|Caravaggio -- Doubting Thomas (1602-3)|
1 Peter 1:3-9
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During the six weeks of the Easter season, all the Sunday readings come from the New Testament. This is because the place normally occupied by an Old Testament lesson, is given over to a reading from the Book of Acts. Throughout Easter, then, we have the opportunity to follow the story of a second Resurrection. We see how a tiny band of disciples, desolated by the Crucifixion, can be so transformed by their experience of the Risen Christ that they become the nucleus of the most populous and widespread religion the world has ever known.
This story from Acts starts with an extract of the speech that Peter made in the market place shortly after the disciples’ explosive experience on the Day of Pentecost. His speech is widely regarded as the earliest and definitive statement of the Christian ‘kerygma’ -- the essential Gospel, or Good News of redemption in Christ. This extract leaves out the context – that people had dismissed the disciples’ enthusiasm as drunkenness, a charge which Peter is anxious to rebut – in order to highlight the point Peter is most anxious to make – that Jesus stood in King David’s line, but brought the Messiahship of God to a fulfillment far surpassing even David’s greatness. Since, as most in his audience would have known, Jesus had recently been crucified as a criminal, this is quite a claim, and powerful evidence of the dramatic difference that the Resurrection had made to both the theology and the psychology of the disciples.
The Epistle may or may not have been written by Peter himself, but it conveys the same vibrant message to a fledgling church, this time in the form of a song of praise rather than a sermon. In these few beautiful sentences we witness a transition from theology to liturgy – and indeed, thanks to the 19th century English cathedral composer S S Wesley, this text has become one of the most widely sung choral anthems for Easter.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday has also stimulated great art – Caravaggio’s famous painting of ‘doubting’ Thomas examining the wound in Jesus’ side. Its slightly chilling realism is a powerful reminder of how, taken past a certain point, doubt can shut us off from wonder. Thomas insists that he must see the bodily evidence with his own eyes. The post-Resurrection appearances of a bodily Jesus, however, proved to be a special gift to a very few disciples. The strange fact of the Resurrection, and the significance of its redeeming power – in short, the ‘mystery of faith’ that Christians proclaim Sunday by Sunday – is waiting to be experienced in the Body of Christ that is given to us sacramentally, and available to all who will receive it in penitence, trust and adoration.