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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

"In the end, this is not a story of absence and doubt. It is the amazing message that the good news of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is able to break through locked rooms, through the limits of time and space."

Commentary, Lucy Lind Hogan, John 20:19-31, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012


Prayer

One in mind and heart, O God of glory, your people gather to proclaim your steadfast love, to proclaim the risen Christ in whom we are baptized.  Let the peace that Christ bestowed on the first disciples reign now over this assembly.  Let the Spirit breathed on them fill our hearts anew.  We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 20:19-31

Of Course this text appears regularly after Easter in our lectionary cycle. Furthermore, it also appears as the pre-story to the Pentecost lesson from John.  There is a lot in this weeks text for consideration. I do think the preacher's challenge is to fix on one of the narrative pieces and preach fearlessly the resurrection.  So what I am offering today is a little about everything; ending with a few thoughts about where I think I am going with my sermon.

Every time we arrive at the text for this week I am mindful of the prayer of St. Chrysostom which may be prayed as part of our daily office:
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
So it is that I cannot begin to think and ponder on John’s Gospel and the appearance of Jesus in the midst of the disciples without also thinking of the risen Christ in the midst of our gatherings and how he is present and what he encourages us, as faithful followers, to undertake on his behalf.

Also I am mindful that the reality that this appearance and the appearance to Thomas a week later occur on the “first day of the week” suggests the presence of Christ on our day of worship and in the midst of the community gathered for both prayer and a meal, the Eucharist in our current practice. Raymond Brown and other scholars are quick to remind us of Isaiah 3.6: “My people shall know my name; on that day they shall know it is I who speak.”

A challenging word comes from the blogosphere via Brian Stoffregen [Exegetical Notes (Easter 2 ABC) by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources]
The purpose of this resurrection appearance is not so much to prove the resurrection as it is to send the disciples as Jesus had been sent. Easter is not just coming to a wonderful, inspiring worship service, it is being sent back into the (hostile) world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the identity of God as revealed in Jesus.
So there is a sense of a coming, a filling or receiving, and a being sent or going. Not unlike Leonel Mitchel's thoughts that liturgy is always about making and drawing people deeper into Christ and the community of Christ at work in the world. Certainly echoing this liturgical theology and missional challenge are Raymond Brown's (New Testament and Johanine scholar) thoughts on this passage. His notes follow below from page 1019 of vol. 2 of his reflections about John’s Gospel for the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Here he suggests traces of ancient Johannine communal liturgy.

The disciples assemble on the Lord’s Day. The blessing is given: “Peace to you.” The Holy Spirit descends upon the worshippers and the word of absolution is pronounced. Christ himself is present (this may suggest the Eucharist and the spoken Word of God) bearing the marks of his passion; he is confessed as Lord and God. Indeed, this passage in John as been cited as the first evidence that the Christian observance of Sunday arose from an association of that day with the resurrection – an idea that shortly later Ignatius gave voice to: “No longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord’s Day on which life dawned for us through in and his death.” (Magnesians, ix 1). (R. Brown, John, vol 2, p 1019).
So it is and with these thoughts that I turn and think more closely upon the Gospel for this Sunday. This is a Gospel which clearly provides some marks along the pilgrim road. John gives us a sense that there is a reality to our being part of a community which gathers, receiving the witness of Jesus Christ resurrected, and then being sent to bear that witness out in the world.

Our Gospel reading for Sunday begins with the disciples behind closed doors because of their fear. Perhaps afraid of the authorities or for those who might accuse them of stealing their messiah’s body they are hiding. The doors are locked. Jesus comes and stands in their midst, right in front of them.

Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” Shalom. Shalom Alekem. Yes this is a greeting. It is also an ancient form of saying or cueing the listener or hearer of these words that there is about to be a revelation. They are about to see, hear, or receive a revelation of God. The revelation (as with Gideon in Judges 6.23) is that the Lord is present, the Lord brings peace, and you will not die.

Jesus then shows his disciples his wounds. He shows them the very place of them. While there is some argument between scholars about the different wound sites shown and the different terms and placement between the Gospel of Luke and John’s visitation we nevertheless see that it was a powerful recognition of the Christ crucified. I am mindful that the disciples and those who experience the resurrection had not only a real experience but an understanding that Jesus was himself more fully present that before. The reality of these wounds and the powerful vision they must have created for those whose eyes fell upon them quiets me.

Here then the author and narrator uses the resurrection title, “the Lord.” While I have been using it, we notice in the narrative its first use here. Jesus is recognized but recognized as the risen one, the first fruits of those who have died.

Jesus provides a vision of resurrection. He is present. He gives them a mission. Just as God sent me I am sending you. We may reflect upon the previous chapters, his priestly prayer, and his ministry. Jesus was sent by the father to glorify God. Jesus now sends his followers to do the same.

And, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. As if from Genesis we have Jesus breathing over the new creation, new breath to the new Adams and the new Eves.

Then the Lord charges them to forgive. Forgive the sins and know that those which you hold will be bound by them. If you release them, you open your hand and they fall away. If you hold them you hold your hand closed and they cannot go. It seems important to reflect on this a minute. Jesus words here are very different than the legal words used by him in Matthew’s Gospel. Here we have kerygmatic words. Brown writes:

Thus the forgiveness and holding of sins should be interpreted in the light of Jesus’ own action toward sin…The Gospel is more concerned with the application of forgiveness on earth, and is accomplished in and through the Spirit that Jesus has sent…more general Johannine ideas about the Spirit, relate the forgiveness of sins to the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit that cleanses men and begets them to new life… the power to isolate, repel, and negate evil and sin, a power given to Jesus in his mission by the Father an given in turn by Jesus through the Spirit to those whom he commission. (John, vol 2, 1040-1044)
This is the recreation in action. The disciples are given power by the Holy Spirit to be about the work of freeing people to and into the new created order.

Thomas, our dear brother Thomas, missed this historic revelationary moment. And, as we arrive at this time every year we know he will not believe it no matter what is said. So emphatic is he that he will not believe it unless he “throws” his fingers into the wounds themselves. This is a dramatic call for proof if there ever was one.

The disciples continue their stay in Jerusalem and find themselves with Thomas again in the upper room one week later.

Again, Jesus appears and he calls to Thomas. The Lord invites him to see and feel his wounds to reach out and touch them. Some scholars have spent time wondering how this could be so if the Christ was wearing clothes. Was it a loose fitting garment? These suggestions give rise to one of my favorite Brown quotes which I must admit almost caused me to fall out of my chair when I read it. Raymond Brown writes, “The evangelist scarcely intended to supply information on the haberdashery appropriate for a risen body.” (1026)

Jesus also tells him to stop or quit persisting in his unbelief by these actions. While Thomas was a follower of Jesus was a believer in the risen Christ? He is challenged here to change.

What has always struck me, but few preachers have ever remarked on, is the fact that Thomas doesn’t touch the Christ. I have pondered this a great deal. What is it then that changes him. Thomas’ faith is adequate without the proof. That seems the deeper point of the story. One scholar even remarked that John seems himself somewhat skeptical; perhaps not unlike our Thomas. Yet...Thomas comes to believe.

We often get so focused on what it takes to convince ourselves in God and then project it upon Thomas that we miss the narrative’s truth. Thomas believes without the proof.

Brown writes of all four episodes in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel:

Whether or not he intended to do so, the evangelist has given us in the four episodes of ch xx four slightly different examples of faith in the risen Jesus. The Beloved Disciple comes to faith after having seen the burial wrappings but without having seen Jesus himself. Magdalene sees Jesus but does not recognize him until he calls her by name. The disciples see him and believe. Thomas also sees him and believes, but only after having been over insistent on the marvelous aspect of the appearance. All four are examples of those who saw and believed; the evangelist will close the Gospel in 29b by turning his attention to those who have believed without seeing.” (John, vol 2, 1046)
Thomas’ words “My God and my Lord,” are the last words spoken by a disciple in the 4th Gospel. And they are the culminating Gospel proclamation for the faithful follower of Jesus. This statement brings him fully into the covenant relationship with the new creation.

Now that the witness of the disciples is concluded Jesus words are for us. The last and final Beatitude is given for those who would come after. Blessed are those who do not see but have believed. Here is Jesus, with us to the end, offering the last words in the Gospel. We have the opportunity to join the new covenant community, to be new Adams and new Eves, to participate in the stewardship of creation recreated and to take our place in the midst of the discipleship community. We do so through baptism. We do so also by embracing the kerygmatic Word and living a resurrected life. We live by making our confession: My God and my Lord. We live life on the one hand bearing witness to the ever present past of crucifixion and the ever present future of the resurrection life. 

The question I am left with today is: can the church honestly be a witness to its own woundedness? Can we as human beings be transparent about our brokenness and shame in order to do the gospel work? Can we hold the faith of the church and hold our questions in tension? Or does the church have to change its theology to fit our doubts?  Can we allow the ancient truths to speak to us and our lives with out deconstructing it to fit our lives.  The work of proclamation is done honestly by being attentive to our own wounds and shame, and we do this by reaching out into the world and offering this good news and peace that we have found.  It seems we must do this as Jesus does in his resurrected life.  We must do this as the apostles do in their fear. We must do this as Thomas does in his doubts.  Only in proclaiming the truth in the midst of our unraveling narrative (not unlike the disciples in their upper room) does our proclamation have integrity.  It seems to me only then, with honest walking, do we do the work of transformation and resurrection in partnership with God.


A Little Bit for Everyone





John 20:19-31
19When 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.”24But 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.”

26A 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.”30Now 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.



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