Material for Worship on 2nd Sunday of Easter, 24th April 2022

Looking through our bible readings for today (Acts 5.27-32; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31), writes Peter, I was reminded of a favourite Wesley hymn,  “And can it be?”. Its first verse consists of four questions, which in turn, makes me think of John Betjeman’s much-loved poem “Christmas”, whose last section has the twice-repeated line “And is it true?” Those last three verses of the poem are written in the same metre as Wesley’s “And can it be?”  If you doubt me, you can sing them to yourself if you like.

Which brings me to Thomas. Does he deserve his nickname, Doubting Thomas?  When we look through the Bible, we see he is not alone. Abraham’s wife Sara, for instance, laughed when she heard the angel say she would give birth to a son and even Mary herself questioned the archangel Gabriel: “How can this be for I know not a man?”. But it is Thomas who comes in for criticism for asking for proof when he should have had faith. He is like a modern critic who wrote “If Jesus appeared … and it was witnessed by multitudes, photographed, recorded, televised on the news and all the prophesies recorded in the scriptures were fulfilled, I would without doubt embrace the Christian message and become a follower of the risen Jesus.”

But the underlying theme of these final scenes of John’s Gospel ( John 20.19-31) is not certainty but faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen but come to believe”. And the reason for this is that objective, verifiable proof rules out the possibility of faith, because if something is proved to be true, you do not need faith. This is not to argue for blind faith, however, I often think that the story of Adam and Eve is about the need to progress from an innocent, unquestioning state to one that we arrive at ourselves, taking account the knowledge we have acquired. In the Garden of Eden they go through that difficult stage of growing up, like teenagers who no longer want to come to church because Mum and Dad bring them. We can just imagine Thomas like a stroppy teenager: “No, I’m not going to do it just because you say so. I want to make my own mind up”.

How our children make that decision, if they make it, is a worry for churchgoing parents. But it is something they need to go through if they are to have a grown-up faith that will withstand the challenges they face in life. I can imagine God as the parent of untold millions of teenage children. He, like any parent, has to watch his children go their own way, question, experiment, make their own mistakes – and hopefully learn from them. And at times we, the parents, do end up with the marks of nails and feel the spear-thrust .

It’s not just teenagers either. We know there are adults who are seeking a faith, who want to believe but have questions. How do we react? A common mistake is to say, in effect, “Never mind your doubts and questions. Here’s a ready-made package for you to take away.” This is not what Jesus does. In offering to allow Thomas to touch his wounds, Jesus shows he takes his doubts seriously. And then – and this is significant – Thomas does not need to touch. It is taking the doubters’ questions seriously and respectfully – one could even say, lovingly – that makes the difference.

But what about us? We are called to be those who “have not seen, yet have come to believe”. What convinces us? Well, perhaps it is that word “love”, which crops up frequently in almost all of the appearances of the Risen Jesus. Our reading from Revelation (Revelation 1.4-8) this morning speaks of Jesus as “the faithful witness, … who loved us and freed us from our sins”. And this is what the new community which is coming into being is commissioned to do.

The encounter by the lakeside (next week’s Gospel reading) tells of Jesus’ forgiving Peter for his earlier cowardice and the lakeside breakfast sets the pattern for the Church as a sharing community gathering in his presence. It is also a witnessing community, as Peter says when he and the other disciples are hauled before the Temple authorities (Acts 5.27-32). Significantly, they are charged with preaching in Jesus’ name but also with healing the sick – in other words lovingly witnessing to Jesus in words and deeds. And, as Peter goes on to say, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit for this task.

We are undoubtedly convinced by those who have treated us lovingly along the road, especially when we struggle with difficulties, whether they be physical, emotional or spiritual. There have undoubtedly been moments when we have personally experienced the presence of the Risen Lord, whether in worship, in times when sorrow has turned to joy, when something that had gone wrong has been put right, when broken relationships have been mended, when we have known people in whom the light of Christ shines out.

Yes, Easter faith does make great demands of our faith at times. And is it true? And is it true? If we believe in love, then, as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it: “It is love that believes the Resurrection”.


Prayers of Intercession

 We pray for a world where many put their faith in force, weapons, oppression….. Change hearts and minds so that the peace of Christ may prevail.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

 Grant to us, our families, friends and neighbours the grace of the Resurrection. Break through the closed doors of our fear and doubt. … Give us confidence to face the challenges of daily living.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Grant to the Church the wisdom to know and power to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection. … May her ministers be strong in the Holy Spirit to bring pardon and healing in the name of Jesus.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Have mercy on all who suffer persecution for their faith, who must meet in secret and cannot worship openly. … Give them strength in their need and the knowledge that they are not alone.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Remembering that our risen Lord still bore the scars of his suffering, we pray for anyone for whom life is difficult. … Be close to them, grant them courage and healing.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

We pray for the departed, especially those who have died recently and our loved ones whom we see no longer. … May they know our risen Lord in the fullness of his glory and may we share with them in his promised blessing.

Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

 We make our prayers together with those of the saints triumphant in heaven, through your Son Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Saviour. Amen.