St. Mary's Church

Second Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter

10 Apr 2021 • General news

Acts 4. 32-35

32The 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. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There 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. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

1 John 1. 1—2.2

1We 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 – 2this 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 – 3we 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. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5This 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. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but 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. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1My 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; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20. 19-end

19When 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.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’

26A 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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. 

Reflection for 11 April 2021, Second Sunday of Easter.

John 20: 19-31

“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.”

Last Sunday we gathered together with Christians all over the globe, to celebrate the pivotal events of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now we come to what are generally referred to as the ‘resurrection appearances’, when Jesus appears to his friends, supporters and followers in various places. For John, the first of those appearances was to Mary Magdalene in the garden – and now he appears to the disciples in the upper room. Except, not all of them…

Poor, poor Thomas. He’s the one who wasn’t there. Why not? Was he late? Was he out getting supplies? Was he looking for news, or trying to find a safe route out of the city? We will never know, because history is remarkably uncaring about why he wasn’t there – the fact of his absence was enough. I always thought history gave Thomas a bit of a raw deal. ‘Doubting’ Thomas, we call him, indeed we have called him that for almost two thousand years now. Poor man – we know almost nothing about him, and he’s been saddled forever with this title, wearing for all time a nickname based on one situation, one comment that he made. He might have been the life and soul of every party; he might have been a deep thinker, or an incredible practical joker, or the dependable, practical one that always had your back whatever the situation – but no, for us, thanks to one verse of scripture, he will always be the Doubter, his name a byword for sceptics and unbelievers down through the centuries. You can almost hear him yelling at them, “I did that one time!

As I said, I think history gave Thomas a raw deal, and I think that for two reasons: first, his doubt was not unfounded; and second, it wasn’t actually really doubt at all.

The traditional view of Thomas is that his incredulity, his seeking after proof, is somehow ‘out of step’, that his view is the unreasonable one. But the resurrection was – and still is – an entirely unprecedented event, an event which had never happened before and has never happened again. Imagine being the only person who missed that!

When I was training to be a teacher in 1998, I saw an Easter assembly, given by the head of maths at Stoke Park school, where I was on teaching practice. He picked a student at random, and sent him out of the hall; then, in front of the rest of the year group, he ate a daffodil, stem, petals, anthers and everything. And, having finished it, he said to the assembled students, “When he comes back in, he won’t believe you if you tell him I did that. ”I’ve seen variations on it since, involving swallowing raw eggs and the like. The details are less important than the idea that scepticism and doubt are natural human reactions to the unknown, and to phenomena we do not directly witness. Where Thomas said back then, “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,” he might say now, “Pictures, or it didn’t happen. ”Scepticism is natural, more so when we are dealing with events that are so far outside the realm of our experience like the resurrection. Is it any wonder that Thomas asked for proof?

Which brings me to my second point – that what we call his doubt wasn’t really doubt at all. After all, if it was – well, then, he was hardly the only doubter, was he? Mary Magdalene had mistaken the risen Christ for a gardener who had moved the body; and Peter and John had themselves disbelieved Mary’s account of her encounter with Jesus. They ran to the tomb, and didn’t believe the resurrection until they had seen the empty tomb and the folded grave-clothes for themselves. Yet they don’t get stuck with the name of ‘Doubter’.

But there’s slightly more to my argument than that. Yes, Thomas claims that he won’t believe in the risen Christ until he has seen for himself, and put his hands on the wounds. This has led to a great many paintings in the years since, by the likes of Caravaggio, Cantarini, Rubens, and many others. All of these paintings show Thomas putting his finger on, or occasionally in, Christ’s wounds. It’s such a familiar image to us that we forget the most important thing about it: it didn’t happen.

Thomas says he won’t believe until he’s put his hands into the wounds. But when it comes down to it, he doesn’t do that, even though Jesus invites him to do so. He doesn’t touch Jesus, because seeing him is enough – and Thomas falls to his knees and worships. Jesus still has a gentle rebuke for him, saying that it would have been better if he had believed without seeing. This is the belief that we are called to; we cannot see the risen Christ, there is no possibility of ‘pictures or it didn’t happen’ for us. We are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. And as Jesus says – and I always imagine him saying it with a smile on his face – we are blessed because of it.

But even if Thomas needed to see Jesus in order to believe – if he needed his ‘pictures or it didn’t happen’ moment, yet his belief is perhaps the strongest out of all the disciples. It’s unfair that we should call him ‘Doubting Thomas’ – when we don’t refer to ‘Doubting Peter’ or ‘Doubting John’ – especially since Thomas is the first person in the whole of the Bible to declare that the risen Christ is God. He is understandably sceptical of the reports of the resurrection – but having it demonstrated to him, he immediately accepts it and draws the only conclusion he can – that the man in front of him is not human, but divine.

‘Doubting Thomas’? Perhaps we should change it to ‘Believing Thomas’ instead.

Amen.

Stephen Baker

Prayers for 11 April 2021

Faithful God, we praise you for the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ from the dead. Shed his glorious light on all Christian people that we may live as those who believe in the triumph of the cross.

Almighty God we ask you to be a real and living presence in your church throughout the world. We pray for each one of us at St Mary’s, that we may be bold in expressing our faith to those we meet. Wherever we are lacking in faith and courage strengthen us with your Spirit.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Merciful God, we pray for peace in our troubled world. Wherever nations are at war and people are suffering we pray for true reconciliation. Protect all people across the world, and help them to influence their country for the good of all and continue to pray for a fair and equitable distribution of the Coronavirus vaccine.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Father God, we pray for all families whose homes are disrupted by anger and bitterness and where relationships are breaking up, exacerbated by the stress of the Pandemic. We thank you for the gift of your Son, our saviour, who walks with us on our life’s journey and, as he gladdened the hearts of his friends when they saw him raised from the dead, may he travel alongside all who are struggling with their family life.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Loving God comfort the sick and suffering with your living presence. Heal and strengthen weak bodies, calm confused minds and reassure the lonely with your company. We raise before you those we know with particular needs we have been asked to pray for and in the silence we hold those we care about before you.

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Merciful God, we remember before you those who have died in the hope of the resurrection. Unite us with them in your undying love. Help us to always remember that death could not hold your Son Jesus Christ and that new life for him means new life for all who believe in Him.

(Short Silence)

Lord, in your Mercy: Hear our Prayer

Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ, stands among us, and we have seen the marks of your saving love. Breathe on us with the power of your Holy Spirit and send us out to share the peace of Christ with all who may cross our paths in the weeks ahead.

Merciful Father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen