Service of the Word: Easter 2

Opening Prayer

Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading: 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.

Homily by the Revd Lee Johnston

How many of you have found yourselves saying or thinking the words: ‘It’s too good to be true’ when faced with an offer or story that sounds suspiciously optimistic and not at all realistic. Today’s gospel focuses on Thomas, who unfairly becomes ‘doubting’ Thomas in popular imagination. I’m sure he would prefer to be called realistic Thomas and perhaps optimistic Thomas. After all, he worships like the rest of the disciples as soon as he meets the risen Christ – they just get the opportunity earlier.

As we enter Easter, we know that it offers us optimism – hope for new life. But this hope is not the same as being unrealistic, believing that God will quickly and easily remove the virus from our midst. Neither does the hope of Easter allow us to be pessimistic: thinking that God has nothing comforting to say in our present struggle. Instead, Easter calls us to be, as Thomas was, realistic yet optimistic. The empty tomb doesn’t promise that that the circumstances of illness or death – the virus included – will change quickly or easily. But God does offer hope that physical death, in whatever ghastly form it takes, has lost the power of fear and finality it once held prior to the resurrection. Jesus rising again shows that we too will rise with him, to God’s presence in heaven when we die. There we will wait until our bodies, like his, are resurrected on that unknown day when God will restore the whole creation.

In recent generations, especially in wealthier countries, we came to value and perhaps focus exclusively on physical life and salvation from illness. We generally expect to live healthily to an old age before having to confront death. Our wealth and security gave us an unrealistic optimism, not at all shared by the many millions of people who live in developing countries. The coronavirus has reminded us that physical life is fragile for everyone, including ourselves. But Easter, takes our new found realistic outlook and adds optimism. Eternal life and salvation from spiritual emptiness is something we can and must rediscover and value once more, offering us a way to be – as Thomas was – both realistic and optimistic. Yes, illness and death are real, but so too is the eternal life God promises to all who believe in the risen Christ. May that be your hope this Easter.