Easter II

“Emil Nolde – Der Ungläubige Tomas (Doubting Thomas) (1912)” by Cea. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit, we worship God with gladness. We encourage you to pray over the words that follow, and follow the links within the liturgy. Prayers in this service are adapted from Celebrate God’s Presence (UCPH). Thanks this week to Dave, Heather, and the Morley Sisters!

PRELUDE: “It Is Well With My Soul” (Spafford/Bliss)

OPENING PRAYER

You extend your hands, Lord,
and invite us to behold the wounds
that cast away doubt and fear.
You breathe new life into us:
the same life found in the empty tomb.
Speak to us, this day,
through the Holy Spirit.
Find us, this day,
in your abiding presence.
Fill us, this day,
with your breath—
to bring hope and comfort,
and lasting peace.
Amen.

HYMN OF PRAISE: God, we praise you for the morning

God, we praise you for the morning;
hope springs forth with each new day,
new beginning, prayer, and promise,
joy in work and in play.

God, we praise you for creation,
mountains, seas, and prairie land.
Waking souls find joy and healing
in your bountiful hand.

God, we praise you for compassion,
all the loving that you show;
human touching, tears, and laughter,
help your children to grow.

God, we praise you for your Spirit,
Comforter and daily friend,
restless searcher, gentle teacher,
strength and courage you send.

God, we praise you for the Saviour,
come that we may know your ways.
In his loving, dying, rising,
Christ is Lord of our days.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
hallelujah, hallelujah!
Hallelujah, hallelujah!
Christ is Lord of our days!

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We are tired, Lord.
For the road is long
and our journey seems without end.
You walk beside us,
but we often fail to see you.
Remind us, Lord,
that you live in us and others,
by the Spirit,
and that we can always find you
in the lonely,
in the broken,
and in the dispossessed.
Give us eyes to see you,
and hearts open to your love.
Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

God visits us with love and mercy,
forgiving our shortcomings and leading us home.
These are words we can trust. Amen. 

FIRST READING: Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

SECOND READING: John 20.19-28

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the religious leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
24 Now Thomas (also known as the twin), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

HYMN: Jesus stand among us

Jesus, stand among us
in your risen power;
let this time of worship
be a hallowed hour.

Breathe the Holy Spirit
into every heart;
bid the fears and sorrows
from each soul depart.

Lead our hearts to wisdom
till our doubting cease,
and to all assembled
speak your word of peace.

Doubting Thomas places his hand in the side of the risen Jesus.
One of four ivory casket panels from Rome in the early 5th century. “Doubting Thomas places his hand in the side of the risen Jesus.” by Nick in exsilio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

REFLECTION

Maybe doubt is a good thing.

I doubt this boat is really unsinkable.
I doubt there are enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew.
I doubt that 24 knots through iceberg infested waters is a good idea.
I doubt that we will ever trust technology in such an unquestioning way again.

In his landmark book “Listening to Prozac,” Peter Kramer takes on an entire branch of modern medicine that he labels “cosmetic pharmacology.” In a nutshell, he argues that while some were taking Prozac as an anti-depressant, others were using it to achieve a sort of personality makeover, a way for the shy to become more outgoing and the timid to become more confident.

He then goes further, into the world of anthropology, to argue that within tribal cultures there needs to be a balance within the tribe. You need both the timid and the bold. Otherwise, there will be no one to challenge the group when it is being too cautious or caution the group when it is being aggressive. Then Kramer points back to the corporate boardroom, the place where this misuse of Prozac became the most apparent. If everyone around the table is overly confident, either by nature or medication, bad decisions will surely follow.

Think of it as a modern version of the ancient near-eastern practice, at least among one tribe, to get really inebriated on the eve of battle. By the end of the night it was usually ‘we don’t want to go to war with those guys, we love those guys.’ If they didn’t reach that insight, even after a really long night of drinking a fine Babylonian single malt, then maybe war was the best course after all.

Poor Thomas. Stuck forever with the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” Some clever person said that we never hear ‘Denying Peter’ so why Doubting Thomas? Add to that, he already had a perfectly acceptable nickname: “Didymus,” which means “the twin” in Greek. Maybe not as evocative as “Spike” or “Tiger,” but Didymus was a fine nickname, and certainly better than Doubting.

So Thomas is stuck with an iffy name, and seemingly forever. I say why not make the most of it, and that brings us back to Prozac. Doubt, or at least the ability to question, or to be that discordant voice that expresses something outside what the crowd is saying, must be a good thing. If everyone is unquestioning, and expresses no doubts about an event or a course of action, then they are little more than sheep. Or worse, if everyone is harbouring the same doubt but no one is willing to say it, then they are guilty of the worst kind of ‘groupthink.’

Suddenly Thomas is looking like a hero in the story, willing to say what no one else thought to say, or saying the thing that no one else had the nerve to say. Thomas is suddenly the Ralph Nader of the group, questioning the status quo and accepting the risk that he might go down in history as someone truly outspoken, as outspoken as say…Ralph Nader.

Another landmark book, this one Nader’s 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” made a bold statement that said (in effect), “I doubt Detroit really cares automotive safety.” Chapter by chapter he cites examples of everything the automakers were doing to imperil drivers and pedestrians: chrome covered dashboards that reflected light into the eyes, confusing transmission patterns that allowed drivers to make terrible mistakes, and even vehicle profiles that seemed to direct pedestrians under the car. He systematically doubted all the counter-claims of all the car companies, and made history.

Speaking of doubt in corporate claims, there is, of course, the terrible case of the Titanic. It took three days for news to reach New York that the Titanic had struck an iceberg, though the result of the collision was still unknown. In what must be the most foolish press release in corporate history, the Vice-President of the holding company that owned the White Star Line said, “We cannot state too strongly our belief that the ship is unsinkable and passengers perfectly safe.”

The Greeks have the best word for people who put too much stock in human achievement: hubris. Hubris is extreme arrogance or pride, the overconfident belief that you can do something like build an unsinkable ship or cover yourself in wax and feathers and fly toward the sun. Confidence allowed the Romans to defeat the Carthaginians, and hubris led them to salt the fields around Carthage, making their defeat permanent. Sailing through icebergs is risky, sailing through at 24 knots is hubris.

So if doubting makes Thomas a hero, the logical question might be ‘a hero of what?’ We all experience doubt from time to time, sometimes appropriately and sometimes not so much. It is seldom worth celebrating though, so Thomas is different. Another comparison: in the same way that someone needed to betray Jesus to move the passion narrative forward, someone had to doubt the resurrection so the question could be out in the open.

You might even say that Mary Magdalene gives us the first hint of the question that will dog Christianity from the beginning: “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” From the earliest days of the church there was a suggestion that his body was stolen, or worse, hidden by the disciples to create the impression that he was raised from the dead. Call it the first real conspiracy theory, since the stone was likely too heavy for one person to move, and therefore the work of a few.

But Mary speaks to the resurrected Jesus, and he then appears to the disciples, but that is just a handful. It falls to Thomas to speak for everyone else, missing from the first and second appearances, and willing to make the bold statement: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

In many ways, Doubting Thomas is a placeholder, standing in for everyone who was not with Mary at the tomb or in that locked room with the disciples. Thomas stands in for us, saying the words we would say and expressing the same doubt that it is perfectly human to express. He says what we would say, he receives the proof that we need, and is even willing to take the slight rebuke that Jesus delivers (really a side comment to us): “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The other thing Thomas does is buy the church some time. For the first generation, the generation who knew Jesus, they were relieved to see that while Jesus died, he really didn’t die, and was able (for a time) to walk among them, give them some final advice, grill them a little fish, and encourage them for the times to come. This was critical as the church was set to be born and the message set to be proclaimed.

May God bless the doubtful, the cautious, the bold, the in-betweens, and everyone who seeks to see the Risen Christ. Amen.

“Christ shows his stigmata to doubting Thomas. Woodcut.” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

SPECIAL MUSIC: “Why Can’t You Believe (Osther)

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of love and mercy,
we gather in this imperfect way,
trusting that you alone join us—one to another.
Hold us this day,
and surround us with your grace.

God of the anxious,
calm our hearts and minds
as we continue on this path
of lockdowns and unknown peril,
new variants and new restrictions.
Help us remain positive,
and believe that better days are coming.

God of the weary,
you alone know our fatigue,
everywhere we turn we feel the weight
of lost hope, and lost opportunity,
and loss of confidence in much
that we take for granted.
Heal our spirits,
with your Spirit,
and lead us back to you.

God of the hurting,
comfort those who mourn,
we pray for Queen Elizabeth,
and other members of our Royal Family in this time of loss.
We pray too for everyone
who has experienced loss during the pandemic,
and the additional challenge of incomplete commemoration.

God of each day,
send us signs of your renewing presence,
reassure us in this time of trouble,
and give us new confidence
in the face of uncertainty,
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

HYMN: Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks

Hallelujah, hallelujah.
Give thanks to the risen Christ;
hallelujah, hallelujah!

Give praise to God’s name.

Jesus is Lord of all the earth,
firstborn of all creation. R

Spread the good news o’er all the earth:
Jesus has died and is risen. R

We have been crucified with Christ,
now we shall live for ever. R

Come let us praise the living God,
joyfully sing to our Saviour. R

BLESSING

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
—Philippians 4.5b-7

God be with you till we meet again;
loving counsels guide, uphold you,
with a shepherd’s care enfold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

One thought on “Easter II

  1. What a service!!!! We are in absolute awe of your scholarship and inspiration, Michael and, Heather, Dave and the Morley Sisters. You have been showing us the way with your beautiful music through so many years. We listen to you but in our mind’s eye we are watching the teenagers we loved so very much (and still do)
    God bless you all as we try to stay afloat on this crazy modern Titanic.
    Love and God bless.❤❤

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