A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:32-35)
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4 It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5 For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.
A Reading from the First Letter of John (1:1-2:2)
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (20:19-31)
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
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” So begins the First Letter of John in the passage that we heard this morning,. We will be hearing other selections from that writing each Sunday during this year’s Easter season. It is a letter that emphasizes the physical reality of Jesus, both the Jesus who walked this earth for thirty-some years and the resurrected Jesus, the first-born of God’s new creation.
The gospel reading that we hear each year on this day likewise emphasizes the physicality of the risen Jesus. In response to Thomas’ insistence, Jesus invites him to do what he has asked for: “Go ahead: thrust your finger into the wounds in my hands; thrust your hand into my side, it that’s what it takes for you to believe.” Here is a risen savior who is, at the same time, a real and physical savior. Our faith is not about a theoretical, purely spiritual world, but about the very real, physical world in which we live and of which we are a part.
John Polkinghorne had been a Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University before becoming a priest in the Church of England. He has served for years as one of the most prominent expositors of the interface between faith and science. In reflecting on the attraction of Christianity for him as a distinguished scientist, he explained (in Character, Winter 2010): “One of the things that is attractive to me is—as I believe William Temple put it—that Christianity is the most material of the world’s religions. It’s concerned with the word made flesh; it’s concerned with embodiment, as in the resurrection of the body. Of course, it’s concerned with spiritual reality, but it wants to hold the two together. That absolutely rings bells with me. I don’t think that human beings are destined to be, so to speak, apprentices of angels. I don’t think our destiny is to get rid of this encumbrance of the fleshly body and just float off into some sort of spiritual atmosphere. I think we are embodied beings.”
The Christian faith that, as Polkinghorne put it, holds the physical and the spiritual together, is reflected in today’s gospel story. It is one in which the risen Jesus is able to pass through walls and even closed and locked doors, but in which he, at the same time, can be seen and heard and touched. Here is a savior who is permanently connected with and concerned with this world, not just with some other. Here is a savior who makes a difference in this world in which we live and who can still pass through the many locked doors that people use to shut him, and one another, out. With all the discouraging news that we encounter on a day-to-day basis, we can sometimes fail to recognize the many wonderful ways that the risen Lord is still passing through the locked doors of our time to bring healing and newness of life.
Recently, for example, national media carried the story of the ugly, racist chants captured on a video by members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity. But just a little over a week later, two of those students, both of whom have now left both the fraternity and the university, publicly apologized for their actions, one of them at the university’s black students’ association. That association’s president commented that the apology seemed to be completely sincere. Through the locked door of racism, new life and understanding and acceptance of others might yet emerge.
We are all aware of the controversy over the so-called “religious freedom” bills signed into law in Indiana and in Arkansas. To the surprise of their sponsors, both civic and top business leaders have stepped forward to denounce what seems to be an attempt to allow discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Through the locked doors of this form of prejudice, a renewed determination to end discrimination of all kinds seems to have emerged.
A few weeks ago, I heard from George Brewer, the Pastor of St. Paul and Eastmont United Methodist Churches, about his experience at the recent Kairos ministry weekend at Lebanon Correctional Institution. He described the way that the participants, the inmates or “residents” as they call them, were so moved by the experience that some of those who previously would not even have talked to or looked at each other now embraced one another as brothers. Neither the physical nor the social locked doors of the prison could keep the risen Jesus out.
But God’s work, penetrating the locked doors of our hearts and of our world, is not limited just to the big news stories of the day or to formal religious programs. That work is an ongoing reality, changing the lives of countless people, breaking through the walls that we build to keep others out and the involuntary walls that all too often imprison us and other people.
William Sloan Coffin was one of the greatest preachers and religious leaders of the late 20th century. He spent most of his ministry working with the poor, with those struggling with various addictions, and with those who had lost hope in life. And it was there that he witnessed the risen Jesus penetrating, what seemed to be, some of the most securely locked doors that had kept people captive. These, he often noted, are the miracles that he personally witnessed: miracles that changed people’s lives. He once put it this way: “Miracles do not a messiah make. But a messiah can do miracles. If you ask me if Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead, literally walked on water, and changed water into wine, I will answer, ‘For certain, I do not know. But this I do know: Faith must be lived before it is understood, and the more it is lived, the more things become possible.’ I can also report that in home after home I have seen Jesus change beer into furniture, sinners into saints, hate-filled relations into loving ones, cowardice into courage, the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. In instance after instance, life after life, I have seen Christ be ‘God’s power unto salvation,’ and that’s miracle enough for me.”
“Faith must be lived before it is understood, and the more it is lived, the more things become possible.” In these words, William Sloan Coffin sums up much of the experience of the community that gave us the gospel according to John. In that version of the good news, we are told that it was only after Jesus’ resurrection, and apparently only after that community had tried to live its message, that they remembered and came to understand what Jesus had taught them and what Jesus had given them. And the more they lived that message and the more they remembered and understood, the more new works of penetrating walls and bringing healing and new life became possible.
And the same is true today. The risen Jesus is still at work in the world, passing through what sometimes seem to be impenetrable walls and securely locked doors that people construct out of fear and that hold people captive. And, if we are willing to live his gospel, we might just find that we, too, will see miracles as the work of God in Christ makes all things possible.