This week's readings: 2nd Sunday of Easter

by
16 April 2009

by Martin Warner

Acts 4.32-35;
1 John 1.1-2.2;
John 20.19-end

A FRIEND of mine has the benefit and the misfortune of being the child of teacher parents. He consequently has all the energy and agility of mind I lack, which is fine, until we go to the cinema. I sit on the edge of my seat throughout the film, knowing that at the end his first question will be, "What was the high spot and what was the low spot of that film?"

In spite of this, I enjoyed seeing Slumdog Millionaire, and had my high spot/low spot answers all ready when he broke the rules and simply said: "It's all about the wound: that's all it was about." Although disappointed that my percipient judgements were to be ignored, I had to agree that he was right.

Those of you who have seen the film will know that the main character, Jamal, attempts to rescue Latika, the woman he loves, from an abusive marriage. Her initial bid for freedom is brought to a ferocious end when she is bundled into a car by her husband's minders, and her face is slashed with a knife, leaving her marked for life.

When finally they meet and are free, Jamal kisses the scar on Latika's face. It was the wound that gave Jamal the knowledge of her love for him: it was the wound that gave him the courage to expose that knowledge in a TV gameshow, a means by which Latika should know of his existence and whereabouts.

There is something unaccountably like a trophy about our wounds and scars. Any hospital visitor knows that a person recovering from surgery will invariably show you their wound. In some cases, there is an underlying anxiety about the invasive nature of surgery. It is almost as though we need to say: "I am still the person I was, in spite of what has been done to me."

Advertisement

Today's Gospel reading locates us in this same territory, as Thomas reacts violently to the news that the other disciples have seen Jesus, while he was absent. He is, of course, angry - perhaps with himself for not being at the gathering of the Twelve - and he is hurt that he has in some way been excluded.

We tend to read his response as a straightforward statement of Thomas, the representative of doubt. Actually, I wonder whether there isn't more than doubt going on here.

Thomas is also speaking out of love and grief. He wants to connect with the physical wounds because they are the statement of the extent to which he knows Jesus loves him. Like the wounds of surgery, they are intentional signs of precise meaning, even though, as is the nature of mortal flesh, they will also carry the question mark of the uncertainty of life.

Just as we wonder whether surgery will lead to recovery and wholeness, so Thomas wants to know how the wounds of Jesus will heal the furthest reaches of betrayal and guilt. These wounds of hands, feet, and side have also scarred Thomas. He now lives on the brink of amazement, in which doubt is an essential ingredient: how could he be loved by such a person in such a way?

This is the question each of us must confront when we allow ourselves to consider the enormity, improbability, and delicacy of the love of God for us. If Thomas had been a poet, he might have written lines such as these:

Your battle-wounds are scars upon my heart,
Received when in that grand and tragic "show"
You played your part

The words are modern, written by Vera Brittain for her brother, Edward, four days before he died on 19 June 1918. But they articulate an understanding of the power that the wounds of Christ have as a statement of profound self-giving.

We are not disfigured by the scarring of these wounds, but we are ennobled by the extent to which it is evidence of our capacity to know, and willingly respond to, the outpouring of God's life for us. "Grief is the price we pay for love", an observation by the Queen after 11 September 2003, sums up the nature of our wound of knowledge.

I am always struck by the extent to which Eastertide takes us back into the suffering of Holy Week, in order to progress through it into the glory of the resurrection. Thomas's reference to the rawness of the wounds of Jesus is one example. But it is an important one that must be set in the context of the encounter with the risen Lord. That encounter is about the gifts of peace and liberation: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven."

Advertisement

The life that confronts us in the new light of Easter is not bloodless and sanitised. It is a life that still unfolds in all the richness of the joy and grief from which beauty and love emerge. As Dr Rowan Williams puts it: "It is, simply, new life - that is to say, a new world of possibilities, a new future which is to be constructed day by day."

Text of readings

Acts 4.32-35

32The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

1 John 1.1-2.2

1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Advertisement

1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20.19-end

19When it was evening on the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So 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.’

26A 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.’ 27Then 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.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But 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.

Subscribe now to get full access

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read seven articles each month for free.