by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —the Second Sunday of Easter— with some notes and more “food for thought” on the power of doubt as fuel for faith — and Jesus call for peace as a personal and communal call to action. Gnaw away!
Second Sunday of Easter: 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.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
As we move through Easter, we’re now after the empty tomb and we hear a story that only John’s Gospel has … the post-resurrection encounter with “doubting” Thomas. This is the last story in the original version of John, which is why the final paragraph reads like a wrap-up. (Chapter 21 is an epilogue that was added later.)
This story is a powerful combination of two almost competing energies. The first is a resurrection appearance, which is supposed to convince John’s community of Jesus’ defeat of death because of eyewitness accounts. The second is Jesus beatitude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
For John’s community, the first part helps bolster their faith … particularly in the bodily resurrection of Jesus (they didn’t just “see a ghost!”). But the second piece, for those who weren’t in that room, is even more powerful. Their belief (better translated as “trust”) without seeing is the lifeblood of the now and future church.
A few things to chew on:
Thomas gets about as bad a rap as any of the disciples (who else gets tagged with a nickname like “Doubting”?) But Thomas truly is insightful. His desire to have proof to believe what has to be unbelievable (and certainly was to the other disciples until they saw the risen Christ) is just human … but the specific proof he chooses shows he knows who Jesus is. He says he must not just see but touch the wounds. Thomas knows the proof that it is Jesus is that the wounds are there and the wounds are real. Thomas knows that the pain and the woundedness is the proof that this is the genuine article. How much of our prayers to God and Jesus are to avoid pain and wounds — for ourselves or those whom we love? Does this story invite you to think and pray differently?
Does faith need doubt? Is doubt – or even the possibility for doubt — necessary for faith to thrive? What do you think about that? Does it change how you answer that if you think of faith as intellectual belief or faith as trust in a relationship? What is the relationship of faith or trust to doubt in your life? In the life of our All Saints Church community?
If trusting in Christ without seeing is the most blessed, what does that mean? Remember that the central question of John’s Gospel is “where does God reside now that the Temple has been destroyed?” And John’s answer is “in the community.”
This week spend 5-10 minutes each day thinking about where (or through whom) you have experienced Christ’s presence in your life. Each day think of one small “act of trust” you can do as a sign of living that trust. How does a daily act of trust change your life and faith?
Jesus is known by his wounds – that’s how Thomas knows it truly is him. But not just by showing them but by inviting Thomas to touch them. This is an incredible act of intimacy and vulnerability. As you journal this week, write about an experience in your life that has wounded you. Then write a prayer that invites God to touch that wound, to know that wound is a part of you, to share in that wound, to heal that wound.
Peace Be With You
On Friday, Jesus said: “It is finished.”
On Easter, Jesus said: “It begins again.”
This week, Jesus says: “Time to get to work.”
Three times in this story, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” The Greek word used is eirene, which is better translated “harmony.”
In Greek culture, eirene is not passive disengagement or simply absence of conflict. Eirene/peace/harmony is incredibly active. It is parties working together to find common ground and maintain relationship.
Peace is hard work. Think of the peace movements in recent decades in our country. They were often nonviolent, but never passive. (Nonviolence is an active stance!)
Jesus saying “Peace be with you” is not him saying “Chill out.” It’s a call to action. It’s a statement of mission.
Our prayer book reminds us that the mission of the church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It is an active mission of peacemaking that takes deep engagement with each other and the world.
The peace of Christ is not just a theological concept to talk about. It is a personal and communal call to action. Jesus’ words “Peace be with you”
invite us to look around us … right where we live … and see where there is division and discord.
And we don’t have to look far.
We know what this looks like in America. We know we are a nation that is deeply divided by race and class. We know that those divisions translate into income and education inequality.
Even closer to home for us, with Jesus’ “Peace be with you” echoing in our ears, there are men and women who sleep on the ground in and around All Saints Church every night. That’s not eirene. Images of God sleeping in doorways is not the peace of Christ. It is beneath all of our dignity.
How are we working to bring this peace of Christ to our streets? How can we help create a city that makes glad God’s heart? A city that doesn’t just give people a neverending stream of emergency services that traps them in poverty but that equips and encourages all of God’s children to flourish and be the people God dreams for us to be?
How can we, a church with the historic role as a place where the whole community comes together to work for the eirene, bring everyone together improve the dignity and quality of life for all?
We cannot stay safely ensconced in our upper room in fear. Jesus is among us, and he is saying: “Peace be with you.”
It’s time to get to work.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings: The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday — click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday — Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena. “Gnaw On This” is a weekly publication.
The painting “Doubting Thomas” by Juda Ward is available as part of the Black Biblical Heroes collection at BlackArtDepot.com.