Second Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to Worship
In this sacrament, the body of Christ is placed in our hands. Thomas placed his hand into the wounds on the risen body of Christ and declared, “My Lord and my God!”
First Reading Acts 4:32-35 (must be used as either the first or second reading) Their experience of the risen Christ led the first believers to share everything, laying all their possessions “at the apostle’s feet”. Barnabas was especially generous.
Or Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21
God brings the people of Israel safely through the sea but destroys the armies of Pharaoh.
Second Reading 1 John 1:1 – 2:2
John affirms his conviction that God’s gifts of eternal life and light are only to be found in Christ. He alone can bring us the forgiveness of our sins.
Or Acts 4:32-35
Gospel John 20:19-31
The risen Christ appears to the disciples when Thomas is not with them. Thomas refuses to believe them when they tell him they have seen the Lord. Only when Jesus appears again and tells him to touch the wounds on his body does Thomas make his declaration of faith.
HOMILY “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)
“I don’t believe it!” shouted Victor as he went into the downstairs toilet only to find the plumber stuck to it with super glue, which had inadvertently been left on the seat by Mrs Warboys. The popular BBC show from the 1990s, ‘One foot in the grave’ challenged the traditional boundaries of cozy suburban sitcom, dealing with subjects such as death and old age. In each episode the disasters would build to the point where Victor would utter his famous catchphrase, ‘I don’t believe it’ which is now immortalized in comedy history. His famous phrase conjures up a sense of negativity; disbelief that something can’t have but, actually, has gone terribly wrong. From being buried in the garden to a street light falling through the bedroom widow and lighting the room orange, to picking up a dog and thinking it was the telephone, ‘I don’t believe it!’
There are times in our own lives when we may be tempted to shout the same catchphrase - that tyre that suddenly bursts, the accident with the paint pot and the carpet, the surprise visit by a relative we haven’t seen in ages. ‘I don’t believe it!’ And then there are even more shocking examples: the sudden death of a loved one or an unexpected pregnancy. We may indeed cry, ‘I don’t believe it!’ Thomas (called ‘The Twin’) could well have used the same phrase when he was told by the disciples that Jesus was alive again and this reaction has led to him being given the title of ‘Doubting.’ For many of us, there are things we find it difficult to believe, or times we experience moments of doubt. Perhaps we can empathise with Saint Thomas. After all, he was one of the original twelve whom Jesus sent out to proclaim the Gospel. Like us, Thomas was sent to be a disciple in his daily life. When the religious leaders of his day turned against Jesus, Thomas encouraged the other disciples, saying: ‘Let us also go that we may die with him.’ (John 11:16) I am not entirely convinced that he deserves the title ‘Doubting Thomas?’ Are you?
What of our reaction to the resurrection of Jesus and the new life that God has brought into being – the new creation revealed from the tomb on Easter Day? Do we believe that Jesus was truly alive again? Do we trust that the resurrection offers us the hope of eternal life – the hope of heaven? According to John’s Gospel, Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples and devoted followers (John 20:24). Then, Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen and appeared to them until he had witnessed the Lord with his own eyes (John 20:25). And I am sure there have been times when we too have said something similar.
Early on that first Easter Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene met the risen Lord and told the others that Jesus’ body was missing (John 20:1–2), Thomas’s doubt may have first arisen – could he believe Mary and the other women? (Matthew 28:9) What did it mean that the body was missing? Had Mary really seen Jesus – or just the gardener? After all, the other apostles didn’t really believe Jesus was alive, with perhaps the exception of John (John 20:8).
So, by that evening, all of the disciples except Thomas had met Jesus, when he appeared among them in the room where the doors were locked shut! And the Lord not only spoke with them but he ate also. (John 20:19; Luke 24:42–43) So, why didn’t Thomas believe them and why don’t we? Thomas’s declaration of unbelief, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails’ is the only time nails are mentioned in the Gospels as part of Jesus’ crucifixion. Thomas tells us so much about the suffering of our Lord upon the cross that he must have witnessed Jesus’ death for himself. Perhaps he really was willing to go with Jesus all the way to suffer and even die for the Gospel. So, having seen all that suffering and anguish, could he really believe that the Lord was actually alive again? (Most of what we know about Roman crucifixion we learn from sources other than the Gospels).
Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem at ‘the place of the skull’ was indeed gruesome – shocking – humiliating for our Lord. How could Thomas imagine a resurrection of Jesus’ body? We know from the Gospels that Thomas was present for the raising of Lazarus; but he had died of an illness, not been murdered by the Romans.
My friends in faith, I think it is a shame that Thomas’s negative reputation lives on yet, in many ways, he stands for all of us, represents all of us and our own doubts and fears. Many of us have followed his pattern and at times cried out, like poor Victor Meldrew, ‘I don’t believe it!’ We have experienced the same struggle to believe, to come to terms with all sorts of life challenges and sudden shock and disappointments and none of them can quite compare to what Thomas witnessed with the death of Jesus. Like Thomas, we have to weigh the evidence, reach our own conclusion and make our own decision. Only then can we make our personal declaration of faith and all that it implies for our belief and our commitment to service in the name of the risen Lord as’disciples today. Hopefully, we have the faith to declare like Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God!” It’s got to be better than, ‘I don’t believe it!’
1. The catchphrase from the popular comedy series, ‘One foot in the grave’ - ‘I don’t believe it’ represents what is negative about our disbelief.
2. Thomas is synonymous with doubt rather than faith.
3. Despite his negative reputation, Thomas stands for the many who wrestle with doubt and struggle with belief before being able to make a declaration of faith.
4. Can we declare, in all faith, ‘My Lord and my God?’