Eastertide can be a bit confusing nowadays. While Easter is a Feast Day, it is also a Season of fifty days (an octave of octaves) lasting until Pentecost (literally, the ‘fiftieth day’). Under the traditional system, as found in the Prayer Book and the Missal, the Sundays during these fifty days are numbered as “Sundays after Easter,” just as we have Sundays after Christmas, after Epiphany, or after Trinity (or Pentecost). But with the calendrical reforms following Vatican II, in order to emphasize the special ‘seasonal’ nature of Easter, like Advent and Lent, the Sundays began to be numbered as “Sundays of Easter(tide).” Both systems have much to commend them, but confusion arises when most (Western) churches are observing today as Easter II, while for those of us who follow the Traditional Calendar, it is Easter I. It is also commonly known as “Dominica in albis,” “Quasimodo Sunday,” the “Octave Day of Easter,” or “Low Sunday.”
Introit: (I Peter 2.2) As newborn babes, alleluia: desire ye the sincere milk of the Word, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm 81. Sing we merrily unto God our strength: make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob.
Collect: Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. … Amen.
OT Lesson: Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though my skin be thus destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19. 23-27)
Alleluia. In the day of my resurrection, saith the Lord, I will go before you into Galilee. Alleluia.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For [there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And] there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (I John 5.4-12)
Alleluia. After eight days, the doors being shut, Jesus stood in the midst of his disciples, and said: Peace be unto you. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (St John 20.19-31)
“That same day at evening, the first day of the week, the doors of the house where the disciples were gathered being locked for fear …” So begins today’s Gospel: huddled behind locked doors; afraid for their own lives, afraid of their uncertain futures; hiding for fear that they, too, might be caught in the persecution that had caused their Lord to be crucified. But some have suggested that maybe the disciples were also afraid of Jesus Himself. After all, they had failed Him miserably. Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that first Easter evening was Jesus, Who was rumoured to have risen from the dead. So the doors were locked for fear. And then Jesus came. He didn’t knock for them to let Him in. He just came in, through their locked door. And the first words He speaks to them are “peace be with you.” No recriminations, no angry tirades—but “shalom—peace,” both a greeting and a blessing that connotes much more than simple tranquillity and freedom from distress, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being—the kind of peace the world cannot give (Jn 14.27). “There is shalom between you and Me. And your locked doors cannot come between us.”
He who is Himself the “door” of the sheep (10.7) comes right through their locked doors and appears in the midst of His frightened sheep. He comes to break into their fear, to bring them His peace, but even more, to bring them His life, His Spirit—so that they would not be afraid, not remain sealed away from the outside world, but be empowered and encouraged to go out to live as apostles (sent ones), the ambassadors He had called them to be. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” Not hiding in fear, but sent out, into a world which so desperately needs to hear the good news of hope through the resurrection of Christ; out to preach forgiveness of sins; out to continue Christ’s mission in the world. But they would not be left on their own in this daunting task. He breathes into them the gift of His Holy Spirit (20.22), who will teach them, remind them of all that He has said to them, and guide them into all truth (14.26; 16.12-14).
Then He tells His new apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (20:23). Contrary to the common interpretation, He is not here endowing the disciples with some special authority to decide whose sins will be forgiven and whose will not. “Sin” in John’s Gospel refers not so much to moral transgression as to the refusal to receive the revelation of God in the person of Christ. Thus, Our Lord is specifying what it actually means to be apostles—to be sent forth to make known the love of God that Christ Himself has made known. As people come to know and abide in Him, they will be “released” from their sins. If, however, those sent by Christ fail to bear witness, people will remain stuck in their unbelief; their sins will be “retained.” So He is charging His apostles with a grave responsibility.
For whatever reason, Thomas was absent, and missed out on this first encounter with the risen Christ. And although he has gotten a bad rap as “doubting Thomas,” in reality he asks for nothing more than what the others have already received: to see the risen Lord, wounds and all. The most wonderful part of this story is that Jesus appears again a week later with a word especially for Thomas. And Thomas responds with the highest Christological confession of anyone in the Gospels: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). And Our Lord’s reply to Thomas is not a rebuke, but rather a blessing, not only upon him, but upon all those who will afterwards come to believe without having had the benefit of a flesh-and-blood encounter with the risen Christ—that is, us.
Our fears today are just as real, just as rational. The natural thing to do when we are feeling anxious or threatened is to hunker down and lock the doors, to turn inward and become focussed on our own security rather than the mission to which we are called. But this Gospel reading challenges us: Has the death and resurrection of Christ really changed our lives? What fears and anxieties keep us locked in—as individuals and as congregations—preventing us from fulfilling the mission to which Our Lord has called and sent us? And what are those doors intended to keep out? Are we, ourselves, hesitant or afraid to be Christians in public? Are we motivated in our everyday lives by fear, or by resurrection power? How do our lives betray our own disbelief?
In our living room we have a cross-stitch wall hanging, a gift from a friend, that reads:
“Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God,
will come to know God because they know you.”
It sounds so simple. But it is a lot more difficult than it seems. Often it is much easier to sit in that upper room behind locked doors. But the promise of today’s Gospel is that Christ cannot be stopped by our locked doors. He comes to us as He came to those first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. He comes speaking peace, breathing into our anxious lives the breath of his Holy Spirit. As He came back for Thomas, He continues to come back, not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace He offers. And He keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, to a world that so desperately needs His gifts of hope and peace.
The Risen Christ appears to us, today, so that we will not be faithless, but believing. Easter isn’t just a day on the calendar to be celebrated once a year. It is a way of life. We have been born anew, not for fear, but for faith. So let us pray daily to Our Lord who rose from the dead, asking Him for the faith to believe, and courage to live that faith in such a way that others may come to know God because they know us.
Christ is risen!
Collect: (from the 1549 BCP) O God, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious Resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13.20-21)”