Detail: The Confession of Thomas from the
Easter Mosaic of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, MO. CC BY-SA 4.0.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
Christians living in Jerusalem show clear signs of the Risen Christ among them by sharing all things, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and caring for all who are in need.
Psalm 133 (UMH 850).
A meditative psalm that celebrates the unity of those who share spiritual life together. Though the psalm was originally designed to celebrate the unity of a group of pilgrims heading toward the temple in Jerusalem, it quickly came to be used to express the unity of the whole people of God around the earth. As an alternate response, consider using "Ubi Caritas," 2179 in The Faith We Sing. For singing the entire psalm, consider Tone 4 in E minor.
1 John 1:1-2:2.
More signs of the presence of the risen Lord in our midst: honest confession, assurance of God's forgiveness, and lives where sin's power is being overcome.
To help Thomas believe, Jesus appeared among the disciples, showed Thomas the scars in his hands and sid,e and invited Thomas to touch them.
Easter Season continues through the Day of Pentecost.
The discipling purpose of Easter Season historically is twofold. The first purpose is doctrinal. Easter Season was (and is) a season to for “mystagogy,” teaching the “mysteries of the faith” (core doctrinal matters) to the newly baptized and reminding the rest of these core teachings. The second purpose is to help the newly baptized, and indeed all the baptized, discern, claim or reclaim their spiritual gifts and their calling to ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. Easter Season culminates with Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (doctrine) and commission persons into their ministries (ministry).
So every Sunday, and the days between them, has both a doctrinal focus and a ministry focus.
While the Second Sunday of Easter Season is often thought of as a “Low Sunday,” you and your planning team should plan to position it as a “Launch Sunday” for the core doctrinal and ministry development work in worship and in small formational groups throughout the season that lies ahead.
This week’s doctrinal focus is Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God.” The ministry focus is life in community. Formational groups may wish to focus on how spiritual gifts (perhaps discerned during the previous week) can be offered in ways that build Christian community.
See "Planning Lent and Easter Season for Worship and Discipleship Year B" for a week-by-week guide to help you plan worship and small-group work to support the doctrinal and ministry training for each week of the season. These helps will expand on those materials throughout this season, leading to the culmination at Pentecost. For a suggested rite of commissioning see "Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ's Name.”
Now-May 24 Easter Season
All Month: Asian-Pacific-American Heritage Month
Christian Home Month
May 10 Mother's Day (USA)/Festival of the Christian Home
May 14/17 Ascension Day/Sunday
May 24 Pentecost
Heritage Sunday/Aldersgate Day
May 25 Memorial Day (USA)
May 31 Trinity Sunday
Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 21 Father's Day (USA)
June 24-28 Youth 2015
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
Doctrinal Focus: “My Lord and my God”
Thomas makes the boldest confession of faith in Jesus to be found anywhere in the New Testament.
And his confession is not a height to be reached, but ground level for all Christians since, beginning with our baptisms.
That this confession becomes ground level for Christians is evidenced in the nature of the early Christian community we read about in Acts and in the proclamation we hear from I John.
It is one thing for individuals to confess, “My Lord.” This was a confession all of Jesus’ disciples could fairly easily make, because they had indeed treated Jesus as their Master, or Lord. They went where he went. They learned to do what he did. While he was with them, he called the shots and they followed.
But Thomas, and subsequently all Christians, have made a bolder confession. Jesus was not simply Lord in the sense of an earthly master, guru, or guide. He is God. His word is Word that brings the universe into existence and continues to bring it and all of us to the culmination of redemption. His directions did not apply only to his immediate disciples during his lifetime, but continue to apply to all who seek to be aligned with the ongoing unfolding of the kingdom of God he proclaimed. As Paul proclaims elsewhere (Colossians 1: 19), in Jesus the fullness of God is pleased to dwell.
The lordship and the eternal divinity of Jesus are the necessary preconditions for the kind of community we see described among the earliest Christians in Jerusalem in Acts 2. They shared everything they had. They couldn’t (and didn’t!) stop telling people about the Resurrection. They made sure that no one among them had any basic needs (food, water, shelter, care if sick, etc.) that were not met. They did this not out of obligation to a ruler, but out of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in their midst.
The lordship and eternal divinity of Jesus Christ are proclaimed in a different but no less significant way in I John. The writer of this letter speaks of Jesus as the one who revealed the eternal life of God now continues to offer among us as we are in fellowship with God and one another. It is because Jesus is Lord and God that we are enabled to continue in the fellowship with God and one another, even when we sin, provided we do not lie but confess our sin and continue to trust in the power of Christ not only to forgive our sin, but to free us from sin’s fellowship-destroying power in our lives.
In Your Planning Team
If worship today will be designed primarily around the doctrinal focus of Thomas’s confession, you may find it helpful to point to and use historic Christian confessions and hymns throughout the service that make the same point.
Doctrine is more than something we teach didactically or rationally, as it were. Core doctrine, such as the confession of Thomas that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our God, is something we Christians also confess and sing in worship, and so come to embody in our whole lives in the world.
Perhaps most explicit among these is the Nicene Creed (UMH 880), which confesses Jesus Christ as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” Verses 2 and 3 of “O Come All Ye Faithful” might be sung (UMH 234) before and after the confessing of this creed. This you may wish to confess in response to the sermon.
Another in our hymnal is the brief statement about Jesus in "A Statement of Faith of the Korean Methodist Church" (UMH 884): “We believe in Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, our teacher, example and Redeemer, the Savior of the world.” Verse 2 of “Maker, in Whom We Live” is a good companion piece for this confession. This might work as a confession at the time of the reading of the gospel lesson. Sing a verse as the gospel book or Bible and its reader move into the midst of the people. Hear the reading. Invite all to join in the confession. Then sing the verse again as the gospel book and reader return to their places and the sermon begins.
A third, which you might offer near the beginning of worship today, is the affirmation from I Corinthians 15 and Colossians 1:15-20 (UMH 888). “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (UMH 184) would make a strong entrance hymn before or after such an opening confession.
Ministry Focus: Life in Community
If your discernment as a team is that your congregation needs more reinforcement of its “congregation-ness” than its doctrinal confession of the Lordship and divinity of Jesus as you are designing this series, our texts provide a strong focus on what it means to live in community with each other as the body of the Risen Christ who is Lord and God.
Often we may look at a confession such as that of Thomas and focus on the individual making a “heroic” confession. But a close reading of John’s gospel does not allow for that conclusion. All of the other disciples had seen the resurrection of Jesus together, at a time when Thomas was not with them. Thomas had not had such an experience himself. The disciples did not disown Thomas or cast him from their midst because he refused to believe the Resurrection for a time. Instead, a week later, while they were all together and Thomas was with them (verse 26), Jesus appeared again among them all, Thomas included. It was in the context of the gathered community that the Risen Jesus showed himself to the others, and to Thomas.
Some might counter, “But didn’t Paul see Jesus on the road to Damascus by himself?” Not exactly. He was not traveling alone. He had an entourage with him. And the experience he had there left him blind until he entered into the household of Ananias, a Christian in Damascus who cared for him and prayed for his sight to be restored.
In both cases, then, the fullness of the encounter with the Risen Jesus occurs precisely in and with a community. Being in Christ and being in Christian community are inseparable. Or as John Wesley put it, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness.” It is by the church, a community, that Christ is made known in the world. It is with the church, in community, that we are enabled to grow in holiness of heart and life toward perfection in love in this life, the salvation that God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit seeks to complete in us.
The reading from Acts reveals more about the character and core activities of this community in which we come to know the Risen Christ and make him known. Grounded in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, the breaking of bread from home to home, and the prayers (see Acts 2:42), the early Christian community in Jerusalem was characterized by being “of one heart and mind” (homothumadon in Greek), sharing everything they had with one another, and making sure that all had daily bread and none among their number fell into poverty or homelessness (4:32-35). While not every Christian community after Jerusalem, nor even Jerusalem itself, developed such a thoroughgoing approach to sharing personal resources, the priority of the life of this community, as community (many brought into unity together) was and remains paramount in the life of the church thereafter and today.
And the reading from I John, with its strong emphasis on the word “fellowship” only underscores the same point. It is our fellowship with the Triune God that enables and strengthens the bonds of fellowship in eternal life we have with God and one another.
During this season of discerning spiritual gifts and exploring our callings into ministry of every kind, especially for the newly baptized or confirmed, we are called to remember that our callings and ministries, like Thomas’s confession, are both derived from the context and for the upbuilding of the whole body of Christ, the church and its mission in the world. The church is not simply its congregational life and the institutions that support it, but more fundamentally the manifestation of its members, disciples of Jesus Christ in ministry in the world in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. The gifts we receive and the ministries we offer are not for us as individuals either to call attention to ourselves or to make us feel good, but rather offered through us as a sign of the living Christ among us and the Holy Spirit ever at work to set the world aright.
In Your Planning Team
If you are focusing this service around the ministry focus for this week, life in community, you may wish to focus especially on hymns that declare our unity in Christ (UMH 545-566, TFWS 2220-2233, W&S 3149-3156).
You may also want to highlight stories of times and ways your congregation has lived out the vision of oneness of heart and mind demonstrated in Acts 4, and ways in which your congregation has provided a nurturing ground for persons to come to confess Christ as Lord and God, including, perhaps, the formational groups from this past Lent now ongoing with different work through this Easter Season. As you discover you need more information or stories about these things than your planning team can generate itself, send team members to talk to individuals or groups who can offer testimony and fill in the gaps you may have in your collective memories. Then find some way, either in worship or other means during the coming week, to share these stories as ongoing encouragement to all to understand themselves, their confession and their ministries as integral parts of the life of a community united around Jesus Christ as Lord and God.
Greeting: BOW 390 (Acts)
Opening Prayer: BOW 392 (1 John)
Litany: UMH 556, Litany for Christian Unity (Acts, Psalm)
Canticle: UMH 205, "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (1 John)
Prayer: UMH 639, Bread and Justice (Acts, Psalm)
Prayer: BOW 503, For the Church (Acts, John)
Prayer: BOW 518, For Others (Acts)
Prayer of Intercession: BOW 399, Week 2 (Easter)
Litany of Intercession: BOW 495, A Litany for the Church and for the World (Acts, Psalm)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan
Litany of Thanksgiving: "The Easter Victory" (no. 31) in The Wideness of God's Mercy, p. 89. This Scripture-based litany might work well if you follow the basic pattern of worship (see UMH, p. 2) and are not celebrating Holy Communion as the final prayer before sending the people forth. Use it when the offering is brought to the front. You could have several people involved in leading, each reading from his/her place one of the sections of the litany to which all respond, "Thanks be to God ..."
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession: BOW 396 (John)
Great Thanksgiving for Easter Season: BOW 66-67 or A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion
Blessing: BOW 560 (1st item, John)
Benediction: BOW 190, "Benediction" (John)