2022 APRIL 24 “The First Day of the Week”

      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 Jewish authorities, 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.

 Message        “First Day of the Week”       Rev. James. Renfrew

The reading from John’s Gospel refers to the “first day of the week”, the evening of the Sunday that the women discovered the empty tomb. It was called the “first day of the week”, because in Jewish tradition Saturday is the Sabbath day of rest, so Sunday is the first day of the week. It’s more than that, of course, it’s not just the first day of the week; it’s the first day of a new season, a season of resurrection and new life, a season that has lasted right up to the present day. It means that Easter is never over, it keeps going, in amazing, surprising ways. So it’s not just the first day of joy and wonder, it’s the first of many first days to follow.

When I was a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, this Sunday, the Sunday following Easter, was a big day, an important day, a huge day, maybe the biggest day of the church year! Why? It was because the Sunday after Easter was the day that all of the seminary interns were asked to preach. The pastor at each church took the day off after the grueling duties of holy week leading up to Easter, and so the lowly student got the gig. It didn’t matter what denomination – Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Unitarian, Catholic, Orthodox – every student got to preach on this day.

Some events on the church calendar are referred to as the high holy days, you can name them all, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, but the Sunday after Easter we student ministers called “Low Sunday”. That was a joke, of course, because we all know every Sunday is important.

It also meant that every student at the seminary got to preach on the same Bible story traditionally read on the Sunday after Easter – the story of Thomas. So you can calculate that in my forty plus years of preaching, starting back when I was a student minister at Trinity Presbyterian Church on West 57th Street in Manhattan, I’ve probably had forty chances to preach about Thomas. The reading is very familiar to me.  I can almost recite it from memory. 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 Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

I’ve squeezed just about every shred of meaning from the story of Thomas. I’ve preached about the locked doors. I’ve preached about the disciples’ fears. I’ve preached about the peace Jesus gives. I’ve preached about how Jesus breathed his spirit upon the disciples, and breathes the same spirit on us today. I’ve preached about Thomas, and how he refused to believe without proof. I’ve preached about the holes in Jesus’ hands (remember that the word for “Jesus” in sign language shows the holes in his hands?).  I’ve preached about the role of doubt in the journey of faith, and I’ve preached about how the man branded “doubter” by tradition may deserve the greatest honor for taking the Gospel further into the world than all of the other disciples. And, finally, I’ve preached about the words Jesus offers at the end of the story, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”, words clearly addressed to people like us, distant from the resurrection in time and space, but able through faith to align our lives with the resurrection story as an ancient story with present day power.

I’d love to return to any of those topics again. I could even put it up to a vote, which one of these topics would you like to hear more about this morning? The disciples’ fear, Jesus breathing the spirit, the holes in his hands. But, instead, I’m going to draw our attention to the short summary at the end of the story. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” 

I think this is the most astounding part of this morning’s reading, and I’ll tell you why. John tells us that Jesus did many other signs in those days after the resurrection, which could include powerful teachings, incredible miracles, amazing accounts of Jesus meeting the different people who thought him dead, and dramatic accounts of lifting up the lost and the forgotten. ”Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book”.

What, did I hear it right? Lots of other stories about the resurrection and they’re not included? I’m astounded by that! Did John run out of paper and ink to write them? Come on!  If it was me, I’d find a way to write down every last one of those stories!  No paper or ink?  I’d scratch them on stone. The resurrection is the most incredible event in history and John couldn’t write these stories down? I don’t get it!

So I’m a little frustrated by the written account that John has left for us. I wish he had written a lot more. But maybe John has written it this way purposefully? If he presented every last detail there would be nothing left for us to discover on our own. And that would be a big loss. In the end, the story of the resurrection is not just about the resurrection, the story of the resurrection is meant to draw us into the resurrection, to experience it for ourselves. It’s not just ancient history, it’s also the present and the future. John’s way of writing, leaving out so much, requires us to find the risen Christ on our own to complete the story.

What proves the resurrection to you?” I’ve heard thoughtful answers to that question, beautiful testimonies, haunting stories, responses that warm your heart and send chills up your spine, words that moved people to tears as they said them out loud.

So I think what John offers in his Gospel is a gift, a gift that invites us to open our eyes, apply all of our senses, dig deep, and reach out. Because resurrection can never be contained in one testimony, it involves hundreds of testimonies, thousands, even millions of them, but one of those testimonies is the most important one of all – yours. And please don’t keep it to yourself!

This is now the seventh day after Jesus’ resurrection. But every Sunday is a first day, a first day for the Good News to take hold, a first day for hope and new life!.

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