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The Second Sunday of Easter was traditionally referred to as Low Sunday, because Christians had celebrated the greatest day of the Church year the week before and settled down into a more normal worship rhythm.

Earlier, though, it was called Quasimodo Sunday, because of the Latin introit: ‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and was intended for those baptised the week before. Read more below, and, yes, there is a connection between this particular Sunday and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

In the Catholic Church, this particular day is now known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

What follows are the three-year Lectionary readings for Year B from Vanderbilt Divinity Library. Emphases mine below.

The theme of the first three readings is unity and fellowship.

The first reading is from the Book of Acts and is about the purity of the Church in Jerusalem in the earliest days following the first Pentecost. Because the immense power of the Holy Spirit was at work, everyone willingly came together to share what they had:

Acts 4:32-35

4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This is the Psalm:

Psalm 133

133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

The second reading follows. Most churches are likely to select either the reading from Acts or this one from the letters of John, the Gospel author. Note John’s continuation of the theme of light, which he used so widely in his Gospel:

1 John 1:1-2:2

1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–

1:2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us–

1:3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

1:4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;

1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The Gospel reading is the same for this particular Sunday, regardless of Lectionary year. It is the story of Doubting Thomas, Thomas the Apostle. The following posts discuss the Gospel in more detail, accompanied by classic paintings:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

John 20:19-31

20:19 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.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

20:25 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.”

20:26 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.”

20:27 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.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 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.”

20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

20:31 But 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.

That is one of my favourite New Testament readings. There is much to ponder, not only about Thomas but also Jesus’s message about forgiveness. The last two verses are tremendously powerful. Jesus gave His disciples too many glorious signs to reasonably mention. Therefore, let us focus on what has been documented for us in the Gospels that we may come to a deeper faith.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

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Sunday, April 23, 2017 is the Second Sunday of Easter.

The Gospel reading for this day is John 20:19-31, the story of Thomas the Apostle, depicted below in a painting by Caravaggio called The Incredulity of St Thomas.

The Bible never states that Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds.  Nonetheless, it is a dramatic illustration of this encounter and poses an interesting thought: what if?

It is interesting that Caravaggio depicts Christ guiding Thomas’s forefinger into his wound. One can imagine Him saying quietly, ‘Go on, Thomas. Feel the spot where they pierced me. See for yourself.’ It’s a form of rebuke: ‘You stayed away for a week, doubting. Now you’ll find out.’

The links below provide more information about this Gospel reading:

Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31

Doubting Thomas: When seeing is believing

This particular Sunday was known as Quasimodo Sunday for centuries. Today, it is called Low Sunday or, in the case of the Catholic Church, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Quasimodo Sunday was of particular importance to those who had been baptised the week before, on Easter Day.

Find out more below:

Quasimodo Sunday — seriously

It is sad that so many denominational Christians — including clergy — know so little Church history. The more we know, the deeper the meaning. It can be compared to family history. Aren’t our families even more important to us once we have more background on our relatives and ancestors? So it should be with our church family.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next week.

Thomas The Incredulity of St Thomas by CaravaggioThe Sunday after Easter is known traditionally as Low Sunday, because the newly baptised had finished their week of wearing white baptismal robes and returned to their normal attire.

Traditionalist Catholics often call this particular day Quasimodo Sunday from the Latin Introit:

‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before. 

The protagonist of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame got his name from being left as an infant at the steps of the famous cathedral on Quasimodo Sunday.

Whatever Lectionary year we are in, the Gospel reading is always the story of the Apostle Thomas (John 20:19-31), who, unlike the other remaining ten Apostles, did not come out of hiding until a week after the Resurrection.

Although we do not know from John’s account whether the scene unfolded as Caravaggio depicts it — probably not — the painting is a captivating work of art, to say the least.

In 2011, I excerpted sermons on the Apostle Thomas by The Revd P G Mathew, Reformed (Calvinist) pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. What he has to say is well worth reading in full.

Highlights follow, emphases mine.

In ‘Beware: You Are on Display, Part Two’, Mr Mathew explains:

That Jesus Christ, in his resurrection body, still has holes in his hands, made in behalf of those he came to die for. As long as those holes are there, we can say we are engraved on the palms of God. These indelible impressions are impossible to erase, and, in fact, in Revelation 5:6 John writes, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” Throughout all eternity the nail holes will be there. That should tell us that God loves us!

in ‘Fear Not: Jesus is Risen’:

Thomas believed when he saw Jesus and touched his hands and feet and side. But Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Our faith is supported by the evidence of the apostolic witness revealed in the Scriptures. Christ is not asking us to believe irrationally.

In ‘Mandate of the Master’, Mr Mathew relates:

Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples on many occasions over a period of forty days, Luke tells us, so they could know that their Master truly had risen from the dead with a physical body. They could look at him and touch him–the risen Christ was not a ghost, in other words. He ate with his disciples many times and appeared to Peter, James, Mary Magdalene, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, seven of the apostles once in Galilee, ten of the apostles once in Jerusalem, all eleven apostles two times, the women at the tomb, and to five hundred at one time in Galilee. Why do you think Jesus showed himself so regularly to his disciples over this forty day period following Easter Sunday? Because they had the responsibility of bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the fact upon which Christianity rests. They were the ones who must testify to the one who destroyed death by his death and was raised from the dead–Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe.

From the disciples’ personal experience of the risen Christ as written in Scripture, we are to take our belief:

Jesus’ apostles, therefore, were eyewitnesses of both the resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ. They understood who Jesus Christ is, and we must understand also. He is the one who died on the cross for our sins, the one who was raised from the dead, and the one who destroyed death for us. He is the one who defeated the world, Satan, devils, and every power that is against us.

Easter recalls the culmination — His fulfilment — of Holy Scripture. May we understand and appreciate it as such. If we do not, we miss the point of our Lord’s time on earth.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return next week

Doubting Thomas Carl-Heinrich-BlochNewer subscribers and readers might enjoy further reflections on Easter.

One of my most popular posts is Doubting Thomas — John 20:19-31. However, I have another which includes reflections for present day Christians from the Reformed (Calvinist) pastor, the Revd P G Mathew of  Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. He examines Thomas’s doubt, looks at the Apostles’ evangelism and offers, among others, this thought (emphases mine):

Declaring the gospel verbally when our lives are disorderly is not evangelism. And perhaps the reason we don’t want to declare the gospel is that we like to sin. But sin–whether it is sexual immorality or greed or whatever else–causes us to be loaded with guilt and we lose conviction and power. How can we have power when we want to practice sin? Proverbs 28:1 tells us “The righteous are as bold as a lion.” Therefore, let us try the way of righteousness and see whether our tongues will declare God’s praises.

Eastertide reminds us that the Apostles and the disciples would need to lessen their dependence on Christ, who would soon ascend to Heaven, returning to God the Father. They were moving from milk to meat. As St Paul wrote to his converts in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3:

1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?

Indeed, this message continued in the Church for centuries. Traditionally, the first Sunday after Easter is known as Low Sunday, sometimes called Quasimodo Sunday, for the corruption of the Latin Introit for the day. Translated in English, it is

‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before.

This is the first time that the catechumens, baptised on Holy Saturday, would appear without their white robes at Mass. My aforementioned post explains more.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns next weekend

St Thomas was the great Apostle who came to a deep faith after initially doubting the reality of the Resurrection.

Read his story in one of my most popular posts, Doubting Thomas: John 20:19-31.

It is particularly instructive for our era when the topic of faith versus fact is debated daily with greater or lesser intelligence.

Dr Christopher Randolph has an excellent post on the meaning of this story with regard to John’s Gospel. Excerpts follow, more at the link:

In fact, if we were to break John’s Gospel into modern literary terms, we could say that the crucifixion is the climax  of his book but “My Lord and my God!” demonstrates the purpose of it all.  This is really what everything is pointing to.

Yes.  The cross is totally necessary for our salvation and so is His resurrection.  But Thomas’ proclamation nails the why.  Because Jesus is our Lord and our God, that any of it matters. Other people die and are resurrected in the Bible as miracles and signs of God’s power and glory.  Others even ascend to heaven.  Only Jesus does it all while paying the ultimate price for all of our sins in the process …

John intended that his Gospel be taken at face value. He is essentially telling us here at the end, “This is a little bit of what, personally, I witnessed and experienced as I lived and travelled with Jesus.  I know that Jesus is the Lord and our God.  He entrusted His own mother to my care.  I know what I’m talking about.”

Believe and be blessed.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return soon.

Today’s Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday (offered elsewhere in Lectionary Readings Year A, so, 2011) features Thomas the Apostle who needs to investigate Christ’s wounds to see if they are real. It is a story of the human condition.  I have some empathy for Thomas, although at the same time, why was he the only one to want to touch them in order to believe?  The Caravaggio painting above, The Incredulity of St Thomas, expresses this well, although it should be made clear that the Bible never states that Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds.  Nonetheless, it is a dramatic illustration of this encounter and poses an interesting thought — what if?

Today’s reading comes from the New American Standard Bible.

John 20:19-31

Jesus among His Disciples

 19So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ” Peace be with you.”

 20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

 21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

 23“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”

 24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

 25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

 26After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

 27Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”

 28Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Why This Gospel Was Written

 30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

——————————————————————

The beginning of this chapter recounts the events of Easter morning: the empty sepulchre, two angels greeting a weeping Mary Magdalene at its entrance, followed by Christ’s appearing before this faithful woman. He instructs her to tell the disciples what she has seen. This account ties with the Gospel of Mark (16:9).  Christ has cast out seven demons from this lady as a reward for her faith and constancy.  Through this act He was also sending a message to the disciples, as if to say, ‘Why is it that Mary Magdalene was there at the tomb and you were not?’

Christ is no longer the daily companion to His friends as he was prior to the Resurrection.  Mary Magdalene reaches out to grasp His hand and He tells her not to.  He wants her to understand that He is not the same Jesus that He was a few days ago.  To touch His hand would now be a familiar gesture.  He permits some contact but in a reverential context. Women touch His feet in worship. He allows the disciples to touch Him to confirm their faith and understand that He is alive again in human, not spirit, form.  However, He will no longer appear to them regularly.  He needs to wean them off seeing Him every day, for He will soon be joining His Father in Heaven. 

Our passage begins that evening, when 10 of the 11 remaining disciples gather together in a secluded room. (Remember that Judas, the betrayer, committed suicide on Good Friday.) For some unspecified reason Thomas (or Didymus, ‘the Twin’) is not among them (verse 24).  Verse 19 indicates the characteristics of our churches today:

– This event took place on the first day of the week — Sunday

– The disciples assembled solemnly to remember our Lord as well as experience His presence (Matthew 18:20) and fellowship

– Even though they feared being arrested and persecuted, they made sure they were together, albeit in secret under those circumstances

What did the disciples fear?  The Jews could have arrested them as being guilty by association with the crucified Jesus.  They, too, may have been sought in connection with His ‘crimes’. 

Note that Our Lord greets them with a benediction, ‘Peace be with you’, meaning being at peace within themselves and at peace with one another through the peace of Christ Jesus. 

He then shows them His wounds.  How happy they must have been. ‘Christ has risen! Christ is Lord!’   Now they believe Mary Magdalene’s account.  Jesus’s prophecies have come true. 

In verse 21, Christ again says, ‘Peace be with you’ — the same benediction that Gideon received in his own commission from God (Judges 6:22-23). Our Lord then tells them they must now go and preach The Word.  They have experienced His life, watched Him die and now they have seen Him risen.  They must now tell the world, take His peace to the people in His name and under His authority. A commission from Jesus Christ has the same authority as one from God the Father. And the disciples are to begin immediately.  Christ breathes upon them (verse 22), and they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  By doing this, Christ is conferring upon them full ability and grace to carry out His work.  They would have realised that no one before had ever been able to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit, even Moses.  But, because the Holy Spirit is Christ’s own gift, He is able to give it to the disciples directly.  Today’s believers in Christ are also to receive and use His gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is why Confirmation is so important.   

In verse 23, Christ gives His disciples instructions on forgiving and retaining (not forgiving) sins.  In other words, if the disciples forgive a sin, Christ will consider that sin forgiven when the person dies and is judged by God.  If the disciples do not forgive a sin, Christ and God the Father will hold that sin against the person who committed it.  Even today, our own ordained ministers and priests accomplish this by preaching sound doctrine and by exerting church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

Afterward, the disciples tell Thomas, who had been absent, about their encounter with the Risen Christ (verse 25).  Thomas says he doesn’t believe it.  Hence, the expression ‘doubting Thomas’.  Thomas says he must see and touch all of Christ’s wounds.

I mentioned earlier that Christ’s appearances to His apostles would become less frequent.  They would have to learn to carry on His work without Him.  Christ appears to all the assembled disciples again eight days later (verse 26).  He targets Thomas immediately, asking him to investigate His wounds for himself (verse 27).  Note that Thomas is the only one who said he would not only need to see but place his finger in the wounds.  Christ is, in effect, saying, ‘Your friends didn’t need to touch Me in order to believe, yet you do.  Don’t insist on conducting your own proof, just have faith!’  Thomas was guilty of a) not believing Jesus’s prophecies, b) mistrusting what the disciples told him and c) placing himself above Our Lord by challenging Him.  This isn’t too far removed from asking God and His Son for ‘signs’ or ‘wonders’.  We saw the High Priests do this in Matthew 16:1-12, but some churchgoers and ordained today are also guilty of this.  Indeed, the other disciples recognise Thomas’s sin; they are ashamed for him and somewhat discouraged by his open scepticism.  Remember, they are still absorbing the significance of what has happened over the past few weeks.                      

But, in the end, Thomas doesn’t need to touch Christ’s wounds.  He simply and sincerely exclaims (verse 28), ‘My Lord and my God!’  This must come as a relief to the disciples.  If Thomas had been forever doubting, they would have had problems preaching the Word.  In verse 29, Jesus gently rebukes him by essentially saying, ‘Now are you happy that you have seen and feel able to believe?  What about those who have not seen and yet believed?’   

In his Commentary, Matthew Henry says that Thomas’s open belief could only serve to strengthen the disciples’ faith: ‘Thus out of the eater came forth meat.’  Their ‘milk’ days were over now.  Furthermore, Christ establishes His authority and Himself as our mediator and advocate with God the Father: He is Lord!  Therefore, we, too, must believe. 

With regard to the last two verses, many people wonder why the New Testament doesn’t have more records of Christ’s miracles. If they weren’t divinely inspired, that is, if it had been up to man to write them of his own power, the Gospels would have been filled with marvels and testimonies.  As it was, God did not want signs and wonders to overshadow the bringing of men and women to believe in Our Lord Jesus Christ.  If we refuse to believe one of His miracles, why then would we believe in more of them?  The authors of these divinely-inspired accounts made sure they were credible, true and persuasive.  Yet, as Jesus quoted Abraham in the story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ 

The final verse (31) is a beautiful one:

these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. 

What a wonderful thought for the week ahead!

For further reading see:

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

Thomas the Apostle

Biography of St Thomas the Apostle

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