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Reading & Reflection for Easter 2   April 11, 2021

O Lord, open our lips;  and my mouth will proclaim your praise.O God, make speed to save us;  O Lord, make haste to help us.Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;  as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, from ages to ages.  Amen.    

Praise ye the Lord;  The Lord’s name be praised!     

We praise you, O God; we acknowledge you to be the Lord.  All the earth worships you, the Father everlasting.  

To you all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the spiritual powers.   To you the cherubim and seraphim continually do cry:             

Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of the majesty of your glory.  The glorious company of the apostles praise you;  the goodly fellowship of the prophets praise you;  the noble army of martyrs praise you;  the holy church throughout all the world bows before you, the Father of infinite majesty, the honourable, true and only Son, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter.                      

Be with us now we ask, as we open our hearts to you, One God in three persons.

AMEN

Acts 4:32-35    

The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.    

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.  

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.     

They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers live together in unity!    

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.    

It is like the dew of Mt. Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

1 John 1:1-2:2    

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us--  we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.    

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.     

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.    

If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.    

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.    

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.    

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

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.

Reflection

Some years ago a minor revolution happened to me, which has changed my awareness of the power we each have to shape how we experience the world.You know the phrase “seeing is believing”?  

It has always made sense to me that each person is most easily convinced of the truth in an argument by actually seeing the result with their own eyes.   

The state of Arkansas has a slogan printed on all their automobile license plates, which says, “Show Me State”.  It means that the people of Arkansas cannot be duped by “fake” news, wild theories, or implausible perspectives ~ because they are not fooled by mere talk, but need to “see it for themselves” to be convinced.Sometimes I think that in the gospel story today Thomas must be from Arkansas.  After all, he is the one who voiced what we all feel, when he said, “Unless I see for myself the marks in his hands and feet, and am able to touch the wound in Jesus’ side ~ I simply cannot, will not, believe.”   

Who has not cried out to God for some experience so convincing that we will be transformed?!  We cannot base our lives on something that only someone else experienced; we need to have our own experience!  Do you agree?Yet the story about Thomas is traditionally shared right after Easter, as though to acknowledge that having trouble believing makes sense, and is something many ~ or most ~ of us struggle with.  

It seems that our doubt is acknowledged as legitimate, and as with Thomas’ experience, it is taken seriously by Jesus!  

After all, in response to Thomas’ declaration, Jesus showed up! As it says in John 20, “Jesus did many other things (after rising from the dead) in the presence of his disciples ~ but we tell this story so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that through believing, you will have life in his name.”Jesus responded to Thomas’ deep longing for tangible evidence of Jesus’ resurrection body, on the one hand;  on the other hand it was Jesus who also said “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet who believe” !  

Is Jesus acknowledging that “seeing is believing”, but also affirming that to follow him means “to come to believe in order to see”?   I would testify that the answer to this question is YES.What is the result longed for in struggling with our doubts ~ perhaps until we experience a breakthrough of sorts, in relation to Jesus?   The result hoped for and expected is that we will find our life here and now transformed!  Isn’t that what is meant by the phrase “find life in his name”?   

Once the early disciples came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they expected to see all of life differently.   This is the revolution that hit me.  “Seeing is believing”: yes, most of the time.  But in relation to Jesus, the opposite is of profound importance: “Believing is seeing!”   To believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, is to experience a deep inner shift, and to see all of life differently.

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Now let me invite you to step back for a few minutes from everything you believe and doubt about Easter.  Instead, let us simply consider the story as it is told.  Let us imagine the first waves of people who heard from friends that Jesus had been resurrected, and that the friend had personally seen him.  

Isn’t it true that there are times when the conviction of someone so close to us as to be trustworthy convinces us to “see” differently?  We begin to risk trusting what we hope to believe, to see “whether it works”.  As with Thomas, there is a line between doubt and faith which we each experience, yet which some people readily cross, with the conviction that what they now believe about Jesus is true.  

These are not people caught up in a fantasy, not “made up people” to nicely fit the arguments of those who themselves had become followers of Jesus.  No ~ these were down-to-earth people like us, who wouldn’t easily be “duped” by wild or even persuasive talk ~ only “evidence”.  

And for many of them in history, the evidence is a combination of personal spiritual experience and the witness of others, friends or people in history whose life transformation is so convincing that we choose “risk faith.  

Perhaps doubt and faith are not so much opposites, but necessary stages on a journey between “seeing” and “believing”.But then also consider and take seriously that the clear focus of the early believers in Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen, was not on an escape from earth to heaven, but rather, as in the story about Thomas, “so that through believing, you may have life...”  

In other words, the expectation was that if you believe, you will experience this life differently, even with all its continuing challenge and struggle, its pain and poignant joy. The evidence of the resurrection of Jesus in history is both the experience of his early disciples, but also the witness of literally millions of people like us who identify as Christians, participate in the community of those who believe, and who see evidence in themselves, in their community, and in the world around that God is at work bringing new life, even life from death.  To say it another way, when Jesus rose from the dead, and many of his disciples literally experienced him talking and eating and being with them, they still had to deal with his eventual disappearance from earth (what we call the Ascension) while their lives would continue!  

I would say that they expected to live differently, in the light of Jesus’ resurrection, as they picked up the threads of their lives after Easter, still living in the captive state of Israel, under Roman occupation.  They lived as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, demonstrating what “life in Christ” looked like in a world where many others had no idea of the revolutionary transformation which had occurred when Jesus rose from death.  They became the means through which “new life” opened for others to experience, as they simply told the story of what they themselves had seen, how they had changed.  It doesn’t seem that the focus of Jesus’ resurrection is to immediately make a connection between“forgiveness of sin”, and “going to heaven”.  On the contrary, while they might not have known what to expect, the disciples (like Thomas) stepped forward into a life full of challenge and trouble, even pain and death, with the awareness that they were living in the power of the risen Jesus, in a world which was not at all transformed!  Jesus had broken the power of death -  yes.

Now, they expected that with Jesus raised from death, that their lives would be aligned with how Jesus had lived, and reflect his mission to bring the power of God to earth!   

Did you note the beginning of our passage in John 20 today, when Jesus appeared in a locked room within days of rising from the grave?  What to you think he meant when he “breathed on them” and said, “receive the Holy Spirit?”  Doesn’t that imply that Jesus expected them to be animated by the spirit in him, as he said, “as the Father sent me, so I send you”?  He even gave them the power to forgive sins – to free other people from spiritual darkness ! Jesus was deputizing his followers with the same spiritual grace that empowered him, essentially delegating some of his authority to us.As Jesus had taught them to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven...” they set about to live with the awareness that their words and actions were the arena within which the Kingdom of God could be shown and felt on earth, and not just hoped for “in heaven”.

Another way to say this, quite simply, is that Jesus’ resurrection was not the end of the story (with escape to heaven), but an empowerment of the lives of each person who believes in and follows Jesus, to bring heaven to earth, in big and little ways, here and now.  If Jesus has conquered death and is raised to life, then we ourselves should not be daunted and overwhelmed by small or large, seemingly impossible-to-solve problems!  If we follow Jesus who has shattered all the false limitations which we have known until now, then we should expect that our believing will lead to seeing all of life made new.   The difficult relationship with a neighbour could be transformed to a respectful friendship. 

The hatefulness between ethnic groups might be transformed through the presence of Jesus (or through his disciples ~ i.e. you and me!).  What other changes could result? When I think of Thomas reaching to touch the wound in Jesus’ side, I see a man transformed by the realization that everything he had known about life until that moment he would now see in a remarkably different light.  With Jesus shattering death, and coming back to show himself, everything is changed!   

And when I imagine Thomas a few weeks or months or years later, growing in relationship with Jesus through prayer, trying to live in the light of the overwhelming experience of a dead person come to life, I wonder what he thought as he went through bad times, as well as good times.  Doesn’t this reinforce our determination to live in faith, hope, and love ~ following the disciples? Essentially, faith is not simple, and not “simple-minded”.  Following Jesus is not a once-for-all snapshot captured on camera, but an ongoing journey of meeting challenges, living in hope, dealing with reversals and struggles, and pushing forward.  The implications of Jesus’ resurrection are to be lived moment by moment in the life of each one of us.  Jesus’ mission of transformation continues through us.  As we look back across 2000 years of tangled history, we are puzzled as we try to “make sense” of where we fit into the story.  

Jesus hasn’t given us an escape clause from life; on the contrary, it seems to me he has doubled down on the opportunity present in each moment for the same power that raised Jesus from the dead to transform whatever expectations we have, or might assume as “normal”.  

If Jesus is risen from the dead, all “normal” expectations are immediately out-of- date!   The newness of resurrected life begins with each of us, each moment.   What is clear is that we literally don’t know what might happen next, if Jesus is indeed now “ruler of the universe”.  What we know is that Jesus is with us, working in and through us, not lifting us from our challenges, but equipping us with his Spirit, and empowering us with his motivation.  

God so loved the world that he not only sent Jesus, but sends you, and every other person who is fascinated by Jesus, to be the agents of his ongoing resurrection work.   As we follow in Jesus’ name, truly, “believing is seeing”.

Amen.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, we like to think the early disciples somehow had it easier in trusting you, because they had seen you and heard you speak, and witnessed some of the miraculous signs you performed.  

Yet we recognize that each one of us faces the choice to risk trusting you, in order to see what life becomes as we allow you greater influence in our words and actions.  

Help us each to boldly ask for your guidance, for daily encouragement as we try to listen and follow you.   Help us to see the opportunities of service around us, and to step up to help.  

Give us eyes to see what you are doing in us and around us, and to join you in your mission. 

Let us celebrate your love, as we pick up our individual cross, and simply follow.We pray again for the healing of our world, for your transforming presence, for an outpouring of your Holy Spirit, with hope and faith and love, in Jesus’ name. 

AMEN