The First Lesson: Acts (5:27-32)
[When the captain and the temple police had brought the apostles out of the temple,] they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The Response: Psalm 150
Praise God in his holy temple; *
praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts; *
praise him for his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the blast of the ram’s-horn; *
praise him with lyre and harp.
4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; *
praise him with strings and pipe.
5 Praise him with resounding cymbals; *
praise him with loud-clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath *
praise the Lord.
The New Testament: Revelation (1:4-8)
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The Gospel: 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
I like Thomas. It’s unfortunate, at best, that the English language uses the expression “a doubting Thomas” to describe someone who is an unbeliever, someone who is a sceptic, almost always with a negative connotation. Especially as someone in the Anglican tradition, I look at Thomas as a positive role model.
In the account that we just heard, why wouldn’t Thomas be hesitant, if not downright skeptical? After all, look at the situation that he was facing.
Suppose you knew someone who had just been killed in a violent manner, maybe a horrendous highway accident, just two days earlier. His battered remains had quickly been buried. And then imagine a friend of yours coming up to you and announcing, “You won’t believe what just happened. While you were out, he came walking into the room and talked with us.” “You’re right,” you’d probably respond, “I don’t believe it. After what had happened to him, do you really expect me to believe that he just came walking in the door?” “Oh no,” your friend would counter. “He didn’t come walking in the door. We had the doors closed. He came walking through the door.” I suspect you’d start backing away very slowly, trying to find a safe place, convinced that your friend had gone completely over the edge.
Thomas’ response seems to be a completely reasonable one. In fact, I suspect that the rest of the disciples had responded in essentially the same way earlier in the day when Mary Magdalene had rushed in to tell them that she had seen him and touched him and talked with him a few minutes earlier at the tomb.
Thomas’ approach seems to reflect well an expression made famous by Anselm: an 11th-century Archbishop of Canterbury. He described theology as “faith seeking understanding.” It’s an approach that has long been integral to the Christian tradition of which we are a part. Our heritage values and even encourages questioning, exploring, and employing all the many ways of knowing with which God has blessed us.
For us and for Thomas, and I dare to suggest even for Jesus, faith is not primarily a matter of an intellectual assent to a set of dogmas, much less a gullibility that demands the unthinking acceptance of assertions that contradict reality as we know and experience it. Faith is primarily a way of living that we have chosen in response to the great story of God’s love for us. Faith, and what we say we believe, directly challenges the way we live our entire lives.
Garrison Keillor has suggested that “Easter is that time of year when Christians ask themselves two questions: ‘Do I really believe all this stuff?”; and, if so, “why do I live this way?” Genuine faith determines our values, our priorities, and the way we live our lives. And it is there that the real faith of Thomas comes through.
Earlier in John’s gospel, when Jesus learns that his friend, Lazarus, has died, his disciples are shocked when he announces his intention to go to Jerusalem to be with Lazarus’ family, despite the fact that Jesus’ opponents there had just tried to kill him. At that key moment, it was Thomas alone who bravely stepped forward and called on the rest of them, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There’s real faith: not a safe set of words but a risky commitment of one’s self.
New Testament scholar and Methodist bishop, William Willimon, insists that faith, to be genuine, has to result in action: specifically, in action to build up the kingdom of God, to make the world more what God wants it to be, to have a positive effect on people’s lives. In reflecting on today’s first reading, he asserts (Acts, pp. 55-6), “As Luke sees it, good news which is powerless to change some of the world’s misery is hardly good news.”
As we continue our Easter celebration, we will be hearing, over the next several Sundays, readings from the Acts of the Apostles. They will be presenting us with accounts of people who, like Thomas, put their words of faith into action: sometimes very costly and risky action. They will include Saul of Tarsus, who dedicated his life to the one whose followers he had once persecuted; Ananias, who risked his own life to be part of Saul’s transformation; Tabitha, a faithful and generous woman, dedicated to serving the needs of others; and Peter, who went out on a limb, risking severe criticism from the rest of the young church for the bold, new step that he was taking to welcome all people in a new life in Christ.
That story of genuine faith, of faith-put-into-action, of faith that makes a difference in the lives of people, has continued to extend through the past 2000 years. The question for us, as we continue this Easter’s celebration, is whether or not we allow it to become our story as well.