2nd Sunday of Easter

11th April 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter

Year B

 

Collect

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you
in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Acts 4.32-35

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

 

1 John 1.1-2.2

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

 

John 20.19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors 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 side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Reflection by Hilary


Those of us who used to watch “One foot in the grave” can perhaps recall Victor Mildrew as he is forced into early retirement from his job as a security guard having been replaced by as he put it 'a box'.  Refusing to be cast aside onto life’s scrapheap, he determines to fill his unwelcome leisure time with odd jobs, new hobbies and putting the world to rights. 

 

However, the world conspires against him with its bureaucracy, misunderstandings and surreal coincidences, frequently landing him in all manner of ridiculous situations.   In each episode Victor's ever-simmering temper at the unfairness of it all boils over into a vitriolic rant, preceded by his immortal catchphrase "I don't believe it!"

And those four words are the focus of the second of Jesus’s post resurrection appearances in the 2nd reading for today.

In the first appearance, perhaps the most joyful, there is no trace of doubt or fear simply peace and joy.  As the disciples gather in that upper room, their misery and fear are locking them in, far more effectively than any door.  They have heard some rumours from Mary and from Peter but Mary is the only one who claims to have seen the risen Lord and even she has to admit she did not recognise him at first.   But then Jesus comes and stands among them, full of extraordinary and unpredictable life, free to come and go as he pleases but Jesus all the same and they believe.  That is all except Thomas who was not with them.

 

“I don’t believe it” was in fact the reaction as portrayed by Thomas when he was told by the other disciples that they had seen Jesus.

Thomas the twin is often referred to as ‘Doubting Thomas’, the term being used more as an insult than a compliment.  But Thomas had already shown a willingness to follow his faith in Jesus by his actions prior to the crucifixion and was willing to give everything for his belief in Jesus.  So his ‘doubt’ was not so much to do with unbelief as with his inability to understand what had happened.

 

The disciples were understandably very frightened.  After all their friend and leader Jesus, had been crucified, his body which had been laid in the tomb had ‘disappeared’.  Had the authorities taken it?  Had it been stolen?  And what would the Jewish leaders do to the disciples if they found them.  It was understandable that they were frightened and had locked themselves in.

I suspect we would have been frightened if we had been through the experience of seeing our leader to whom we were devoted crucified, and laid in the tomb.  The person who was all powerful, who had raised people from the dead was now dead himself; circumstances which could cause doubts in anyone’s faith. 

It isn’t clear why Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them after his resurrection.   He may have been on an errand or maybe he just wanted to spend time on his own for a while after all the events of the previous days, or he may have wanted time to question in his own mind those events and how they affected what he believed.

The news that Jesus had appeared to the disciples was not enough for Thomas.  He may have thought they had been drunk when they saw the risen Christ or that what they had seen was a bit of wishful thinking.  His doubts needed more than a second hand account of something that might have happened.  Because he had not seen Jesus with his own eyes, he did not believe that Jesus was alive.

 

A whole week past during which Thomas must have thought ‘I told you so’.  But the next time Jesus appeared to the disciples he made sure that Thomas was with them.  This time Thomas didn’t need to rely on a second hand story.  He could have said “Nice stunt, Peter! Who’s the actor?  But he didn’t, because there before him was all the evidence he needed.  His doubts vanished, his response was instant as he proclaims Jesus “My Lord and My God”

Thomas was honest about his doubts.  He didn’t pretend or keep his thoughts to himself.  Instead he chose to face the questions and the doubts and when he was faced with the truth he went all the way and left no one in any doubt who he thought Jesus was.

In the 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear about the profound and loving commitment that the disciples displayed to one another, expressed in their sharing of their material goods.  Here is surely a more direct connection to the common life of Jesus and his disciples, their common purse and his concern for the poor.  We see this mutual commitment in action in a most practical way, challenging us today to set all we possess at Christ’s disposal, and especially out of love for those in need around us.  If a world sees such love between Christians, it will speak volumes about the master we seek to follow.   Here we have an account of how the early church operated together after the events of the resurrection and the ascension.  These early disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit are sustained by their faith and belief.

 

On Friday we heard the sad news that Prince Philip had passed peacefully away just weeks before his 100th birthday.  Whilst he may not have spoken so openly about his faith as her Majesty the Queen, he was undoubtedly sustained and underpinned by it.  After a life lived very much in the service of others, his actions spoke of a man ahead of his time but a man also who was a devoted husband, devoted to his family, and a very ‘hands on’ Dad, an attribute that had not been so well known over the years. 

Prince Philip was the Patron of the Central Readers Council, the body which supports the work of Readers in this country and on Ascension Day 2016, well into his nineties, he attended the Celebration service for the 150th anniversary of Reader ministry at All Soul’s Langham Place, which I was privileged to attend.  After the service he spent time chatting to some of the Readers, firing questions and certainly not taking anything at face value but showing a real interest in what happened at the grass roots.   I thought at that time he could give many a preacher quite a grilling at the end of a service where he had been in the congregation!  

Undoubtedly apart from his support for the Queen over more than seven decades his greatest achievement was his work with the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme which had been so beneficial to so many young people and especially the less academic who had been able to achieve so much through the award scheme.

 

We pray that her majesty will be sustained by her faith at what must be an incredibly difficult time for her as for the first time in 73 years she no longer has ‘her rock’, as she described Prince Philip, at her side.

 

Easter, a time of hope for Christians, a time for celebrating the hope of the resurrection, which lies at the very core of the Christian faith.

The Easter Hope, the hope which brought the disciples together in the first place, the ridiculous hope that this talk of the resurrection was true.  Because if it is true, then there is some point to this world, and we are actually part of a dynamic movement. And having accepted the hope they have stepped into a community and have decided to live as though life matters.  Together they will hold on to that hope, whatever the opposition, and when one feels like giving up, the others will remind them why they are here.  For Thomas sight was important and sight is something that is vital to us all for everyday life.  It is something we should not take for granted although I suspect we are all guilty of doing so.  It is something we rely on for most of our activities in life.  And yet for knowledge we need more than sight.  In fact sight is not strictly necessary for knowledge; we often have to rely on the words of others who have been present and seen things, people and places which we have not.  But when we do see things we draw conclusions from what we see.

 

So it was with Thomas.  He had demanded to see the risen Jesus before he would believe.  But then when the risen Jesus did appear to him he saw and he not only saw, but he drew a conclusion from what he saw.  And that conclusion went far beyond what he had first sought.  Thomas’s conclusion went far beyond what he could see – beyond the sight of Jesus alive again as he proclaims Jesus as his Lord and his God.  He realised what Jesus’ victory over death and evil must mean for him.

 

As Jesus comes among those disciples in that upper room, he greets them with the words “Peace be with you”.  Amidst all their fears, anxieties and Thomas’s doubts they were given the assurance of an inward peace.  The same risen Christ speaks to us and gives us the assurance of inward peace and a security of mind and spirit amidst all the stresses and complexities of our lives.  We are told that as the disciples saw and heard Jesus greet them with those words “Peace be with you” they were filled with joy.  Do we as Christians show that same joy as we seek to witness in our lives?

Jesus message to us is the same as that to Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe”.

May our reply then be the same as that of Thomas as he proclaims Jesus to be “My Lord and my God”.

 

Post Communion Prayer

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him:
deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

1 John 1.1-2.2 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Acts 4.32-35 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
John 20.19-31 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Post Communion (2nd of Easter) ©  The Archbishops' Council 2000
Collect (2nd of Easter) ©  The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)