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Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe

Second Sunday of Easter, 19 April, 2009
Fr Chaplain Soma, Assistant Priest, St Peter's, Eastern Hill

John 20:19-31

Yesterday was a colourful wedding of Fr Matthew and Katherine. Today's Sunday is marked with three important occasions in St Peters. That is the second Sunday of Easter, my last day in St Peters and Adam's tenth anniversary of ministry. For me and my family, it is a time of pain as we are going to miss you and all you do in this Church.

The Vicar, the ministry team, my field committee and this community in general, have been part of our family. The evident of support was clearly shown in good and difficult times through to this day.

We have enjoyed the rich worship tradition of St Peters, the choir singing including the trumpet and more?. It is a Christian style that we will not find in most Anglican churches in Melbourne.

The beauty of Christmas Eve, and the whole Easter season will remain to us unforgettable. During my holiday I had a chance of attending Sunday service in three churches, but they were not vibrant as St Peters.

I agree with many of you who testify that St Peters is special and if I were a parishioner, I would not move to any other parish. I therefore encourage you to keep enjoying the fullness of Christ that is in this historic nurturing Church.

Today's gospel reading is located within series of three post resurrection stories. The first of these is the Easter morning narrative, in which the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, concluding with her recognition of who Jesus is.

The two other stories took place on two different occasions, and they make up the reading for the second Sunday of Easter. The first was on the evening of Easter day, an appearance of Jesus to his disciples, when Thomas is absent. The second narrates an appearance of Jesus to his disciples a week later in the presents of Thomas.

The opening verse provides an assumption of the house in which the disciples are gathered is in or near Jerusalem, since the previous material in the chapter has that location. The reason these disciples met behind the door was fear, but the effect upon us, as we hear the story is to anticipate a wonder.

The story unfolds as follows:

Firstly, Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples and gives them the common Jewish greeting: peace (shalom). He goes on to identify himself, providing evidence of his crucifixion, by showing his hands and side. The reaction of the disciples is rejoicing, and that fulfils the words of Jesus earlier where he says to his disciples, when he returns to the Father, they will have pain, but their pain will turn into joy.

Secondly, in the commissioning Jesus says, first of all, he has been sent by the Father. That is a common affirmation in the gospel of John. Jesus is sent into the world to reveal the Father to each of us in different secrete ways. He has already said, back in his high priestly prayer, that one of his purposes of being sent into the world is to send his disciples to be in the world to continue his ministry, once he has returned to the Father.

Thirdly, according to the fourth Evangelist, the gift of the Spirit was bestowed on the evening of Easter day itself, not on the Pentecost that is seven weeks later as Luke said in his gospel. The disciples are immediately commissioned and given the spirit as a power that will enable them to witness to Christ.

And fourthly, the authorization to forgive sins completes the series of events on Easter day. In any case, the disciples are given the power to forgive sins. Because of Thomas' disbelief, Jesus invites him to touch his wounds. We are not told that Thomas actually did so, but he makes a confession of faith; "My Lord My God".

This was a profound turning point for Thomas but an encouragement for us to believe without seeing. What he says, in effect is that, he has encountered the presence of God in the risen Lord.

Jesus said, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." That sets all Christians on the same level before God as the first disciples. We who have come to faith are declared blessed as we hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, being read or sung every Sunday.

The most obvious reason for assigning this reading to the second Sunday of Easter is that the story falls chronologically on this Sunday. But there is another reason for using it as a basis for preaching, and that is to emphasize its two ways of coming to faith and they are:

1. Faith through an encounter with the risen Jesus who appeared, and 2. The faith that comes through hearing the witness of those who have gone before us and have testified to him, as the living one who grants forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

On Easter we celebrate the resurrection. But now we reflect more deeply on the meaning of the resurrection for ourselves, who have not experienced an appearance of the risen Jesus.

There is need to be aware that it is probably impossible to establish the factuality of resurrection to the satisfaction of everyone. As with the affirmation that God created the world, so too the affirmation that God raised Jesus from death to life goes beyond the usual rules of evidence.

The experience of Thomas, who saw the pierced hands and side of the risen Jesus, is not repeatable — at least not until the world to come. But what is clear is that the twin claims, that God created the world and that God raised Jesus from the dead, are consistent. They are consistent with one another and the God who is revealed in the scriptures.

The doubts Thomas expressed initially should be neither put down nor celebrated. But Thomas' problem and Jesus' beatitude together provide instruction in the meaning of faith for all Christians after the first generation. Faith is not a certainty based on physical perception, but is trust grounded in our insight into the reality of God, what God is capable of doing, and how Jesus fits into the larger drama.

May the peace of Jesus to his disciples in the upper room, remain with you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen


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