Second Sunday of Easter 2020

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And a Happy Easter to our Orthodox friends who celebrate Easter this Sunday!

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay

Opening Hymn

Readings

Acts 2:14,22-32 (NLT)

14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this…

22 “People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23 But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24 But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. 25 King David said this about him:

‘I see that the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
26 No wonder my heart is glad,
    and my tongue shouts his praises!
    My body rests in hope.
27 For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.
28 You have shown me the way of life,
    and you will fill me with the joy of your presence.’

29 “Dear brothers, think about this! You can be sure that the patriarch David wasn’t referring to himself, for he died and was buried, and his tomb is still here among us. 30 But he was a prophet, and he knew God had promised with an oath that one of David’s own descendants would sit on his throne. 31 David was looking into the future and speaking of the Messiah’s resurrection. He was saying that God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot in the grave.

32 “God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.

John 20:19-end (NLT)

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed. 29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

Sermon

Having been the priest at St Paul’s for over 5 years, it will not be fresh information to many that Thomas is one of my favourite disciples. It gave me great joy to be ordained deacon on his feast day – 3rd July – as he has always been one of my spiritual role models.

I simply love Thomas’ honesty. He doesn’t believe what the others have told him and he can’t pretend otherwise. It must have been a very uncomfortable time for him during those eight days, while his friends were full of hope and rejoicing and new possibilities, and he was unable to join them. How easy would it have been to rustle up a bit of socially convenient enthusiasm and attempt to fit in? But Thomas was a person of integrity and needed his questions answered. And he didn’t leave – he stayed and waited and…perhaps…maybe…he hoped.

I rather like the fact that Jesus made a special trip back just for him. If seeing wounds was what it was going to take for his friend to believe, that was what he would get! And the moment Thomas’ doubts were removed, the moment all his questions were answered, there is no reticence or pride to get in the way. Thomas is as single-minded in his faith as he was in his doubt. He utters the punchline of John’s gospel, the conclusion to which the previous 20 chapters have been building: My Lord and my God!

Over my thirty-plus years of following Jesus, I have known my share of questions and doubts. Now, I think that there are two types of these. The first are the doubts, questions and arguments we come up with either to be clever or to avoid facing up to something we know to be true. They are best recognized for what they truly are before they waste too much of your, God’s or anyone else’s time! But the other type are the genuine questions and worries that we simply cannot suppress and which, despite our best efforts to fit in, make our journey of faith a bit bumpy. If you do encounter these sorts of questions or doubts, don’t panic. Be honest like Thomas, stay connected with your friends of faith and wait through the discomfort. God never objects to honest searching and, in time, you will either find the answers you need or realize that the questions don’t trouble you anymore.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Maria Ranier Rilke’s book “Letters to a Young Poet”. He says:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Thomas’ story of honest doubt and even more honest faith has encouraged so many people and helped them follow Jesus. Thomas himself is credited with taking the good news of Jesus to India! Sometimes our questions and doubts, honestly offered to God, can be used by God not only to help us grow deeper in faith but to help others who have questions too. But, by the grace of God, may we all be like Thomas in the end, see Jesus and exclaim “My Lord and my God!”

Reflection Hymn

Intercessions

Heavenly Father, we pray for all the places in the world that need your peace:
places where wars continue to threaten the stability of the nations;
and the lack of peace has caused so much destruction;
places where people have to flee their homes, their families destroyed, lives lost.
Lord, bring your peace which passes all understanding.

Give wisdom to world leaders:
to presidents, prime ministers, politicians of all governments,
that they may strive for lasting peace and true justice,
not putting personal ambitions before the needs of their people.
Lord, bring your peace which passes all understanding.

We pray for those who need peace of mind:
those weighed down by the stresses and strains of everyday life,
or who suffer with anxiety, or are oppressed by worry and fear;
for those who find it hard to let go of things and simply trust.
Lord, bring your peace which passes all understanding.

Let me feel the touch of peace,
the touch of life,
the touch of the risen Lord,
beside me, behind me, and before me
all the days of my life.
Amen.

(Prayers thanks to the Roots website https://www.rootsontheweb.com/)

Closing Hymn

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