God of resurrection hope,
The gloriously surprising season of Easter hope again weaves through an almost endless season of global pandemic that surprised all of us. More than an entire calendar year? We never would have imagined!
God of resurrection joy!
Thank you again for first responders, healthcare, and other essential workers who make it possible for others to stay safe, stay home. Thank you for providing virtual ways to connect socially in spite of necessary physical distancing and remote relating. Thank you for working through scientists and medical personnel during these long months. And thank you for the gift of vaccines! Thank you for the amazement of how so many of us have been cooperating together.
God of our future,
You have gone before us into the frontlines, and into the hidden places of this ongoing worldwide uncertainty. Sometimes we imagine we have chosen you, but we know you first sought us out and chose us. Please continue to create in us a single heart and mind, as you show us the path of life is the way of the cross and the empty tomb, that our lives will testify to the risen Christ.
In the name of Jesus, crucified, risen, and with us always.
cf: Psalm 133; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1—2:2; John 20:19-31
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.
Easter Day and Bright Week
• Easter is 50 days—a week of weeks (7 x 7); 7 is the number of perfection in Hebrew numerology. The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter! This year Pentecost will be on May 23rd. Where will we be then?
• The day of resurrection is the day after the Sabbath; it's both the eighth day of the old week and the first day of a new week. As the first day of a new week, the day of resurrection is the beginning of a new creation.
• Many baptismal fonts are octagonal with eight sides to help demonstrate our baptism as a new creation Into Jesus' death and resurrection.
• Orthodox churches in particular celebrate the seven days from Easter Sunday through Easter Saturday as Bright Week, and consider the entire week a single day—the eighth day of creation or the first day of the new creation.
The order of the new creation subverts the order of the old:
• God names Adam – Genesis 2:7
• Jesus names Mary – John 20:16
• The new creation is not pristine, but carries evidence of old, deadly pasts. Today's reading from John shows us Jesus' scars. On this side of Easter we often find ourselves in the "Yes, already!" of resurrection and the "No, not yet!" of Holy Saturday, that time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The Second Sunday of Easter, Part I
Although the gospel according to John doesn't get its own lectionary year, on most Sundays of all three years during the fifty days of Easter we hear a passage from John. Every year the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter is this 2-part narrative of Jesus coming to his followers twice through closed doors.
Verse 21 Jesus bestows the gift of peace that's not simple absence of conflict; this peace is shalom: expansive well-being, harmony, integrity, when individual and community both function as part of the other. However, (ironically) we get our English irenic from the Greek word the gospel uses. After filling them in his redemptive shalom, Jesus sends the disciples out into the world.
Verse 22 Jesus breathed on them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The only other place the Greek bible uses that word for breath is Genesis 2:7 – "God formed Adam out of dust and breathed into him the breath of life." In the power of the Holy Spirit of life, Jesus then trusts them with the office of the keys or forgiveness that creates radical, from-the-ground-up new life.
And then… that famous incident about Thomas.
Verse 25 "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." The New Creation carries scars from the death of the old. Resurrection doesn't erase crucifixion; resurrection transforms death into life. As we've learned throughout our earthly existence, past negatives frequently intrude on the newness of now.
The Second Sunday of Easter, Part II
The first story happens on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection; the second a week later.
Thomas sometimes gets called "doubting," but unbelieving or not-believing is closer to the perspective of the fourth gospel. Thomas' disbelief? in the scandal of crucifixion! Not disbelief in resurrection from the dead. Gnostic trends that denied the physical reality of the body were making rounds at the time of this gospel. If physical bodies weren't actually real, they couldn't actually die. Thomas doesn't question resurrection, but cannot imagine the outrage of crucifixion, death, and burial. In John's gospel, believing and trusting means abiding (resting, reposing) in Jesus.
Verse 27: Then Jesus 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." Jesus draws attention to the scars of crucifixion and invites Thomas to physically experience the reality of his death with his own senses.
Where We Live: COVID-19
Closed door, locked doors: Greek word is the same and means it's hard to get in. Fear again! "Fear of the Jews" probably refers to those who conspired to kill Jesus, because after all, Jesus' disciples were Jewish. For more than a year many of us have spent a whole lot of time behind closed doors (and behind masks when we venture out) for "fear of COVID-19." Government and health officials have instructed us to protect ourselves and others from exposure to a deadly virus, and most people realize COVID is an extremely serious threat, fear a more than reasonable reaction.
As Easter People, we talk and we walk Eighth Day Theology of a New Creation, while on this side of Easter we often find ourselves in the "Yes, already!" of resurrection and the "No, not yet!" of Holy Saturday, that time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So… after over a year of planetary COVID-19 devastation, over a century of environmental destruction, months (years, and decades) of other big and little disappointments wondering, "how can this still be happening in our lives and communities," today's scripture shows us we need to examine not completely healed wounds and other revelations of deaths.
The new creation is not unspoiled and untarnished, but bears marks of death; today's reading from John shows us Jesus' scars. Jesus draws attention to the scars of crucifixion and invites Thomas to physically touch and feel the reality of his death. In John's gospel, believing and trusting means abiding in Jesus; it's relationship and repose with Jesus, and also with one another. As Jesus grants us his shalom-filled peace, we go from being solitary isolated individuals to belonging within the body of Christ, with individuals and community functioning as parts of the other.
Most of us sometimes wonder if Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension already has redeemed all creation, why is so much of the world so thoroughly messed up? We often skip from Good Friday to Easter because we're literally afraid to acknowledge everything is not yet okay, we fear acknowledging (and inspecting) the remnants of death that remain and continue to intrude upon new life. We don't want other Christians (or even ourselves) to think we don't trust resurrection, that maybe we doubt like Thomas because we'd rather not believe in the reality of death.
Besides COVID-19 with its fallout, the past twelve plus months have revealed racial and ethnic brokenness, economic inequalities, histories in the USA and elsewhere we'd rather bury. Notice "know" in the word acknowledge.
• As churches return to campus to resume previous ministries and create new, much-needed ones, can churches become the places with the people that acknowledge wounds, touch scars, and find ways to redeem them into a future?
• What wounds need to be touched and attended to in your country? City? Neighborhood? Family? Church? Are some more urgent than others?
• What does "shalom/peace be with you" mean in the uncertainties and ongoing realistically high anxieties of this pandemic? We thought we had a few vaccines—in fact, the world has a dozen effective vaccines, then we hear about serious side effects, production slowdowns, and even breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people. Help?!
• Do we know (acknowledge) God's presence in the cruelty of COVID-19, in human hatred and violence toward other humans, in the degradation of everyone's home of planet earth? Can we find (see, touch, hear, feel) God within and God surrounding those situations?