The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL
Acts 2:14-41; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
A meditation in four parts.
(Introduction) The Gospel according to John was most likely compiled in about A.D. 90. It is therefore a reflection on the meaning of Jesus by those who were convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and that he was God’s Messiah. They already believed, and wanted others to believe.
These believers were living in a time when the rupture between the synagogue and the church had become acute. So it is, that when John’s Gospel makes frequent and unflattering reference to “The Jews” it is about Jews who were their contemporaries, not the Jews of the time of Jesus. Jesus and the disciples were all Jewish.
John’s constant and unflattering references to the Jews led to the ghastly and violent anti- Jewish word and deeds which are a shameful part of our Christian history. “Jews” became stereotyped to represent everything which opposed Christianity.
21st century Christians might ask themselves “what other shameful stereotypes infect our think and acting?” We have come to understand that anti-Semitism is evil. Are we now in danger of accepting the notion that it is alright to be anti-Islam? Have we ever entertained the thought that there is no monolithic Muslim faith, and that there are many varieties of Islam? John said (unhistorically) that the doors were locked for fear of the Jews.
What doors are we locking for fear of Muslims?
Jesus gives the disciples a task, a mission. Just as he is, so they were to become. That mission was to be people of forgiveness. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. That mission was never intended to be the exclusive possession of Priests and Ministers. It is for all God’s people.
Part of the meaning of the word “forgive” is to “let go”, or “release”. So the options are to release - or to retain. When we forgive others, it is not only they who are released, it is also we. In the act of forgiveness we release ourselves from the prisons of bitterness, anger, or resentment. When we refuse to forgive, and chose to retain, that bitterness, anger and resentment is retained not in the persons we refuse to forgive, but in ourselves.
Where do we need the grace of the Holy Spirit to forgive, to “let go”, to “release”?
Thank God for Thomas. Forget all the nonsense we’ve learned about “doubting Thomas”. He was not a doubter. His great strength was that he sought a faith of his own, not a second hand faith which depended on the words of others.
We can be sure that Thomas not only came to believe, but that he began to act. It is more than likely that he travelled as far east as India, there to witness to the resurrection. When Christian missionaries from England went to India, they discovered that there was already an Indian Church - it’s called the “Mar Thoma” Church, and traces its foundations to St. Thomas.
How can we be more like Thomas, and come to a faith of our own? In other words, can we reach for a faith which does not depend upon what others say, but which rests on that which we have come to believe for ourselves?
Thomas’s confession “My Lord and My God” reflects the astonishing theological claim being made by members of the Jesus Movement, that Jesus of Nazareth was Lord and God.
Yet it is more than a religious belief. It is also a political statement. For you see, Caesar, over in Rome, also was acclaimed as “Dominus et Deus” - Lord and God. Loyal members of the Empire were expected to visit a shrine to the Emperor, and toss a few grains of incense into a brazier in his honour. Jews had been exempted from this civil religion. The new Christians also refused to participate in Emperor “worship”.
For them the issue was clear. Either Jesus or the Emperor was Lord and God, it could not be both. To declare that Jesus was Lord and God was an act of political defiance against the Empire. Early Christians knew that their obedience to Jesus trumped their loyalty to the Emperor.
Are there situations in which our discipleship of Jesus will bring us into conflict with our patriotic and political loyalties?