April 15, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — John 20:19-29 (NRSV)
When 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.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So 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.”
A 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.” Then 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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
What Jesus did for us, he did because he was both crucified and risen. What Jesus did for us, he did because he was both human and divine. What Jesus did for us encompasses both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Yesterday we began thinking about the Sunday after Easter Day—the Second Sunday of Easter, or, as it is often called, “Low Sunday.” The Gospel story normally read on “Low Sunday” is the appearance of Jesus to most of his disciples on Easter evening and, a week later, to Thomas. Although part of this Scripture story takes place on the evening of Easter Day, it’s become the traditional reading for “Low” Sunday because of what happens in the second, week-later half of the reading.
On Easter evening, the disciples experienced a beautiful meeting with the Lord, one of the many post-Resurrection appearances reported in the various Gospels. We know that on Easter Day Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden (John 19:11-18) and to Cleopas and a friend (I like to think it was Mrs. Cleopas) on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
If the story of the disciples waiting in a house in John 20:19-23 is the same as the story of them waiting in a house and greeting the Emmaus travelers told in Luke 24:33-49, then we can perhaps imagine the disciples in today’s scripture fresh from having had first Mary Magdalene, then Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas, rush in with the news that the Lord had risen. Then—wonder and joy—the Lord himself appears to them, breathes on them, and begins to talk to them of the glorious things that will happen next.
However all of that may have come to pass on Easter evening, Thomas missed it. I’ve often wondered why. Was he the one they sent to get food? Was he at home because he was frightened? We don’t know. We only know that when he finds out, he asks that he might have the same experience. He wants to see the risen Lord himself and know that the risen Lord was the same Lord who was crucified. On Low Sunday, he gets his wish.
I think even now we can find ourselves asking the same kinds of questions the disciples asked: Was this a ghost (Luke 24:41-42)? Did Jesus really come back? If he did really come back, was it really his body, or were they just seeing his spirit? If his body did really come back, what earth-shattering thing did that mean for the rest of their lives? As John Updike puts it in his famous “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body. . .
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
What Jesus did for us, he did because he was both crucified and risen. What Jesus did for us, he did because he was both human and divine. What Jesus did for us encompasses both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and all the days before and after and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
What questions do you have for Jesus?
What answers do you hear from him?
I never get tired of introducing people to this beautiful “re-tuning” of the old hymn At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing by contemporary singer-songwriter Wen Reagan. What a beautiful gift we have been given by our risen Lord. Ponder and pray.
The lyrics are here—I love these stanzas most of all:
Where the Paschal blood is poured,
Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Through the wave that drowns the foe. . .
Mighty Victim from the sky,
Pow’rs of hell beneath thee lie;
Death is conquered in the fight,
Thou hast brought us life and light.
(Taken from a prayer for the Second Sunday of Easter in the Book of Common Prayer) Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Banner image by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Hope for Doubters.
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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I wonder how many Christians realize that the first part of the above quote is the exact break point between the Old and the New Testament?
That this is where Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit He had promised before the Crucifixion?
That this is when He commissioned them to spread the Gospel?
That this is the very beginning of the Christian Church?
He ate with them to prove His body was real. He gave them authority and told them to wait for the power. The power came at Pentecost.
I consider this “First Supper” to be a monumental event for Christians that should be celebrated with the same fervor as the Last Supper.
Unfortunately, we protestants have been so overshadowed by the Catholic tradition that we don’t recognize it. After all, for Catholics, Christ is still on the Cross (Crucifix). They re-celebrate the Crucifixion with every mass. They pretty much avoid the Resurrection.
I have met a number of Christians who are protestant because of the “empty cross.”
Perhaps you can help encourage us all to celebrate the First Supper.