Saturday, April 18, 2020

Easter 2A

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.

COVID-19, still

With #SaferAtHome #StaySafeStayHome effective at least through mid-May, I'll keep emailing my notes on Saturdays. My blogs aren't as interesting or fluid as after our live discussion, but they're better organized. Overall? Not better, not worse—only different.


God of resurrection hope,
The gloriously surprising season of Easter continues to weave through the devastating season of global pandemic that surprised all of us.

God of resurrection joy!
Thank you for the responders, healthcare, and other essential workers who make it possible for others to stay safe, stay home. And thank you for providing virtual ways to connect socially in spite of necessary physical distancing.

God of our future,
We know you have gone before us into the frontlines, and into the hidden places of this worldwide uncertainty. Sometimes we imagine we have chosen you, but we know you first chose us and in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, you show us the path of life is the way of the cross and the empty tomb.

In the name of Jesus, crucified, risen, and with us always.

cf: Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Easter Day and Bright Week

• Easter is 50 days—a week of weeks (7 x 7). The Day of Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter! This year Pentecost will be on May 31st. Where will we be then?

• The day of resurrection is the day after the Sabbath; the first day of the new week also is eighth day of the old week and the beginning of a new creation.

• Many baptismal fonts are octagonal with 8 sides to help demonstrate our baptism as a new creation Into Jesus' death and resurrection.

• Especially Orthodox churches celebrate the seven days from Easter Sunday through Easter Saturday as Bright Week, and consider the entire week a single day, the first day of the new creation.

• As we discussed for Easter Day, the new creation is not pristine, but carries scars from our old, deadly pasts. Today's reading from John shows us Jesus' scars.

The Second Sunday of Easter

Although the gospel according to John doesn't get its own lectionary year, every Sunday during the fifty days of Easter we hear a passage from John. Every Second Sunday of Easter the gospel reading is this 2-part narrative of Jesus coming to his followers through closed doors, bestowing gifts of peace, enlivening them with the Holy Spirit (along with the office of the keys or forgiveness), sending them out, and the famous incident about Thomas.

The word peace occurs 3 times in 12 verses.The peace Jesus brings is not what English language calls irenic peace, or simple absence of conflict. From Jesus we receive the fullness of shalom, a radically grounded, expansive peace that's redemption, integrity, wholeness, for all creation. However, (ironically) we get our English irenic from the Greek word the gospel-writer John uses.

The doors were locked, but even locked doors cannot prevent the risen Christ from entering a space and being with us. Closed, locked: Greek word is the same and means it's hard to get in. Just as Jesus went to find the apostles, Jesus seeks us out and finds us where we are. "Fear of the Jews?" Probably refers to those who killed Jesus, because after all, Jesus' disciples were Jewish.

After speaking peace on the assembly, Jesus breathes on them. The only other biblical occurrence of this Greek word for breathe is in a translation of Genesis 2:7 "And God formed the man (a-dam) of dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils, and the human became a living being." Humans carry the breath, spirit, wind [words have the same root] of the Divine within them.

John 20:21 "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

• How would you react if someone entered a room despite closed or locked doors and windows? Please remember! This is Jesus' physical, bodily presence.
• What about closed, locked doors and gates? Here in the city? In rural areas? Locked churches? Closing the doors of our own lives and hearts?
• What does "peace be with you" mean in the uncertainty and high anxieties of this pandemic?
• Does "I send you" remind you of any other scriptures? ...Moses, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Apostles, Jesus…
• Where does God send us?


In today's reading, Jesus' disciples experience the risen Jesus twice: first on Easter evening and then one week later. (Starting with third paragraph), Jesus' disciples gather again at the same place; this time Thomas is with them. This vignette famously gets called "doubting Thomas," but many commentators point out calling him a doubter gives Thomas a bad rap. He simply wants the same experience everyone else has had.

Although in John's gospel Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead prior to his own trial and execution, because Lazarus would die again, it wasn't quite the same as Jesus' resurrection. At the time the community gathered around the beloved disciple John wrote this down, Gnostic trends and influences that denied the reality of the body were making rounds. If physical bodies weren't actually real, they wouldn't be able to actually die. Maybe Thomas doesn't question resurrection from the dead, but cannot imagine the scandal of crucifixion and death?! And burial? His disciples didn't see simply a photograph or a dream-like apparition of Jesus; his followers experienced Jesus of Nazareth in his earthly body, now resurrected.

As we discussed during Lent, theology of the cross is about God's own self-revelation, especially in Christ crucified. Thomas insisted on seeing and feeling the "marks of the nails" of crucifixion and death. Thomas needed Jesus' resurrection – and death – to become part of his own body, his senses, his entire being.

We've discussed that in John's gospel, believing and trusting means abiding (resting, taking safe repose) in Jesus. It's not reciting a creed or confession, "I believe in God…" though doctrine absolutely is important. John is the gospel of abiding presence. In a similar way, sin in John's gospel is not so much transgression of or lack of conformity to the law of God (as the Westminster Catechism describes sin), but a lack of abiding, a lack of trusting relationship with Jesus.

The Pauline epistles have a similar sense of our being "in Christ," in the apostle Paul's terminology.

Philippians 3

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

From Graham Kendrick'a paraphrase of this in his song, "Knowing You":
Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,
and to know You in Your suffering,
to become like You in Your death,
My Lord, so with You to live and never die.

• How do you feel about of Thomas' needing or demanding physical evidence?
• What spiritual, physical, or natural expressions of God's presence do we find in our lives?
• What does having the Holy Spirit in your life mean for you every day?

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