Signpost for Sunday 27 April 2014: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Ps 16; 1 Pet 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
I wrote the Signpost for these readings last year but, as usual, I’d missed heaps, so sorry if you’ve already spotted what I hadn’t till now.
I’ve skipped over those very first words in John 20:19 so many times, but the timing is important, both to the story and for the later Christian church.
Why do we go to church (if we do) on Sundays? How come we didn’t just stick with Saturday as our holy day. Why isn’t Sunday the first working of the week as it was back then?
It turns out that the first believers did carry on meeting on the Saturday Sabbath, and at the local synagogues and even in the temple on set feast days. They might even have worshipped alongside people who didn’t believe Yeshua from Galilee was the Messiah for a good thirty or forty years after Jesus died. They weren’t the most popular members of the congregation, though (Acts 9:1-2).
And then came the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70; it was news to me to discover that after that the rabbis actually brought in a “curse oath” that required all synagogue members to reject Jesus outright as the Messiah.
That’s when followers of the way were forced to drop out of any Sabbath services completely. Not surprisingly, and not least because Jesus himself appeared on three Sunday nights in a row (John 20:19,26; Luke 24:36; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), the early church chose to meet on Sunday. First the Roman church and then the protestant churches carried on after that. And that’s why we all hate Mondays.
As far as John’s version of the story goes, I’ve often focused so much on the doubting Thomas episode that I forget that first Sunday evening takes place not long after Mary has mistaken Yeshua for a gardener and run back to tell the disciples. But now how do we find them? Relieved, comforted, reassured. No, they’re ‘behind locked doors in fear of the Jews’ (20:19).
(“The Jews” of course is a label John uses for those religious leaders who opposed Jesus. And, it’s probably, code for those who opposed the Christian community that John was writing for at the end of the first century. He doesn’t mean your average Yoseph bin Bloggs.)
Those locked doors and that fear tell us that Thomas wasn’t so different from all the other disciples. He’s not the odd one out; he’s no more doubting than they are. In fact he’s far less doubting. OK, he misses Jesus’ first visit. But the other eleven are still cowering with him behind locked doors a week later, when Jesus drops in again (20:26). They’ve got the message, they have been breathed on (20:22), not Thomas. So for every single disciple, there was fear, doubt and confusion before there was understanding, acknowledgement and joy.
In fact, it’s Thomas who turns everything around for all of them, and it’s Thomas who does that because in John’s story he’s already an important person. He appears more often in John’s Gospel than any other (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24,26-29; 21:2).
And we’re wrong if we think Jesus is scolding Thomas in 20:29, because no-one in that room had believed in Jesus’ resurrection without actually seeing him first. It’s more likely that this is John encouraging his original readers, who weren’t eyewitnesses and would encounter lots of people who questioned their beliefs, to keep the faith.
The words of ‘working preacher’ Elisabeth Johnson are one way to sum it all up: “Jesus comes to us as he came to the first disciples, right in the midst of our fear, pain, doubt, and confusion. What’s more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus comes back week after week among those gathered to share the word, the water, the bread, and the wine. He doesn’t want anyone to miss out.”