Second Sunday of Easter: April 3, 2005.
1 Peter 1:3-9
T: Today begins a long trajectory of continuous readings. Our first readings tell the story of the earliest church from the moment of its inception at Pentecost. We begin with Peter's sermon to the crowd on that day, the first Christian preaching event, with its bold restatement of salvation history as it involves Jesus. From there we move forward to the earliest experiences of the church and walk with them through these turbulent, trying, exciting post-Easter times.
Today's Gospel presents Jesus' first appearances to the disciples other than Mary Magdalene. These stories are undoubtedly familiar, as they involve the so-called Doubting Thomas and also show up at other times of the liturgical year. Personally, I've always felt that Thomas gets a bad rap. Thomas simply requests what the others experienced; Thomas wants to be, together with the others, a witness to the resurrected Jesus--to have the same experience that Peter names as his support in his sermon on Pentecost: "This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses" (Acts 2:32).
But Thomas's request goes against what Jesus told the disciples time and again, that true authority in the kingdom comes from service, not status. Jesus gently reminds Thomas that he doesn't quite get it yet. Discipleship is more than following proper doctrine; it is a state of being, and thus Jesus tells Thomas not to be unbelieving ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), an adjective. "Do not be faithless, Thomas, but a faithful person."
Or maybe Thomas wanted the gift given to the disciples in Jesus' appearance. After all, Jesus gives them some pretty incredible gifts, starting with his first words to them. After his sudden appearance (was there a pop?) his first words are "Peace be with you." (That's a gift I could use some days!) Then Jesus breathes on them, and gives the gift of the Holy Spirit.
K: So, is Jesus giving the gift of revelation to Thomas? or the gift of God's self to all? I have known many people, myself included, who think they can cajole, entice, or bully Jesus into revealing his presence. I wonder how we would feel if we stopped to realize that Jesus was already there, right inside us? That Jesus has the power to unlock all of my carefully locked doors both liberates and sobers me. How many of us hide in rooms of guilt, anger, confusion, stress, anxiety, apathy, disillusionment, or fear? How many of us seal these rooms up tight somewhere in the deepest recesses of ourselves, hermetically sealing them off from the rest of the world? Part of the gospel message of Easter is that there is no place where God cannot go. And today, God is going right to the center of us with just one breath. All we have to do to know it is breathe in and breathe out.
T: Now, when the disciples tell him they've received, past tense, the Holy Spirit, Thomas surely feels excluded. From his perspective, would he have known another way to receive the Spirit? In John Jesus promised them an Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, but didn't tell them how they would receive this Spirit. And now Thomas has missed the boat! Perhaps this is why he panics and pouts and is "faithless. Maybe Thomas just wanted to be included. Maybe he wanted to be an apostle, one who had seen the resurrected Lord. Maybe he desperately wanted peace, closure, hope in the midst of life. Or maybe he just was practical and didn't want anyone pulling the wool over his eyes. For whatever reason, Thomas needed to be included and part of the gang.
It's also important to note that, for the first time in our Easter season, human activity enters into the picture. Last week, Matthew's resurrection account left the message in the hands of the women, with instructions to share the good news with the other insiders. This week, though, Jesus appears in the midst of the insiders, in their frightened space and locked rooms, and gently blows them outward on the whispers of divine wind: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Last week left us with an undelivered message. This week nudges us toward action, with a call to live as Jesus lived: in motion, on the go, headed somewhere. For what purpose? To forgive sins.
K: This is such a great story to tell the second week of Easter. Tim, after looking at the trajectory for the entire season, you and I agree that Jesus will show us how intimately connected his real resurrected presence is to all. What better way to turn our attention to who we are with Jesus than to tell a story that hits to the core truths about our doubts and disbeliefs in what seems the sure finality of death? And perhaps doubts and disbeliefs in each other. Thomas didn't seem to doubt Jesus as much as he doubted the story told by his brothers and sisters. I trust you completely, Tim, but I think I'd doubt you if you told me news of this magnitude! I would also be a little miffed that you got to experience and I didn't.
T: The Gospel closes with an affirmation that we may sorely need: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." I say "sorely needed" because we are now beginning our outward movement: in Holy Week we were passive, watching God's work; this week, we begin to receive our own commissions, and, alas, that commission is not to the comfortable, safe confines of our locked room. Instead Jesus blows us out into the world, a world that only ten days ago proved how dangerous it really is!
For this reason, it is somehow comforting to hear Jesus say "Peace be with you" and to call us blessed. 1 Peter seconds this blessing, noting (as our continuous readings will do many more times in the weeks ahead) that the world we're sent to is a dangerous place. Yet, 1 Peter says, this danger is worth it--"for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (v. 9). TK/KH
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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