shared with the whole community. In his translation, Robert Alter gives even greater contrast to this abundance. Instead of the “hills of Zion”, he makes a small edition, substitution twiyah (parched) for tsiyon (Zion)[2]. It is the parched hills needful of water that are blessed with this dew.

Breaking open Psalm 133:
  1. What do you see as abundance of life?
  2. Who is an abundance for you?
  3. What do they give you?

The Second Reading: I John 1:1-2:2

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Here we eavesdrop on a conversation in which we know neither of the parties in the conversation. We will recognize the issues and the themes, however. The commentator on this epistle, George Parsenios, assumes a relationship with the Gospel of John, and sees the epistle as a product of the community formed by the Gospel of John. As in the Prologue to the Gospel, the author of this letter calls us back to the beginning, the new creation that has been both seen, heard, and touched – the word of life. We have the Johannine themes of light and darkness, contrasting what we were from what we have become. “This is the message”, the author declares as s/he underscores the light. So the question for us is how is the Risen One light in our lives, and how can that light be extended to others so that we might “live together in unity,” as the psalmist says.

Breaking open I John:
  1. How is Easter a new beginning for you?
  2. How is Jesus a light for you?
  3. How are you a light for others?

The Gospel: St. John 20:19-31

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." 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.

Mary Magdalen went to the tomb in the early morning, while it was still dark. Here the disciples are gathered in the evening, the first day of the week. Both of these incidents then happened on a new day, for in Judaism (and in liturgical Christianity as well) the day begins in the evening. So we are seeing something new in a new time. Whatever the disciples’ mood is, perhaps fear or anguish over the absent Lord, or anxiousness at the women’s news, Jesus comes into their midst to alter their current state. He enters and asks that peace might be with them. Fear needs to be taken out of the equation, for Jesus is now with them. Assurances need to be made, however, as he shows them the signs of his passion – the wounds. The mood is changed and the disciples rejoice.

Having established his identity (one wonders if the disciples had the same problem as the Magdalen, did they recognize him), Jesus moves on to begin the new day, the new time birthed in Easter. First there is the sending, then anointing, and finally the task. I, as a priest, have always found this a very moving passage. The apostles, and we can now call them that for in this instance they are sent, are recreated as Jesus’ blows his Spirit upon them. Then, he gives them the task of discernment. The first mentioned is the discernment of those who need forgiveness, and then those that need confrontation. It is the stuff of ministry that applies not only to priests, but to every Christian. Our need to see in ourselves the need for forgiveness, and our need to confront our own failings becomes the first state of accepting the peace that Jesus offers.

Now comes the section that grabs people’s attention. Thomas comes lately to the room, and to the news that the disciples’ share. His anxiousness and doubt are not unlike their own, I think, before they were offered Jesus’ peace. Thomas needs to touch, just as the Magdalen needed to touch. In this instance, however, Jesus invites the touch, and Thomas believes, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas is a necessary element, nor is he alone in this drama. Peter, John, the Marys, and the Magdalene all have difficult experiences of the Risen One – and we are no different, as we move to see our Lord and God in the one who was raised.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How have you been sent by Jesus?
  2. How have you dealt with your doubts?
  3. How have you touched your Easter faith?

Question: How do we take in the good news of Easter?

First Stage –         Recognizing and understanding our own reactions to the Easter message.
Second Stage -     Answering our internal questions as to what Easter might really mean for us as a Christian.
Third Stage -        Hearing the story of others in the Bible who are confronted by the Risen One.
Fourth Stage -      Hearing the doubts of the world around us.
Fifth Stage -         Forming the message of Good News in light of their fear and anxiety.

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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Lane, C. (2012), The Creative Power of Doubt, Psychology Today,
[2]     Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton& Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 10152.


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