Second Sunday of Easter 7.4.13 John 20.19-end

1 04 2013

Spirit, Doubt and Life

We read here the story of two evening encounters.  The first tells us about the explosive, forgiving newness that is released at Easter. The second takes a little deeper into the question of what happens when human beings like us are encountered by the resurrected Christ.

John 20.19-end

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.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’

26 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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

To help give shape to the reflection here are three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response. I hope that you will want to work at all three levels.

Head Questions

  1. How would the story be different if the door had not been locked?
  2. Does Thomas put his finger in Christ’s wounds?
  3. The result of faith is ‘life in his name’ (v 31).  How do you understand this: consequence, conclusion, reward…?

Heart Questions

  1. What impact would Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit have on the eleven?
  2. To what extent can you identify with Thomas in his doubting?
  3. To what extend do you feel the power of Thomas’ proclamation: ‘My Lord and my God!’?

Hand Questions

  1. Do you need to empower someone to forgive?
  2. Can you?
  3. Will you?

Finally

These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up, working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

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Second Sunday of Easter 15.4.12 John 20.19-end

9 04 2012

Doubt and Faith

At the centre of this brief passage lies one of the most memorable encounters in the Bible. That between the risen Jesus and Thomas a week after Easter Day. Caravaggio has Thomas intently inspecting the evidence. But that is not the picture John paints.  He suggests Thomas’ doubt is very short-lived.

John 20 19-end

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.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio....

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’

26 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

Reflections and Questions

‘doors of the house’. v 19 Although much has been made of the stone that sealed Jesus’ tomb, not so much has been made of the locked doors of the upper room. John tells us why they were locked. But our interest is more in their solidity than in the security they afford.

What do the locked doors tell you about the risen Jesus? 

‘he breathed on them.’ v 22. We immediately think of this breathing as congruent with the idea of spirit as breath, and remember the animation of dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. But maybe should see it in the context of other acts of breathing in John’s gospel.

What happens to your imagination if you compare this out-breathing with that of John 19.30?

‘Unless…’. v26 This is how Thomas begins his utterance. With a demand.

What is your ‘unless’?

‘My Lord and my God!’. v28  Thomas again. Many people identify with Thomas. You might be one of them. There are number of reasons for doing so.  For instance, you might feel like the typical outsider, the one who would be unlucky enough to miss out on something really special. Or you might be someone who knows the keenness of doubt.  Or maybe you identify with this outburst of faith or the cry of reckless discipleship in John 11.16.

Which Thomas do you most easily identify with? What about the people you preach to?

For many people life is lived in different places up and down the spectrum between 100% doubt and 100% faith. Where are you now?

Finally, why not check out my seven tips on ‘how to make Easter joyful’ http://stephencherry.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/how-to-make-easter-joyful/