Second Sunday of Easter

24th April 2022

Acts 5:27-32

When the temple police had brought the apostles, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Psalm 118:14-29

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, *
and he has become my salvation.

15 There is a sound of exultation and victory *
in the tents of the righteous:

16 “The right hand of the Lord has triumphed! *
the right hand of the Lord is exalted!
the right hand of the Lord has triumphed!”

17 I shall not die, but live, *
and declare the works of the Lord.

18 The Lord has punished me sorely, *
but he did not hand me over to death.

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

Revelation 1:4-8

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The Gospel

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 

The story from John’s gospel takes place on the evening of the first day – that is the evening of the day of Jesus’s resurrection. Mary, the first to visit the tomb, finds it empty – body-less – and summons the help of the other disciples. Peter and the beloved disciples come and they too find the tomb empty apart from the grave clothes – they must realise something odd has happened, but what? They leave apparently not knowing what has happened to Jesus. Mary persists and is rewarded with sight and sound of Jesus: he is no longer a dead human but – not to be touched – what is he? A body brought back to life like Lazarus? A ghost with real presence? Something else, something more?

Come the evening, Jesus suddenly appears. The disciples are over joyed: this is their Lord. But do they understand who he is? Certainly when Thomas comes, they cannot sufficiently explain what has happened. Thomas seems to be asking if they have seen a ghost or human body that has come back to life. When Jesus does appear before him, it is instantly clear to Thomas that the answer is neither. The person who appears to him is Lord and God! For Thomas  Jesus is now recognisably both, the human figure he has spent the few last years with, and, God! We might then read today’s psalm (which yes we did have last week too!) as the long version of Thomas’s response.

The disciples’ understanding of Jesus has been completely transformed – turned upside down. Jesus, the man they knew had come from God, they now realise is God – the ‘God’ who uniquely had come to them as a human. I wonder which was harder to believe or understand, that Jesus, a human, had risen from the dead, or that Jesus, a human, was God?

The Book of Revelation describes what it is that John sees in his vision on Mount Patmos and which he records as a message for the Christian communities of the Near East. (NB this is not the John of the gospel). For this John, it is clear that Jesus is human (the first born of the dead) and is God, and that because of this, Christians have a particular role as citizens of the – God’s –  kingdom and as priests serving God.

Throughout the larger part of the Gospels, the disciples have been responding to human authority. Indeed even when they were following Jesus’s instructions during his ministry, it was in response to him as a human, their leader.  But now, in the story we hear from the Book of Acts, things have changed. Now the disciples are only responsive to God’s authority. They express now with certainty what they seem to have been grappling with in John’s gospel. They now understand the role, the task,  they have been given and they are not to be diverted from it, either by their own uncertainty  nor by human intervention. They believe and, because of their belief, they have Life! 

We need to be reminded that we too are God’s citizens, bound ultimately by God’s authority. We should be willing to think and question human rules and directives even when they come from governments. Is what we are being asked to do, is what we are being asked to accept, is what we are being asked to ignore, in line with God’s wishes, God’s will? 

In God’s kingdom, do people go hungry because their pay is inadequate? In God’s kingdom are those seeking asylum sent away? In God’s kingdom, do people make profits from the misfortune of others? In God’s kingdom are companies encouraged to produce even more life destroying carbon emissions?

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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