A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (2:14a, 22-32)
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed (the crowd), “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
my good above all other.”
2 All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
3 But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
4 Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
8 I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11 You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
A Reading from the First Letter of Peter (1:3-9)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When 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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.” A 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.” Then 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
There’s so much that we just don’t know and, at least in this life, never will. That’s not only true about God, but also about other people, maybe even about ourselves. The deepest realities, the most important things, cannot be adequately captured in words. That is where faith comes in.
Faith is central in the gospel according to John. The reading that we just heard, the second half of John chapter 20, is the original conclusion of that version of the Good News. Another editor, late in the first century, added a chapter 21. But in the last sentence of this original ending, John tells us why he wrote the gospel to begin with: “These things 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.” The gospel was written to strengthen the hearers’ faith. But what exactly is faith?
Many people, both in the past and in the present, use the term “faith” or “belief” to refer to their adherence to a set of principles or doctrinal statements. Certainly we find that in more doctrinaire forms of Christianity: but it’s there among some Anglicans as well, such as those who cling in a fundamental way to some of the so-called “Historical Documents of the Church.”
Some forms of Christianity make of a particular form of worship the center of their faith. I remember a time when I was a young priest, serving in a Roman Catholic parish, and a very angry woman insisted strongly “I believe in the old Mass.” It was obvious that she was right: the so-called “old Mass” was the object of her faith, rather than the God toward whom all worship is intended to lead us. Some Episcopalians whom I have met over the years cling to similar views about the forms of worship found in old Prayer Books.
Still other Christians make of the Bible, or at least of their particular approach to the Bible, the object of their faith. Ignoring the many different ways that the scriptures have been interpreted over the past 2000 years, they insist that their way, an attempted literal reading, is the only way. Essentially, they take the Bible and their particular method of reading it, and make them idols: objects that stand in the place of God.
But faith, at its heart, is not about doctrinal statements, nor about particular forms of worship, nor about any book, not even the Bible. Faith, at its heart, is about commitment to a person: in a religious context, to the one whom we call “God.”
All through the gospel according to John, Jesus calls on those whom he encounters to “Believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1). From Nicodemus, to the Samaritan Woman at the Well, to the Man Born Blind, to Martha and Mary – all of whom we heard about on the Sundays in Lent – to Thomas, whose encounter with the risen Jesus brings John’s story to a close, the gospel is a call to believe in God and in the one whom God has sent. All else is secondary. Belief in God, trust in God, commitment to God, not in or to any thing.
We cannot capture the essence, the totality of anyone in words, no matter how hard we try. That’s something that we take for granted in the rest of our lives, but sometimes forget when it comes to our spiritual side.
Think about someone who is very special in your life: maybe your spouse, a child, a parent. Is there any set of words that can adequately capture the very essence and life of that person? Of course not. The person is always more than we can articulate or even hold in our imaginations. And that person is the one in whom we put our faith, our trust, our love. It is to that person that we commit our lives, not to any set of statements or propositions about that person.
If that is true of our relationship with a fellow human being, how much more must it be true about our relationship with God? That is why faith, genuine faith, can never be a belief in any thing but only in the one whom we call “God.” Remembering what faith is, and what it is not, can help keep us from making any thing, no matter how good it might be, our absolute, the standard and ground of our lives. That is a place that is and must be God’s alone.
But remembering that genuine faith is a trust in God, not in any of those other things that might relate to God, is also critical for determining our openness to other ways that people, living in different religious traditions, relate to God as well. Insisting that ours is the only way is not a sign of genuine faith, of strong faith but of weak faith. As Victor Frankl, observed: “The more weakly one stands on the ground of his belief the more he clings with both hands to the dogma that separates it from other beliefs . . . The more firmly one stands on the ground of his faith the more he has both hands free to reach out to those of his fellow men who cannot share his belief. The first attitude entails fanaticism; the second, tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that one accepts the belief of another; but it does mean that one respects him as a human being, with the right and freedom of choosing his own way of believing and living.”
It is that kind of faith – not a faith in doctrinal statements, forms of worship, or sets of familiar, religious practices, but a faith in God alone – that all three of today’s readings, together with the psalm, exemplify. It is that kind of faith that we affirm in the creeds, declaring that we believe in “one God the Father, the Almighty…, in one Lord, Jesus Christ…, in the Holy Spirit,” and in “one holy catholic and apostolic Church”: those who have been baptized into that one God.
It is to that faith that the gospel according to John calls us. It is into that faith that we were baptized. And it is in that faith that we recommit ourselves during this Easter season to the God who has given us new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.