The First Sunday after Easter
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio,
1601-1602, Sanssouci, Potsdam
ALMIGHTY Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(As appointed in The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, 1990)
FOR THE EPISTLE
12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. 13 And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. 14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.) 15 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them. 16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, 18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. 19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, 20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels:
A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous
Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year
by the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D
SPCK, London, 1902.
As birth is the entrance into natural life, and as dying is the entrance into a state of death, so resurrection, though itself “one act at once,” is in reality the entrance into a new and heavenly life. Birth, dying, resurrection are important not as completed acts, but as acts of transition into something that lies beyond. They are the three gates which men must pass on the heavenly journey. Thus the Sunday of the Resurrection leads on to the Sunday of the Risen Life, both Christ’s and ours in Christ, Who “being raised from the dead dieth no more.” (Rom. vi. 9.)
THE EPISTLE. (1 S. John v. 4.) RISEN LIFE IN CHRIST.
The power for Risen Life comes from union with our Risen Saviour.
A. The Victory of Life.
The Christian has to war a constant warfare against the world around him, its temptations, evil example, and its indifference to spiritual realities. He can only overcome the world by a life and energy from a higher source; he must be “born from above.” It is not enough to receive Christ as a teacher come to reveal a higher and better mode of living, for thus we should only possess a higher standard than others without the power to rise to it, but, when we believe that our Teacher is the Son of God, “His commandments are not grievous,” for with the commandment we may look for the grace, and with the example of life the power to live. Thus believing that Jesus is the Son of God, we are born of God and receive power to overcome the world.
B. The Bringer of Life.
Our Lord came “that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.” This double benefit is mystically described by S. John as “the water and the blood,” with evident reference both to the two Sacraments and to S. John xix. 34.
(1) He Came with the Water.
Our Lord came to cleanse us by the washing of water (1 Cor. vi. 11, and Eph. v. 25, 26) from our sins, water being both the natural and revealed symbol of spiritual cleansing. By baptism for the remission of sins we are relieved from guilt, and every remission of sins after baptism is only the renewal of the grace then given. Baptism is also the initial sacrament of life, “the laver of regeneration” (Titus iii. 5), since by baptism we are incorporated into the living body of Christ and are grafted into the living Vine, and as such are taken into covenant with God, being baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (S. Matt. xxviii. 19). This baptismal position is the consequence of our Lord’s death, Who shed out of His most precious side both water and blood.
(2) He Came with the Blood.
Most emphatically S. John adds: “Not by the water only, but by the water and the blood.”
“The blood is the life” (Gen. ix. 4), and the offering of blood was intended to figure the offering not of death, but of life (Levit. xvii. 14).
We need, therefore, not merely the new birth of water, but something higher and yet more vital. Having received life, we need it “more abundantly” (S. John x. 10).
This is expressed also in the word used for our appropriation of life–we are to be washed in the water, but to drink the blood (S. John vi. 54); “He that drinketh My blood hath eternal life,” and similar passages.
It is to be remembered that everywhere “the blood is the life,” the life of the Risen and Ascended Lord, and partaking of the blood we abide in the living Christ and He in us.
This is the closest communion with Christ, Who is our life, possible here on earth. We are not to be satisfied with the lower life of the water, but to desire both “the water and the blood,” sin’s “double cure.”
C. The Witnesses of Life.
Omitting the interpolated verse 7 (cf. R.V.) the connection of thought is plain, viz., that the life imparted by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood is the perpetual witness to the Son of God. The life of the Church is the evidence for the claims of her Master. This testimony is not the witness of men, but the witness of God in men, and yet comes through men, for each believer has the witness in him. As life proceeds from life, so the Risen Christian proves a Risen Christ to be the source of his Christianity, and the growth of the Church is an ever-increasing witness to Christ, a perpetual miracle.
For the above interpretation cf. Chrysostom (Hom. 85).
“The Church consisteth of these two together, and those who are initiated know this, being regenerated by water and nourished by the Blood and Flesh. Hence the Sacraments take their beginning.”
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN xx. 19.) THE RISEN LIFE OF THE CHURCH.
A. The Life as Manifested to the Church.
Our Lord, already manifested to individuals, to Mary Magdalene, to the women, to S. Peter and the two disciples going to Emmaus, is now manifested to the body of the official leaders of His Church. He came with a message of reconciliation. They had sinned against Him, but He returned not in anger, but with pardon. He had dismissed their sin from His memory, let them do the same, accepting His message of Peace.
He came bringing the sure conviction of Faith, proving not only that He was alive, but that He was the same Jesus which had been crucified. The wounds of the faithless are the confirmation of the faithful.
He came bringing joy with Him–“then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”
Faith, peace, and joy (Rom. xv. 13) are the heritage of the Church, the very life by which it lives and by which it overcomes the world.
B. The Life as Manifested by the Church.
The Church has received Life in order that it may be the channel of Life to the world. That it may do this it has received:–
(1) A Divine Commission.
This commission is as divine as that of our Lord, of which it is the extension. It was given not to individuals, but to a society, a visible body of disciples assembled in one place. Christ said not “I send a book or a doctrine,” but “I send you.” The disciples made up the Church, but they did not make it; Christ made it. By belonging to this body men become Christians, and are distinct and separate from the world as within closed doors. They go forth to represent Christ to the world as His Body.
(2) A Divine Life.
Our Lord breathed His own Spirit of Life into the Church, that as there was one body, so there might be one Spirit; and that as there was a commission, so there might not be wanting power to carry it out. The Spirit was given primarily to the Church, and to individuals as members of the Church and Body of Christ, even as the Sacraments were given to the Church that the individual might find his life by losing it in a life greater than his own. Thus the Church has received the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood for the life of the world.
(3) A Divine Authority.
The Church was not only sent and commissioned, but invested with authority, and has the sanction of Christ to represent Him among men as the giver and withholder of pardon, and, as His ambassador, to declare His terms. This power, inherent in the Church, is exercised by the ministry, and is connected with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
A Reformation Collect, fitly closing the Easter Octave, and peculiarly suited to the case of those baptized on Easter Day.
A. The Life of Justification.
This is ours through the death and Resurrection of Christ, which proclaimed the sufficiency of that death (Rom. iv. 24, 25), and has been conveyed to us individually by the water of baptism.
B. The Life of Sanctification.
We pray to our Almighty Father that He would grant us to keep a perpetual Easter, putting away the leaven of malice and wickedness and serving in pureness of living and truth (cf. 1 Cor. v. 8). This is the life of sanctification which is ours through the blood of Jesus, which “cleanseth us from all sin.”
These are not two lives, but one life in two stages and degrees, and both are ours “in Christ.”