The Presbyterian Church at Woodbury
April 11, 2021
Second Sunday of Easter
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
O God, You who are always doing a new thing, we confess that we sometimes close windows against the fresh air of new ideas, against the noise of other people’s worries, against the winds of change.
God of every place and time, we confess that we often draw the curtains against people who are different, against world news or community concerns.
Forgive us our insulation in our locked homes, our shuttered churches, the security systems on our hearts. Open up our lives, and let your Spirit blow through. Amen.
CALL TO WORSHIP
The Word of life spoke:
so we could hear the ‘Alleluias!’ of the angels.
The Word of life reached out:
so we could touch the hope which heals us.
The Word of life walked out of death’s dread tomb:
so we could follow him into life forever.
CALL TO RECONCILIATION
God’s amazing grace goes before us, after us, through us, often unbeknownst to us, and more often in spite of us. Because of this amazing grace we have confidence to come before God and acknowledge our sin. Let us confess our sin before God and one another.
PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS
God of Easter, in the risen Christ you broke the power of sin and evil. And yet we still live in the tombs of forgetfulness, anxiety and fear. We have failed to love You as we should. We have neglected to love our neighbor. Indeed, we have even failed to love ourselves. Release us from the tombs that terrify us, so that we can see your image in one another and in your good creation. Indeed, free us from the graves of self-hatred, so that we can see ourselves as your children. Amen.
Silence is observed
RESPONSE “Gloria Patri”
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The mercy of the Lord is sure. In Christ we are forgiven and set free from the chains that bind us so that we can be an Easter people. Thanks be to God!
PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
In sharing the peace of Christ, we express the reconciliation, unity, and love that come only from God, and we open ourselves to the power of God’s love to heal our brokenness and make us agents of that love in the world. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, let us forgive one another. The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
ANTHEM “We Have Seen the Risen Lord” Pethel
(all children will remain in the sanctuary)
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit so that we can hear your Word in the words of Scripture. Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Amen.
SCRIPTURE John 20:19-31
19When it was evening on that day, 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.
“The Incredulity of Thomas” by Caravaggio is one of the most famous paintings of the week after Christ’s resurrection. The painting is nearly life-size when hanging on the wall, and depicts our scripture for today. In this classic paining, the other Apostles in the background are Peter (older, bald gentleman) and John, who were both there when Christ first re-appeared, yet are more than eager to examine him again. Interestingly enough, there’s an auspicious lack of divine symbols such as glows and halos around the holy men, some attributing it to the new corporeality of Jesus, while others, believe the artist is just keeping it real.
Art Historian Richard Speak declares, “I think the reason of why Caravaggio is captivating, is that Caravaggio is easy — and I don’t mean it as a putdown — but you can get him quickly, he’s not an artist that you have to meditate upon. And that feeds into a generation of people who are into new media. Caravaggio, in a way, is a great tweet.”
Caravaggio may be tweet ready or easily understood on social media, but the larger issue is Thomas’ “Incredulity” – the state of being unwilling or unable to believe something- depicted in the painting. Thomas had doubts. Thomas has belief issues. Thomas was just like you and me.
The doubts that plague me are real, and they have power. They have the power to keep me from believing in myself. Especially at critical junctures, when they always start warning, scoffing, belittling, worrying away at my hope, if I can’t muster the presence of my angels, opportunities pass me by. In time, these lost moments become regrets. They are unforgettable. Sometimes they lend me confidence in another struggle, and sometimes they add to my doubts. And so, it was with the disciples!
The Sunday after Easter is devoted to doubt. The story of Doubting Thomas is always read, no matter what year of the three-year cycle we are in. Doubt is huge. And since the very first Easter, everyone has known doubt is important.
But waiting a week to bring doubt into focus makes it seem as if there is a Doubt Delay – first, you get excited and run around and celebrate – then, you doubt.
That isn’t the real story about doubt. Doubt was part of the entire Easter picture, from Maundy Thursday right through Easter Day. At the Last Supper the disciples drew back from Jesus’ foot washing – doubting his gesture, divining his meaning and shrinking from the changes to their own intentions, still intent on glory.
Outside his trial, Peter shrank into famed betrayals, unable to leave, unable to step forward, doubt and love struggling within him.
All the disciples were paralyzed by grief, the intense doubt that overwhelmed Jesus’ oft spoken assurances that he would rise, until it was Joseph of Arimathea who was able to handle the details of burial.
Pain is a guise of doubt, the mind and body unable to muster enough light to dispel the darkness. There is no record of what was said between the disciples from Friday until Easter morning, but we know what it would be among us: long silences punctuated by “if onlys,” “why didn’t wes,” “how could theys.” We know from their Easter astonishment that no one was saying, “Let’s wait and see what happens.”
Yet on Easter morning, doubt was as much their angel as their demon: some, certain of death, set out for the tomb to prepare the body. Each gospel lists different women. Always, Mary Magdelene, often his mother, and then various names. John lists Magdelene alone, who, on discovering the absence of the body runs back to tell the others, and Peter and John rush out, running ahead of her, racing each other. John arrives first but does not go in – overcome, at that point, by inner conflict, doubt surely being part of that. Peter rushes by him, enters in, sees the folded grave clothes, and his doubts and grief fall away. He rushes out, rejoicing. But Mary needs more than absence, more than clothing, more even than sight. When she hears her name, she knows.
Thomas wasn’t there in the Upper Room when they returned, wasn’t there when Jesus came and amazed them all by eating a fish. And all their telling, all their amazement, did not dispel his skepticism. Yet there was enough faith in him to keep him from walking out, exclaiming “You’re nuts!” and leaving their madness behind. He proclaims he has to touch those wounds in order to believe, but he stays with them, his doubt as much an angel as a demon. Some days later he has the chance to touch those wounds, it is written.
Thomas is a Greek name, and it means twin, though his twin, if he had one, never appears, and some suggest we are, each of us, his twin. For each of us has our nagging doubts that sometimes prompt us to get up and investigate a situation that needs our attention, and that sometimes hold us back. If Thomas’ doubts are the most persistent, then he is our twin because our doubts persist, and at times are insistent, and they have the ability to lead us to new discoveries about ourselves and in our relationship with all that is holy.
As our culture becomes more and more dystopian, it becomes harder to set aside cynicism. Among my friends are those who fell away from Downton Abbey because the series was too impossibly sweet, and those who stayed watching, but scoffed at the series for finding too much good in a world they believe to be much crueler than that. And in the Fox series, Rosewood, an African American Medical Examiner (Morris Chestnut) holds out hope and faith in life to all those doubters around him, who are invested in one or another form of disbelief in their ability to be accepted in this world, in their ability to survive pain, and in the power of forgiveness.
We are not Downton Abbey people nor are we Rosewood people, but we are EASTER people. Easter insists on an end to our victimization, and opens an endless Day of Peace, which we must begin to proclaim. The disciples move through degrees of despair and doubt in each other’ company in a long, varied conversation, in which all the things they think and feel are transformed from Demons into Angels. Easter is new life. Easter is rising. Easter is not about escaping with our life, but walking in the power of God’s love, even into death. And that’s what it has to do with each of us, and Thomas!!! We can move from incredulity to faith!!
The Incredulity of St. Thomas, by Caravaggio, Michelangelo. 1601-2. Postdam, Germany. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.
Commentary provided by Samuel Cruz, Scott Hoezee, Jamie Clark-Soles, Nancy Rockwell, David Lose Karoline Lewis & Andrew King
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
God of the Easter season, you come into our midst with resurrection power to free us from the realities that enslave us; that keep us from the fullness of life you desire for all of your children and for the earth itself. Help us to be open to your presence in our lives even if it means facing difficult circumstances that bind us and keep us from living fully. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for your church amid the conflicted times in which we live, that we would serve you faithfully, and be the place where wounds are touched, attended to, released, liberated and redeemed. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the people in every land, that we may seek the common good, and work for justice and peace for all the people and not just the few. For all those who hunger and thirst, that they may be filled with good things. For those whose rights have been abused or rejected, may we stand in solidarity with them and be a witness to justice. And we pray for those whose lives have been torn and traumatized by violence — may we be agents of your love to each of these your children. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of the nations, we pray for elected officials around our globe. Help them resist greed, prideful ambition and partisan gain in order that they may serve the welfare of all — especially refugees and immigrants in our midst. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of salvation and healing, we come to you as a people who continue to struggle with overwhelming challenges of the pandemic. We pray for special measures of strength and endurance to weary healthcare workers and to all who are now facilitating vaccination. May your comfort be with all who are sick and all who have lost loved ones. We pray all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying, Our Father…
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 debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
God is the fountain of many good gifts. We are blessed by the goodness all around us. Let us now bring our gifts in joyful response to the many gifts that we have been given.
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
O God, we offer these gifts on the promise that they will serve you in our community and world. May they help bring peace, love and justice for the earth and all who dwell in it.
Go out into the world in peace; have courage; hold onto what is good; return no one evil for evil; support the weak; help the suffering; honor all people; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.