Easter 2, year B

I.Theme –   Joining resurrection faith with experiences of community 

 "Incredulity of Thomas" –  Duccio, di Buoninsegna (1308-1311)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually:

Old Testament – Acts 4:32-35
Psalm – Psalm 133 Page 787, BCP
Epistle –1 John 1:1-2:2
Gospel – John 20:19-31

Commentary by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell:

As we enter into the season of Easter, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, remembering how the early Christians fared in the days after Jesus’ resurrection. We hear the beginnings of the early church, the house-meetings, the agape love feasts, the witnesses and martyrs, and all of the disciples of Jesus.

Acts 4:32-35 recalls the beginnings of the church as also described in 2:42-47, but the message is even stronger that in the early church, the believers held all things in common–there were no possessions. The community’s purpose was to give testimony and witness to Jesus’ resurrection, and they lived out the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. For centuries since, we the church have attempted to recreate this fellowship and have fallen short. Our desire for what others have limits our relationships and comes into conflict with the desire of Christ, that we be one body, one church family, and that there be none among us in need.

The psalmist sings in 133 about they wondrous joys of being together in community, of being part of God’s family. God’s blessing is life forever, a life that is in communion with all of our brothers and sisters. Indeed, our practice of God’s family on earth is preparing us for the heavenly home we hope for–a home in which we are in fellowship, in community, with all those who have gone before us, with our brothers and sisters.

John 20:19-31 tells the familiar story of Jesus appearing the disciples after his Resurrection, and how they did not believe until they had seen. And there is the story of “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas is not unlike his brothers, he just was not present when Jesus showed his scars the first time. Perhaps Thomas is like most of us–we want to believe, but there are some things beyond our comprehension, things that blow apart the very understanding of how our world works: Jesus continues to turn the tables on our thinking, even in the resurrection.

The lectionary follows much of 1 John in the season of Easter. In this first portion, we are reminded that Jesus is the Word and the Light, and that through Christ we have forgiveness. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8; however, we also need to recognize that we all sin. If we say we are without sin, we are lying to ourselves. To walk the Christian path, we have to give fully of ourselves, and that requires our honesty. We need to recognize that we are all sinners, that we still sin, and that through Christ we are forgiven. We need to constantly recognize our need to turn back to God, for God is the light of the world, and what is hidden in darkness will be revealed in the light.

Perhaps this Sunday could be called “Doubters Sunday.” Celebrate the doubts that you have, for doubting is part of the journey of faith. Recognize that at times the whole resurrection story is a bit hard to swallow. Honor the times you have doubted God’s existence when there is so much pain and suffering in the world. Accept that at times the Bible does not seem to make sense. But also recognize that you and me are still sinners. Honor the fact that we need another chance to turn back, to set our lives on right paths again. Accept that we need God, we need Christ in our lives, because if nothing else, Christ shows us the path to be our true selves, to be honest before God and the world. Stripped away of the easy answers given to us in Sunday School and the blind acceptance we may have been taught to hold onto, we are naked before God. We can fake it for others–either our religious sincerity, or our all-knowledgeable ego that says we don’t believe that anymore–but we cannot fake it before the Creator. And if God’s created image is in us, we cannot fake it before ourselves. Before God, everything is stripped away, our doubts and fears, our blind acceptance–we simply come before God as who we are. Christ knows who we are, knows that we have our faults and shortcomings, and continues to love and accept us as children of God.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Acts 4:32-35

Commentary by Bruce Epperly at "Process and Faith"  

The passage from Acts describes the church as the manifestation of divine koinonia, a lively relational community. Holistic faith joins the one and the many, unity and diversity, individuality and community. Like the healthy body, described in I Corinthians 12, every part supports all the others; the health of individual and community are interdependent. Healthy communities support healthy persons and dynamic spiritualities; healthy persons contribute to the formation of healthy and dynamic communities.

The Acts passage is countercultural both in our congregations and political communities. The rallying cry of “me and mine” drowns out the quest for solidarity. Politicians propose budgets that cut taxes for the wealthy, leave the middle class virtually untouched in terms of tax savings, and reduce funding for society’s most vulnerable members. In many ways, Acts 4:32-35, along with Acts 2:42-47, describe a community of prophetic hospitality in which justice and compassion characterize social relatedness. While the Acts community had no political power, these words serve as a challenge both to church and community: “The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say ‘this is mine’ about any of their possessions, but held everything in common….there were no needy persons among them!”

Acts of the Apostles convicts governments and churches alike. They call us beyond isolated individualism to beloved community in which our well-being and the well-being of others is intimately connected. The passage begs a number of questions:

What does it say about a nation that is content with millions of people living below the poverty level?

How can we as people of faith tolerate the reality of “needy persons,” whose lack is a result of others’ decisions and no fault of their own?

What does it say about developed nations who share only modest portions of their wealth to respond to the realities of starvation and epidemic?

What does it say about a nation that is apparently content with unequal educational facilities and health care services?

At the very least, the reading from Acts challenges us to look at our congregations: Is anyone needy – in body, mind, spirit, relationships, economics, healthcare – in our congregation? What is our response to the “needs” in our Christian community? What would happen if we chose to defer certain purchases to subsidize a family’s health care costs or insurance payments, to pay the rent for a family in financial distress, to enable elders on fixed incomes to buy groceries and pay for medications, or to insure that children had adequate school supplies and technology to keep up with their peers? Such actions are not a substitute for humane governmental policies, but they will bring greater well-being to a significant group of people. Whether conservative or liberal, Christians are called to support structures of economic, institutional, and educational healing as a priority for both church and state.

Acts is not talking about charity, but responsibility. It challenges the current fixation on the prerogative of “job creators” to amass as much largesse as possible in light of the reality that there are no job creators without consumers and workers. We are all in this together – there is no us-them in the body of Christ, but a dynamic community of brothers and sisters in Christ

Psalm –  Psalm 133 Page 787, BCP

Commentary by Bruce Epperly at "Process and Faith"

Today’s passages join resurrection faith with experiences of community. Psalm 133 proclaims the joy of families and communities that share common goals and experiences. Community does not imply uniformity, but a creative weaving together of diverse experiences and persons into a tapestry of blessing. “Look at how good and pleasing it is when families dwell together as one!”

Epistle –  1 John 1:1-2:2

Commentary by Bruce Epperly at "Process and Faith"

The Epistle of John describes an interdependent solidarity of grace and sin. We have experienced grace and find joy in the sharing what we have seen and heard. But, the experience of grace is completed not only in witness to God’s actions in our lives but our recognition of our finitude and imperfection. Confession connects us with the divine and our brothers and sisters. Like thanksgiving, confession reminds us that we need one another – there are no self-made persons or us-them, but we are all part of a dynamic community of grace and forgiveness.

Confession is an act of solidarity that nurtures greater understanding of others’ imperfections; it may also challenge us to see our complicity in others’ suffering as well as our need to prevent certain occasions of sin – poverty, lack of education and employment, racism, sexism. While God is forgiving and embraces us in our imperfection, God also calls us to see spiritual and physical health as connected – holistic spirituality, like holistic medicine, seeks to be preventative not just reactive.

Gospel –   John 20:19-31

Commentary by Bruce Epperly at "Process and Faith"

Early on Easter Day, Mary Magdalene has discovered that Jesus’ body is missing from the tomb; the door is open, so it looks as though someone has stolen it (v. 1). She has seen a man standing near the tomb. When he speaks to her, she recognizes him as Jesus. She has told the disciples: “I have seen the Lord” (v. 18).

Later the same day, Jesus joins the disciples, gathered behind locked doors. He shows them that he is the one who was crucified (v. 20). Jesus confers on “the disciples” (not including Thomas, but perhaps a group larger than the ten) “peace” (vv. 19, 21) and “the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). As God “breathed” life into Adam, the proto-human, so Jesus now breathes the new, spiritual, life of recreated humanity into his followers. Aided by the Spirit, they continue Jesus’ judicial role in the world, forgiving the sins of the faithful and holding others blameworthy (“retain”, v. 23) for their actions. Thomas is expected to believe without having seen, but he demands: show me the evidence! (v. 25) The next Sunday, the community gathers again (v. 26). Upon seeing, Thomas makes the most complete affirmation of faith of anyone in the gospel (v. 29). Henceforth the faith of all Christians in all ages will rest on the testimony of the first believers. Vv. 30-31 tell us John’s purpose in writing the book. His eyewitness account is intended to help us, who were not witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension to “come to believe” and thus “have life in his name”, eternal life.

This is the story of "Doubting Thomas." David Lose provides 3 reason why this is an unfortunate title:

"First, Thomas is not anywhere in John’s Gospel — the only gospel where he has his own scene, lines, or characterization — described as "the doubter." Rather, he is "the Twin," a name most of us have long forgotten.

Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous. Way back in chapter 11, for instance, Thomas is the one who urged the disciples to go with Jesus to raise Lazarus even thought it might spell their deaths (Jn. 11:16). And in chapter 14, when Thomas doesn’t understand Jesus’ metaphorical speech about the place he is going to, Thomas calls him on it: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how then can we know the way.”

Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist, and a few days earlier he’d encountered reality like never before as he saw his friend and lord nailed to the cross and die. Now, when his friends tell him that they’ve seen the Lord, he reacts with a realist’s skepticism, kind of like a terminally ill patient who has accepted his fate might react to news of a new "miracle cure."

So when the disciples come saying that they had seen Jesus, Thomas doesn’t merely doubt them. He out and out just plain doesn’t believe. And so I suspect that his demand to see and feel the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands is less a request for proof than it is mocking the disciple’s claim. He makes that demand, in other words, because he knows it will never happen; it’s a request as absurd, even ridiculous, as what his friends are claiming.

"Second, did you ever notice that what Thomas asked for was exactly what all the other disciples got? When Jesus appeared to the other disciples he showed them his hands and his side and only then, John records, did the disciples rejoice "because they saw the Lord" (20:20). One conclusion we might draw is that, despite his bad rap, Thomas is no worse than the other disciples. More importantly, however, perhaps we’ve actually misunderstood the nature of faith altogether, assuming that the "more" faith we have the fewer questions we’ll ask

"Third, Jesus’ words at the end of this scene aren’t, I think, really about Thomas. After all, who are "those who have believed and not seen"? Well, it starts with the members of the early Christian community to whom John writes…and continues to include all of us. That’s right: Jesus isn’t so much rebuking Thomas as he is blessing us. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Lose concludes that doubt is an essential part of faith. "Once he (Thomas) has encountered Jesus, his faith is as realistic as was his skepticism, as he doesn’t merely believe but also makes the chief confession in John’s gospel, acclaiming Jesus not only as "my Lord" — the title reserved for Caesar in the first century — but also "my God," the highest praise of Jesus made in the New Testament and an echo of the opening line of John’s Gospel.

Thomas like all of us have difficulty believing God’s messiah would be crucified and the unheard of plan of salvation from this violence ?

The passage reflects the historical times it was written. At the time of this Gospel we know of a drift toward gnosticism, or docetism, the tendency to say that Jesus just seemed to be human. This emphasis on the hands and side is a way of saying that the crucifixion was a real death of a real human being.

III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:

First ReadingActs 4:32-35

PsalmPsalm 133  

Epistle  – 1 John 1:1-2:2 

Gospel  – John 20:19-31 


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