|Lectionary||1st Reading||Psalm||2nd Reading||Gospel|
Acts 2 : 14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1 : 3-9
John 20 : 19-31
Acts 2 : 42 - 47
118 : 2-4, 13-15, 22-24
SECTION 1: NOTES ON THE READINGS
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses”.
There is a marked contrast between the Peter we see in the Passion and Easter narratives and the one we see here. He has moved from outright denial of Jesus (John 18) through uncertainty about the news of the empty tomb (Luke 24: 11,12) and fear (John 19:20) to this bold proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. What has changed? Everything!
Jesus’ resurrection has, of course, turned not only Peter’s world but the whole world upside down. We tend to think of the resurrection as a joyful event – and, of course, it is. But look at the words used in the gospel accounts that describe its witnesses’ reactions: fear (Matthew 28:4), fear and great joy (Matthew 28:8), doubt (Matthew 28:17), alarm (Mark 16:5), terror, amazement, fear (Mark 16:8), disbelief (Mark 8:13), terror (Luke 24:5), disbelief (Luke 24:11), amazement (Luke 24:12), astonishment (Luke 24:22), startled and terrified (Luke 24:37), joyful but disbelieving (Luke 24:40). It would seem that, at the time, the resurrection was so huge, so world-changing, so profoundly shocking, that its witnesses needed time to cope with the new reality, time to work through the trauma, time to adjust to its implications. Peter’s proclamation, which we read in Acts 2, happens fifty days after the resurrection. In that time Peter has come to terms with a world he would have found inconceivable just a few weeks or months previously.
But there is another reason Peter can now speak boldly: he is filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter is speaking at Pentecost, when God poured out God’s life-giving Spirit on the Church, and he speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” have a connection with breathing. The Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruah) can also mean wind, breath, or life-force; the Greek term for “Holy Spirit” is pneuma hagion, (breath or wind being one meaning of the word pneuma). So Pentecost is about God breathing on God’s people. The breath of God brings new life, as it did in creation when the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters (Genesis 1:2).
“Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge”.
This gentle psalm is one of trust and confidence, of gratitude for God’s provision and of steadfast loyalty to the God of life and love: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore”.
1 Peter 1:3-9
“A new birth into a living hope… and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials”.
The writer of this epistle rejoices in both our new life in Christ in the here and now and our future, ultimate hope, but is clear that neither means that we are exempt from suffering or times of trial. How we endure, how we behave and act during testing times, he writes, is what proves and refines our faith.
“Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Jesus comes amongst the fearful and brings peace. Three times in this short passage Jesus speaks peace – not to people for whom peace came easily, but to people living in fear, closeted away with the doors locked.
The resurrected Jesus still bears the evidence of his suffering. His body has not been restored to the way it was, but bears the marks of crucifixion. He has gone through suffering and death and he carries their scars into the new reality.
Thomas’s ability to believe depends not on the other disciples’ words, or even simply on seeing Jesus, but on the testimony of Jesus’ wounds: “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.” It is only when he takes up Jesus’s invitation to put his hands into Jesus’ wounds, into the reality of his suffering as well as his resurrection, that Thomas recognises Jesus and declares him to be his Lord. For Thomas, the authentic Jesus is the wounded Jesus.
SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
This is not a sermon outline but some thoughts that particularly struck me as I reflected on these passages. I share them in the hope they might be helpful as you draft your sermon.
1. Three years ago, the last time these passages were the set readings for this Sunday, much of the world was in lockdown. The Covid-19 pandemic was ripping across countries and continents, creating fear, turning our lives upside down and causing immense distress through the physical and emotional toll it was taking. It seems improbable from our current vantage point, but in April 2020, people were already beginning to ask, “When can we get back to normal?” We now know it would take far longer than anyone imagined back then. Indeed, for many there would never again be “normal” – because of the trauma they suffered… because of the loss of loved ones… because they died.
At the time, there was also much talk about a “a new normal” – the determination that we would emerge from the pandemic different, that we would not go back to old ways of doing things but would learn and change. Here in the UK, we clapped for carers; we vowed to honour those who put their lives at risk to care for others. As a world, we saw just how interconnected we are; the rich nations promised global action to “build back better”. But did we? In the UK, nurses report having to use food banks to make ends meet. Globally, many low-income countries are constrained in what they can do to alleviate poverty “by a large part of available resources being directed towards debt and interest payments. In 2020, debt in low-and middle-income countries rose to $8.7 trillion according to the World Bank. Of this, the debt burden of the world’s low-income countries rose 12% to a record $860 billion. Most of this was related to pandemic needs”, Earth For All – A urvival Guide for Humanity, page 61, referencing World Bank 2022 International Debt Statistics Data.
In our passages, we can see Peter and Thomas being transformed by their experiences of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not easy, but they engage deeply with the reality of Jesus’s death and the scars of his resurrection – and from there, they are empowered to be play their part in the Jesus movement and change the world.
It’s worth noting that even the resurrection, ultimately a joyful event, was traumatic for the disciples. They needed time to adjust to the new reality. How much more do we need to recognise the collective trauma we have all been through with the pandemic, an event in which there was no inherent joy.
It is not too late for us to learn the lessons of the pandemic and reimagine our world together. Will we look on the wounded body of Christ in the world today and ask how God is calling us to respond? A resource you might find helpful is the Anglican Alliance’s “Re-imagining Our World Together” – is a set of Contextual Bible Studies which seek to set up a conversation between the Anglican Marks of Mission and the Sustainable Development Goals.
2. Twice in our gospel reading we read the words, “the doors were locked… Jesus stood among them and said ‘peace be with you’” (v19 and v26). Jesus speaks words of peace to those who are fearful. Not reprimand or chastising or a call to ‘pull themselves together’. Peace.
A 2021 survey of 10,000 children and young people (aged 16–25 years) in ten countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the USA; 1000 participants per country), found:
59% were very or extremely worried about climate change and 84% were at least moderately worried.
More than 50% reported each of the following emotions: sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.
More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning,
75% said that they think the future is frightening
These are staggering statistics.
Many, many young people are far more aware than their elders about quite how bad the climate crisis is. They are frightened and can be in despair, locked in fear and even paralysed by it. If we care about our young people, we have to take their concerns seriously. We have to show them we too, as the Church, care about the climate crisis – by taking action.
Thankfully, there are many great examples of churches taking action on climate change and to tackle the wider environmental crisis. For example, several member churches of the Anglican Communion are on net zero pathways, including the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Australia and the Church of England. Churches everywhere are involved in ecosystem conservation, protection and restoration activities. You will find numerous examples on the Communion Forest website.
The Communion Forest itself is an exciting new initiative of the Anglican Communion to join together in tree growing and ecosystem conservation, protection and restoration throughout the world. It is a practical, spiritual and symbolic response to the environmental crisis, and an act of Christian hope for the well-being of humanity and all God’s creation.
The Communion Forest is a global initiative comprising local activities of tree growing and ecosystem conservation, protection and restoration undertaken by parishes, dioceses and provinces across the Anglican Communion. It was launched during the Lambeth Conference in August 2022 as one of the legacies of the conference.
3. As disciples of Jesus we are not spared suffering or times of trial. But how we respond matters and can refine our faith. Also, the nature of our response and the wounds we bear give our faith credibility and authenticity in the eyes of others. Thomas needed to touch Jesus’ scarred and wounded body, not see a ‘perfect’ one, nor rely on hearsay. If people are to see Jesus’ love through us, his disciples, we need to be willing to share in the woundedness of God’s world and assist those who are hurting.
This is something we can’t do in our own strength. Like the disciples, we need to hear Jesus’ words of peace, which he speaks into our fear. Like Peter, we need God’s Spirit – God’s life-giving breath – to sustain us, to enable us to live as people of faith and hope, and to bring and be good news to others.
Dr. Elizabeth Perry
Elizabeth is the Advocacy and Communication Manager at the Anglican Alliance