We begin our worship with Jeff Gorick offering a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine”
Then Gillian Lamoure reads our Gospel Lesson for the day:
Our reading is from the Gospel of John in the 20th chapter, as found in the translation called “The Message”. It tells the story of an encounter between the Risen Christ, and the person who has often been called “Doubting Thomas”. May God bless each of us, as we listen for meaning and hope in these words.
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”
Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
Thanks be to God for being with us in the reading and the hearing of these words. Amen
Rev. Darrow’s Learning Time: “Helpful Signs”
Thomas wasn’t with Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. She’d gone out, well before the sun was up, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Instead of that sad task, she had an encounter with a mysterious figure outside the tomb. When he spoke her name, Mary recognized him as her teacher and friend, somehow risen from death. But Thomas did not see what Mary saw, or hear what she heard.
Thomas wasn’t there on the next day either, when some of the disciples were gathered together behind closed doors, and Jesus appeared to them, and wished them peace. Thomas was not in the room, when these things happened. He did not hear or see what they did.
The other disciples told him about seeing Jesus, and he’d likely also heard Mary Magdalene’s story. Thomas said to his friends,
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
More than 20 centuries after the first Easter morning, and at least 1900 years since the stories were first written down, modern followers of Jesus have often labelled this disciple as “Doubting Thomas”. There have been a lot of “don’t be like Thomas” sermons over the centuries.
To be honest, I’d be with Thomas. I’d be asking questions, and wanting a little more to go on than, “really Tom, we really saw him, honest!”
There’s nothing wrong with expressing doubt, or wanting more information before drawing your own conclusion. Thinking for yourself does not make you less faithful. I would argue that God gives us all our faculties, and we are meant to use our minds at least as much as we use our hearts in our sincere efforts to understand, and to draw conclusions.
Thomas did not see or hear all that his friends had, but he would have clear and powerful memories of watching Jesus die a painful death on a Roman cross. That was the last time he’d seen Jesus. It would be a huge mental and emotional leap to go from those profoundly disturbing memories, to placing trust in what he was being told, that Jesus had somehow been resurrected.
Can we blame Thomas for hesitating, for wanting more evidence, before trusting what he was being told, about the next chapter in the story of Jesus? Life as Thomas had known it, as a disciple of Jesus, his friend and teacher, had been suddenly, violently disrupted, interrupted, and taken away.
You and I are living in this strange time, in which so much we have taken for granted has been interrupted, or taken away. Some things may never be the same. We may hope for a new life, beyond the current crisis, but what will it look like? I certainly do not envy our national, provincial, municipal leaders, who are called upon to make decisions and plans, and offer us comfort and reassurance. We should keep praying for them!
I can relate to Thomas, who may want to believe there is something coming up, some kind of “next”, to which he can look forward. If he can see the Risen Christ for himself, perhaps all is not lost. I find myself looking for signs of hope, signs of life that transcend, and point beyond our current reality. I want to believe we will be okay, even if things are different than I have been used to, and never go quite back to the old “normal”.
On Easter Sunday, police in Toronto were called to a grocery store that had been inadvertently left unlocked, with all the lights on. The owner had meant to comply with Premier Ford’s order that grocery stores remain closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to give workers time to rest and be with their families. Something happened, or didn’t, and on Sunday morning, people found they could walk in and shop. The escalators were even running- it’s a big store.
People calmly made the rounds with their carts, picking up necessities. It was only when they returned to the front of the store that it sunk in there were no cashiers, and none of the self-check out machines were working. People wrote out lists of what they had put in their carts, saying they’d be back when the store was actually open for business, to settle up.
I love this story. I love that the first people who found the open, un-staffed grocery store did not call all their friends to come on down and loot the place. I love that no one grabbed all the toilet paper, or steaks, or hand sanitizer. People just did their shopping, and then puzzled out how to pay for it later. Someone even called the police, to report the problem, to see that the store was protected.
It wasn’t as if this was Sanford’s, our neighborhood grocer. That store in Toronto is owned by one of the big faceless corporations. It might have been easy to rationalize emptying the shelves, in Robin Hood style, stealing from the ultra-rich to meet the needs of simple folks just trying to get by.
The good news is that people who went to that grocery store on Easter morning did not abandon their decency, their morality, their sense of fair play. Even in these strange times, they held on to the best part of themselves, what might be called the better angels of our nature.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Thomas was offered what he needed, to believe what his friends had told him. I like to think the experience also gave him confidence, the ability to trust that the love he had known through Jesus, and the community that surrounded him, this love that came from God, was going to go on. Thomas and his friends might only see and hear the Risen Christ a few more times, but the love would always be with them.
I believe that for most of us, most of the time, the clearest evidence we can have that God’s love is real, and active in the world, is how we are with each other. The old saying “we are the hands and feet of Christ” reminds us that by our words and actions, we can allow God’s love to flow through us.
This is a time when the world, and all the people we love in the world, and all the people we don’t even know, need, perhaps more than ever, all the signs of God’s love they can get. The world needs us, the people around us, need people like us, to let God’s love flow through.
We need to see the best in people, and they need to see the best in us. I have no doubt about that. Amen
Prayer for April 19, 2020
In our Gospel reading for today, there is a beautiful line that says that when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room, he took a deep breath and breathed into them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
There is a form of prayer that I find especially helpful these days, adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice called Tonglen.
It is something we can do, to be with others, to be helpful to the world, in this challenging time. It is as simple as breathing, offering good intentions.
We breathe in, and accept the pain and sadness of those we know, those we are worried for.
Breathing out, we pray for peace.
Breathing in, we accept the pain and suffering of those we don’t know, who need help.
Breathing out, we pray for healing.
Breathing in, we accept the confusion and frustration of those who are doing their best and finding it hard.
Breathing out, we pray for calm, for courage, for confidence.
Breathing in, we accept the doubts, the worries, the fear of those around us, especially those who are working on the front lines, to keep us safe, and to make sure we have what we need.
Breathing out, we pray for strength, for reassurance, for hope.
We make these prayers in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
Forever and ever. Amen
There are some announcements on the video, following the close of worship.