The First Lesson: Acts (3:12-19)
Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
The Response: Psalm 4
1 Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
you set me free when I am hard-pressed;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
2 “You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
how long will you worship dumb idols
and run after false gods?”
3 Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful; *
when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.
4 Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.
5 Offer the appointed sacrifices *
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!” *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8 I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
The Epistle: 1 John (3:1-7)
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
The Gospel: Luke (24:36b-48)
Jesus stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last week, just as we do every year on the first Sunday after Easter, we heard the gospel story of Thomas refusing to believe that Jesus had appeared to his fellow disciples until he had some sort of proof. Today’s gospel reading portrays the rest of the disciples as taking a skeptical approach as well, even when Jesus is standing right in front of them.
At first, they are terrified – but who wouldn’t be? In fact, fear is the regular biblical response to the appearance of God or, in this case, of God’s resurrected Messiah. Then, they tacitly demand some sort of proof. Jesus shows them his hands and feet and insists, “See that it is really I myself.” They don’t buy it. “OK,” he adds, “then touch me and see for yourselves that I am really here.” Still, no dice. “Alright then, let’s try this. Do you have anything to eat?” They give him a piece of broiled fish, which he takes and eats as they watch him intently. They are hesitant at best; and it takes time and reflection for them to be willing to accept news this good, to take hold of a completely new reality.
Sometimes, Christians have been critical of Thomas and the rest for not believing immediately in the presence of the resurrected Jesus. We have, among other things, the expression “a doubting Thomas.”
Personally, I think the disciples showed good sense. After all, here was something that had never happened before, not just to them but to anyone. Here was the beginning of a whole new creation. And, in order to begin to come to grips with it, they insisted on using their own senses, on comparing it with what they knew of reality, and on thinking critically about what they were seeing and hearing and experiencing. They refused to go with what is sometimes referred to as “blind faith.” But then, as scripture scholar John Pilch has observed (The Cultural World of Jesus: Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A, page 75): “’Blind faith…’ is a curious gift to return to the creator of human intelligence.”
Multiple stories in the bible take the same questioning and challenging approach as this one. Human hesitation and people’s willingness to ask for more information and clearer evidence, and even people’s willingness to argue with God, lead to further revelation; and sometimes, they even lead God to change. When Abraham and Sarah laugh at the absurdity of God’s promise that they, in their advanced old age, will have a son, it leads God to reveal the divine plan even further. When God calls to Moses from the burning bush, the two of them go back and forth through all of Exodus chapter 3 and half of chapter 4, negotiating the details of how God will begin to free the Israelites from their oppression. And in today’s gospel reading, the disciples’ refusal to respond to Jesus’ presence without questioning leads Jesus to try other ways of proving to them that he is really, physically present. God’s greatest works of creation and re-creation often develop in the context of human questioning and challenging. They require a combined divine-human partnership. They are a shared endeavor.
That doesn’t mean that the burden of proof is completely on God’s side: that we are the final arbiters of what is true and what is not, that God somehow has to give us irrefutable evidence and prove God’s self to us. We need to approach new realities and difficult questions with openness to the possibility that God is showing us something that we had not seen before, that God is opening our inner eyes to a reality that we had not recognized before. As Martin Luther King put it, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
We also need to remember that gaining new insights takes time and effort. They rarely come immediately or without our wrestling with difficult issues: without us being willing to enter into a struggle and to ask, what can be for us as well as for others, some very difficult and unsettling questions. We tend to be more comfortable living with old and familiar answers, even when we may no longer be convinced that they are the correct answers. But, as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel observed (Open Heart), “Since God is, He is to be found in the questions as well as in the answers.”
Living in the questions is not easy, and some people refuse to live that way. Those churches and those political movements that offer clear, supposedly immutable, but ultimately simplistic and unconvincing answers to the issues that we face seem always to attract a large number of adherents. They tend to reflect the expression that I have heard used to describe certain individuals: “sometimes wrong, but never in doubt.” Yet the world in which they choose to live is a fantasy world: one that bears little resemblance to the complex world in which you and I and all of our fellow human beings actually spend our lifetimes. Their supposed answers turn out to be no answers at all.
Maybe this is one reason that it is so important for us to come together here week after week, listening again to those scriptures that we call “the Word of the Lord.” While they are diverse and have emerged from countless authors and editors over a period of hundreds of years, by and large they eschew simplistic answers to life’s complex issues. Instead, these stories and teachings call us to live in the questions, guided by the wisdom that God has entrusted to generation after generation of mostly ordinary people: people who were open to new possibilities and new insights, people who were willing to think, to question, and to challenge, but people who were willing also to have their minds and their hearts opened to new realities and new possibilities.
This is the world and this is the way of living that Jesus’ early disciples eventually came to accept. And this is the world and this is the way of living into which Easter calls us today. For, as Eleanor of Aquitaine declares in the play “The Lion in Winter”: “In a world where carpenters get resurrected, anything is possible.”