Posts Tagged 'doubt'

For April 27, 2014: Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Reading            Acts 2:14a, 22-32

The second chapter of Acts opens with Pentecost: the Holy Spirit has just caused the disciples to speak in other languages. The shock this evokes in the crowds and the Holy Spirit impel Peter—the very person who had denied Jesus three times and then slunk off shamefaced into the night—to explain in a rousing speech.

The Response            Psalm 16

Peter paraphrased parts of Psalm 16 in his first sermon to the people of Judea. The psalm celebrates God’s goodness and protection in terms that remind us of Jesus’ suffering and his triumph. It is also reminiscent of Psalm 23: whatever difficulties may arise, our hope is in God, and it is well founded.

The Epistle            1 Peter 1:3-9

The first epistle of Peter is addressed to churches in and around Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey, for the most part—whose members were being persecuted in their local communities for beliefs that differed from those of their Jewish or pagan communities. The opening passage vividly calls believers to rejoice in the faith.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

This gospel passage spans a week. On the day on which Jesus was raised, he suddenly appears to the disciples in a locked room. They rejoice—except for Thomas, who isn’t there. A week later, Thomas is among the disciples when Jesus suddenly appears again.



For the weeks in Easter season, the first readings each Sunday come not from the Old Testament but from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the activity the disciples who followed Jesus in his earthly life as they live into the discipline he taught them and lead others to do the same. The first of these readings skips ahead in time to Pentecost. This reading is assigned to the second Sunday of Easter partly because it is Peter’s first public proclamation of the gospel; it also begins to introduce the concept (which, immediately following the Resurrection, the disciples had not yet assimilated) that the proper audience for the faith is all the world.

The first epistle of Peter, which will be read in church for the next several weeks, was probably not written by Peter himself: an illiterate Galilean fisherman would have known some Greek but not enough to compose the intricately structured sentences of 1 Peter 1:3-9. Whoever wrote it, it continues the themes of Jesus’ suffering and faith and our hope that are sounded in Acts and in Psalm 16.

Unsurprisingly, this week’s gospel reading and next week’s follow the disciples through the challenging early days following the Resurrection, as they struggle to make sense of what has happened. It is easy, with the hindsight of almost twenty-one centuries, to sneer at the skepticism of Thomas—but how many of us, believing ourselves badly let down by someone in whom we had reposed great hope, do exactly the same?

Again, however, the psalm tells us that God’s goodness is greater even than the very greatest heartbreak and disappointment. Given a world whose people almost cannot help but be skeptical of help, how can we as Christians live so as to make the case to them that Jesus is trustworthy and worth following?

For April 7, 2013: 2 Easter, Year C

The Reading            Acts 5:27-32

During and after Jesus’ execution, the disciples had cringed and cowered as the authorities took steps to ensure no further trouble from Jesus’ followers. The book of Acts, however, recounts the astonishing lengths to which, with Jesus risen, the faithful would go to proclaim the Good News.

The Response            Psalm 118:14-29

The Second Reading            Revelation 1:4-8

The book of Revelation takes its name from the first word in it—the Greek word apokalypsis, which means ‘an uncovering or revealing’. In these opening verses, John greets us in the name of Jesus Christ, witness, liberator, ruler of kings, priest of priests, beginning and end.

The Gospel            John 20:19-31

“‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”


Further thoughts

In the evening of the day that Jesus arose, Thomas expressed doubt. Feeling whipsawed after the exhilaration of following Jesus in the flesh followed by the fearsome and horrible events of the crucifixion, Thomas is understandably reluctant to entrust his heart again, until Jesus reveals himself, wounds and all. Notice that the believing disciples are nevertheless still hiding in the upper room in fear of the authorities: there may be less distance between them and “doubting Thomas”—and between them and us—than is apparent in our popular myths about who the disciples are that we are not.

The reading from Acts is set weeks, after Pentecost, after the coming of fire and wind and speaking in languages one had not known before. The once-timorous disciples are now publicly preaching and teaching the risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities are distinctly unhappy with this: what is being said runs against their ideas of what is true worship, but it also puts them in a difficult position with respect to their Roman overlords, who disapprove of the sort of public unrest that the disciples’ statements are bound to foment. It seems, though, that no threat that the authorities can unleash is enough to shut these men up about Jesus and his love and forgiveness. Is there more distance between them and us than exists in our beliefs about ourselves as Christians?

The difference between us is not, I suspect, that the original disciples became sinless. That would make them other than human. But equally clearly they’re not shackled by what they do or have done wrong, and Acts is permeated with their support for and love of each other. Might this mean that forgiveness—the getting of it and the giving of it—by releasing each of us from the shackles of self, is among the most important ministries in which we can participate?

For April 15, 2012: 2 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 4:32-35

On Maundy Thursday Jesus gave a new commandment: that we should love one another. The reading from Acts today shows us a community living radically in love, and Psalm 133 picks up the theme: where true love is, blessings abound.

The Epistle            1 John 1:1-2:2

We begin reading from the letters of the apostle John, written by the end of the first century AD and most probably by the author of the gospel of John. The first letter responds to a split in the community by calling for fellowship that, like the fellowship in Acts, flows from and embodies God’s love.

Further thoughts

The readings appointed for the second Sunday in Easter use imagery that is concrete and earthly (and sometimes earthy) to drive home some crucial points.

The first of the readings chronologically is Psalm 133, with its vivid imagery comparing godly unity to an extravagant anointing. Bear in mind that, in the ancient world, olive oil was not merely something to cook with: it soothed chapped skin and fueled the only artificial lights there were, and having enough of it to perform all those functions and anoint in such quantity was a sign of abundant blessing.

The reading from Acts tells a similar story of the very early church: so full of love that nobody went hungry or had to worry about shelter. Those who had property or goods gave them freely; those who had time gave it freely; those who had need of money or goods or someone else’s time were able to receive freely. No one felt taken advantage of and no one felt condescended to. It was, in short, a classic honeymoon period, and the signs of love are tangible and unmistakable—and in a world that thirsts for love, incredibly attractive.

Honeymoon periods don’t tend to last. The first letter of John is written to a community that shows signs of falling out of love: some members refuse to seek fellowship, and some are teaching that Jesus came into the world solely as a spirit. Both groups are laboring under misunderstandings.

John corrects both misunderstandings, beginning with the second, by pointing to real, concrete, earthly evidence. He writes of “what we have looked at and touched with our hands”: that is, the real physical body in which Jesus really did die and really was resurrected is as much Jesus as is his spirit. As to fellowship, John tells us, it is visible proof that we really are walking in the light of Christ, because we’re neither snubbing others nor hiding from them. What’s more, walking in the light of Christ is a sign of being in fellowship: we learn to love as Christ does from the people in our lives who give us grace when we feel unlovable, who give us work when we feel unuseful, and who give us grief when we act insufferable.

And it is to fellowship that, like Thomas, we should come even—or especially—with our questions and our honest doubts.  Where Jesus comes, he always says, “Peace be with you.” That peace is not intended to squelch our doubts but to create space in which doubt and fear and difficult messages can be expressed safely. And that peace flows, like the oil over Aaron’s beard, from the love we learn to give.

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