The Second Sunday of Easter, 19 April 2020

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


It is the first sense that we acquire and probably use even before we are born. It is the key to relationships and communication. In a very real sense, touch is our first language. Both Thomas and Jesus understood the primary nature of touch. Thomas’ honest instinct to touch the Risen One only underscored his humanity, and Jesus’ as well. Scientists and psychologists are aware of the power of touch. Even in our fear of touching someone, we innately understand its power. How often do you reach out to engage and capture another’s attention? We often feel more connect to another if they touch us. A good friend of mine was horrified when the church asked that we not touch or hug during the Kiss of Peace. That gesture and moment was primary to him and it represented a great loss – the communication of being wanted and of value. Jeremiah is touched at his call, as is Isaiah and Daniel. Jesus touches repeatedly, and in turn is touched such as by the woman with the issue of blood. Perhaps Thomas’ desire to touch was not “doubt” driven, but rather the first step in a process of communicating and then believing.

If you would like to learn and think more about touch, click here.

First Reading: Acts 2:14a,22-32

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “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.”

Our readings, at least this one, anticipates the Feast of Pentecost, for here we have Peter’s sermon on that day. It is a homily that takes the prophecy of Joel and applies it to that day, and the situation of that day. The crowd thought that the eleven had been imbibing in spirits, but Peter emphasizes that they have actually been touched by the Spirit. This notion of authentication by God leads Peter to talk about David, of whom Jesus is both heir, and head. David is the evidence that Peter sets before them, a template, if you will, about what it means to be an anointed one. Peter notes that David is still in his tomb, but God raised up Jesus as a powerful witness of what it means to be God’s own. The homily, at least in our reading, ends with a powerful call, not unlike the one given to the prophets, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” Now the mystagogy can begin.

Breaking open Acts:

1.     What does resurrection mean to you?
2.     What are the mysteries of Easter to you?
3.     How have you been an Easter witness?

Psalm 16 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.
     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.
10    For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11    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.

Like Peter’s homily to the crowds at Jerusalem on Pentecost, this psalm is a confession of faith. Of special interest is the content in verses three and four, in which the author sets aside the libations and following after other gods. What then follows is a confession of faith in YHWH, “O Lord, you are my portion and my cup.” The psalmist sees God as his or her inheritance, “my portion.” The relationship is not static, for the author looks to God for counsel, and the wisdom of God, dwelling in his heart, teaches the psalmist. There is great joy in this relationship and continuing guidance and wisdom. Even death poses no threat, “you will not abandon me to the grave.” Rather God shows the path of life, and an accompaniment of joy.

Breaking open Psalm 16:
  1. When did you first believe?
  2. Is it different than your belief now?
  3. What wisdom has God given you?

Second Reading: I 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.

This letter begins with the usual greeting followed by a thanksgiving. The formula “Blessed be the God…”is the typical synagogue form of prayer. The author starts at the very beginning of existence, “he has given us a new birth.” And the birth is in a new hope. This is the key concept of this author – the notion of hope as the reality, but not yet. Something is set aside for us, “kept in heaven for you.” We are to look ahead to the “not yet”, for it will be revealed to us in time. What is really powerful in this reading is its (perhaps) reference to Thomas. “Although you have not seen him, you love him…believe in him and rejoice.” The author teaches us the process and progress of believing – an Easter duty and mission.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What are your hopes?
  2. Does it bother you that some things are “not yet”?
  3. What hopes have blossomed in your life?

The Gospel: 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.

John fills in the void we find the other Gospels – Jesus appears to the disciples in a powerful way. Against a background of fear, and even unbelief, Jesus reveals himself, and his mission for them. There are two powerful scenes. The first is Jesus appearance to them, and his breath which blows over them, making of them a new creation. There is the ministry of forgiveness and confrontation. Not only should priests and pastors sit down and discuss this breath of the Spirit and the duties that accompany it, but every Christian should meditate on those words – forgiveness and retention.

The second scene is Thomas’ reacting to the Risen One. Earlier he expressed his doubts and reservations, but now Jesus is standing in front of him. Jesus invites Thomas’ touch – both flesh and wound would communicate to him as nothing else might. What more can any of us say than, “My Lord, and my God,” an echo of the psalmist in psalm 16. Then comes the blessing that we really must remember, the blessing given to those who “who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Breaking open Gospel:
1.        How do you touch your faith?
2.        How does your faith touch you?
3.        What things about your faith give you pause?

Central Idea:               Touching Easter

Idea 1:                          What about us reminds us of our Easter faith? (Example of David in the First Reading)

Idea 2:                          What have you left behind to follow Jesus? (Psalm 16)

Idea 3:                          What about Easter gives you hope? (Second Reading)

Idea 4:                          What do you own of your questions of faith (Gospel)

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.

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller


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