A song of celebration for the blessing of living in unity.
The early disciples of Christ bear witness to the resurrection through their generosity and care for one another, ensuring that no one among them had any need.
1 John 1:1-2:2
John writes to testify to Jesus and to open the door to fellowship for the believers with one another and with God. However, if we claim to be in fellowship but live in “darkness” – denial and sin – we lie. But, if we confess our sin, and live in the light we do, indeed, have fellowship with God and others.
Jesus appears to the disciples in the closed upper room, giving them a gift of the Spirit, and sending them just as he was sent. Then, Thomas who wasn’t at this appearance, is encountered by Jesus, and his doubts are removed.
Christ is Risen! The Easter celebration continues with the familiar upper room appearances from John’s Gospel. But, this year the supporting texts highlight a feature of the resurrection that can easily be missed – the way Christ’s resurrection brings us into a unified, loving community in which we share joy and abundant life together.
(Source: John van de Laar, Sacredise)
The challenge and the promise of Easter is how to help a community of fearful dismay realise they are a community of the resurrection. That is why Easter is both an event and a season in the church – it takes time to come to terms with the enormity of the event and what it means, then and now. This second Sunday of Easter is therefore an opportunity to let the events of the previous weekend sink in a little deeper. The scripture passages lend themselves to that – celebrating unity of purpose, care for one another and acknowledgement of our need of God’s peace and forgiveness in the midst of distress and brokenness. (Source, Church of Scotland)
The rhythm of breath – drawing air in, and sighing it out –
pulses in all of creation, O Lord
It is a simple sign of the resurrection;
of the life that cannot be quenched,
even by death itself.
We know what it is to breathe, Jesus
our lives depend on it
even as they depend on You
Risen, Alive and Present;
So, breathe into us again, Lord Jesus, we pray
breathe the life that never dies,
breathe the hope that never despairs
breathe the courage that never turns back
breathe the joy that never stops singing
Breathe into us, Lord Jesus, and teach us to sing,
to worship, with every breath
And to live the inspiration that is Your resurrection.
(Source: John van de Laar, Sacredise)
“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.” John 20.25
You who are so sure,
go easy on Thomas.
He is the one looking but
not catching your eye on the sidewalk,
the one at the back
with the unasked question,
those with everything on their back,
or maybe just in their memory
that they can’t leave, not speaking
of what’s behind them,
still shaking, with every reason
not to but still looking –
and don’t pretend he isn’t there, too,
the little voice inside you –
not easily convinced, but still
for a sign
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)
Call to Worship (based on Acts 4:31-37)
As early followers of Jesus gathered
for fellowship and worship,
praying and singing and reading the scriptures,
so we gather this morning.
We read in Acts
that the whole group of those who believed
were of one heart and soul.
They shared everything–
everything they owned,
everything they had.
God’s grace was at work in them,
powerfully at work
within them all.
There was not a needy person among them.
May it be so for us as well. Amen.
(Source: Joanna Harader, Spacious Faith)
A prayer for the Sunday after Easter (John 20:24-29)
It would be wrong, Lord,
for us to say that
we have no doubts,
for this world is trying
to deny all we hold dear,
and is insistent in its cry.
There are days when
like Thomas, your dear friend
we need to reach out
and touch the hand
that has led us these long years,
see the place
where spear and nails
have made their marks.
Forgive our doubts
and in times of tempting
be our confidence,
so close that like Thomas
we might joyfully declare
‘My Lord and my God!’ © John Birch, faithandworship.com
Words of Assurance (inspired by John 20:19-31)
This is Good News:
God does not mock us when we fail to trust,
but invites us into a deeper, more intimate relationship.
(voice 2, or words for silent reflection): Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand in my side. Trust me!
God does not shame us when our faith waivers,
but challenges us to be strengthened by God’s promises.
(voice 2, or words for silent reflection): Happy are those who don’t see…and yet trust!
God’s purpose is not to tear us down…but to build us up…
Thanks be to God!
(Source: Scott Cervas, LiturgyLink)
Rather than a doubter, I find Thomas to be an incredible risk taker.
He was willing to follow Jesus down whatever road he led Thomas and the rest of the followers, even down death’s dreary lane.
He was willing to speak up and say he did not understand what it was that Jesus was talking about, and asked him to explain it in simpler terms.
Apparently, he didn’t feel the need to stay in the locked and shuttered room with those who reeked of fears.
He was willing to admit that he needed something more tangible than just stories about “something that happened.” Paraphrasng Eliza Doolittle, he said, “Don’t talk of resurrection, show me now.”
He took the risk to proclaim aloud what the others were feeling about Jesus.
Doubter? Maybe. Cynic? Perhaps. Risk Taker? Definitely.
For me, he is a role model, not because of his ‘doubts’ but because of the risks he took in following Jesus, challenging Jesus, proclaiming Jesus.
Perhaps Thomas is the beloved disciple of John’s Gospel!
(Source: Thom M. Shuman, Lectionary Liturgies)
George Stuart reflects: Some time ago, I was introduced by Derek Flood in his book Disarming Scripture, to the phrases unquestioning obedience and faithful questioning regarding the different ways by which it is possible to approach the Bible. His book is about violence in the Bible, particularly violence attributed to God and within God’s commands to Jewish leaders. On page 32, he states,
The Pharisees are representative of the way of unquestioning obedience and Jesus is representative of the way of faithful questioning.
Originally he uses these terms regarding how each attitude approaches rules and commands laid down in the Old Testament, particularly those commands which harm people. He later uses the above phrases more broadly in his 10th chapter entitled Re-thinking Biblical Authority.
I have used his term faithful questioning throughout what follows and I have taken the liberty to add a few of my own – faithful affirmation, faithful revision, and faithful rejection. Although not actually using these phrases in his book, I believe Flood certainly encourages these activities. I will expound on this further. Suffice to say at this point, when talking about Jesus’ use of the Hebrew Bible, Flood suggests that the Jesus’ approach should be followed by us, when he says, In other words, Jesus expects his disciples – expects you and me – to be making the same calls of knowing what to embrace in the Bible and what to reject.
Faithful questioning is the beginning of the work of seeking new insights; not final and complete answers but new insights and wisdom I may yet encounter. When I do some faithful questioning, I hope I am not making a shift further into my own prejudices and pre-conceived ideas. Not that pre-conceived ideas are necessarily valueless or counter-productive. They can be and maybe often are, but they are conceived; i.e. thought out and considered. They may be worth retaining as well as being an appropriate launching pad for further thinking. It is not essential that they be abandoned. However, no matter how hard I try, I know that I am still bound at least to some extent, to my prejudices, presuppositions and thought-out attitudes. So what’s new? Aren’t we all so bound? I work hard at trying to loosen my mind from this bind so that I can think new thoughts and even go in different directions.
What then am I claiming to be faithful to in my faithful questioning? I am endeavouring to be faithful to logic, to some scientific and psychological insights I have learned over the years, to new insights I have gleaned from reading modern biblical scholars and theologians, to my diligent search for truth wherever I may find it, to my discipleship of Jesus, to my conscience, to my experience, to honesty, to thoroughness, to common decency and to common sense.
In what follows, I have inserted a series of questions to open up an issue. I hope you will think about the questions first, and not just react to what I write later. After listing these questions, I then try to address them, not trying to give definitive answers but analysing what answers I have been given in my past church teaching. Later, if I think it appropriate, I try to point to alternative possibilities of understanding. Many of the questions listed come from other ordinary church-goers like myself. After reading what I have to say, you may like to revisit the questions and give some further thought to them and even have discussions with others about them.
In all this endeavour, I suggest that eventually we are all confronted by Mystery with a capital M. Some prefer the word inexplicable. When confronted by road junctions on my journey, I take one road but I accept there are other roads that other people may take for quite legitimate and good reasons. The road I take is not through complicated edifices of the academic world, even though there are a few buildings that modern biblical scholars and theologians have erected. And my road certainly does not have signs indicating, This is the correct road to truth, nor, Just around the corner you will arrive. My road twists and turns and sometimes backtracks, goes up very steep hills but seldom on the plain and simple, flat and easy. My road hopefully leads to green pastures where there is plenty of good food for an open future with all its risks, challenges and surprises. (March 2018)
The marsh is drowned onyx water,
cattails bet and shot and shredded,
matted grasses the color of cardboard,
the color of not caring,
the last of the snow shadows dying alone,
trees still shrugging, empty handed.
There’s not a fleck of green here,
only this roughly woven shroud of death,
ice in the morning, and still a biting wind.
Why would your hands believe in spring?
Not in some faithful promises
but actual relief—your fingers
this morning you should have worn gloves,
your flesh this moment hurting?
Then don’t belittle those who doubt.
Thomas, your twin, you yourself,
who also once needed to believe,
don’t chide the ones who need to touch,
who need to feel: they ache from cold.
They ache for more than hope,
for what in some moment
maybe you alone can give them:
something they can put their hand in,
which alone might bring them back to life,
no miracle, no brilliant faith, but just
a little bit of softness, warmth, or light. Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Faith will not grow from words alone, by Elizabeth Smith (TiS)
Hymn: In praise of doubt
Some people say, “To doubt is wrong”
We should not doubt at all;
To question our beliefs, they say
Could bring about our fall;
But doubt permits an honest stance
In those who are devout;
For those who think about beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.
The Thomas’ story has been used
To judge, condemn, deplore;
But Thomas shows he is sincere;
He wanted to be sure.
For doubt can help and not deter
A vital turnabout;
Yes! Those who care about beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.
If our beliefs prevent our search
For new and different creeds;
Let us beware of narrow views
Where dogma often breeds;
With new, exciting facts we learn
Much love can come about;
Yes! Those who grow in their beliefs
Can sing in praise of doubt.
(Tune Forest Green AHB 240 TiS 316)
(Words: George Stuart, Volume 4 of Singing a New Song No. 50)
When Thomas Heard from Jesus
(Tune: Aurelia 22.214.171.124D ‘The Church’s One Foundation’)
When Thomas heard from Jesus, “Now come and follow me,”
He surely went with gladness, for there was much to see.
He witnessed Jesus’ teaching and saw his healing touch;
He found a faith to guide him, a friend he loved so much.
When Jesus spoke of heaven, bold Thomas dared to say,
“We don’t know where you’re going! How can we know the way?”
He wanted understanding of what he could not see.
Then Jesus reassured him, “The way is here — through me.”
When crowds began to murmur and leaders raised their cry,
Brave Thomas spoke out firmly, “Let’s go with him and die.”
He ate at Jesus’ table, partaking wine and bread;
Yet later with the others, he saw the cross and fled.
What joy on Easter evening when many saw the Lord!
Yet Thomas was not with them and would not trust their word.
When Christ appeared before him, his doubts were quickly gone;
He gladly knew that evening the joy of Easter dawn.
That man of faith saw Jesus at breakfast by the sea;
At Pentecost he witnessed so others would believe.
O Lord, may we — like Thomas — keep growing day by day;
Increase our faith and guide us, for Lord, you are the Way.
(© 2012 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Email: email@example.com
New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com/)