The Sunday after Easter — officially the Second Sunday of the Easter season — is known as many things in different contexts: Holy Humor Sunday, Bright Sunday, guest-preacher-in-the-pulpit-while-pastor-is-on-vacation Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary each year, the Sunday after Easter also brings us the notorious doubting of Thomas (John 20:19-31).

And thank goodness for Thomas’ story, I must say, because it gives us the opportunity to contend honestly with our fleeting alleluias, our flash of enthusiasm for the resurrected Christ, and our rubber-meets-the-road doubt about the relevance of the risen Jesus for a still crucified and crucifying world.

The following original liturgies and scripture adaptations are offered for the Second Sunday of the Easter season to give voice to our own doubts alongside Thomas:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (from Easter Evening’s readings)

A reminder of our ultimate hope and joy: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. And God will destroy on this mountain the death shroud that is cast over all the peoples; the LORD will swallow up death forever. And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people will be taken away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “This is our God, for whom we have waited so that we might be saved. Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

One: This is God’s promise. Do you believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Forgive our unbelief!

I confess: I don’t know
how to believe such a
vision. So many tears
say otherwise — 147
dead, too many more
weeping. This is not
resurrection, not a
fancy eternal feast,
this is hell on earth
and you, O Christ,
seem to have left
something undone
in your three days’
descent to hell;
you missed a spot
in your harrowing.
Yes you are God,
O Christ, and we
have waited long
for you…and I say
we are still waiting
for your salvation.

One: We know God’s promise, but how can we believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:19-23 (Part 1, Locked Rooms)

This is the fear of the disciples following the resurrection, according to the Gospel of John: “Do not open the doors. Do not draw back the bolt or unhook the chain. His fate will be ours, if we are not careful. They will threaten and beat our bodies if we do not behave on their terms. They will not wait to see if our hands are held up before they take our breath from us. Stand guard! Keep watch! Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do? And now all the more: Stay out of sight. Don’t catch the attention of the authorities. Don’t protest or ask questions if they arrest you. Most of all, stay alive! We have to stay alive if we have any hope of changing the system. … Is that Jesus?! It can’t be Jesus. They don’t let anyone out alive who’s caused them trouble. How can it be Jesus? Still with his wounds, but still with his breath. Is it really him?”

One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in life, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much death.
One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in love, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much hatred.
One: As God sent me, now I send you.
Many: How can we speak to peace when division and debate are so popular? How can we speak to grace in a world so full of unjust justice?
One: I send you.

What can we do?
Maybe Easter saves our souls
but Easter doesn’t save the world.
We hide ourselves in locked rooms
terrified of what we don’t understand —
war and violence and hatred — but
locked with us in those rooms
we still must contend
with ourselves, with the war and
violence and hatred that
we each carry.
If we dare to unlock the doors, to go out,
to be sent out,
what good can we do,
full of sin and doubt and fear as we are?
If we open the doors and dare
to see the pain of the world,
then what can we possibly say?
Do we offer the dying world a resurrected Jesus?
Do we say, “Look and see his wounds”
when the world itself is wounded on the floor
and bleeding out — from Kenya to Rikers Island,
from the forests of Nigeria to a hospital in Idaho
to a traffic stop in North Charleston?
How can we say, “Peace be with you”?
How can you say it, Jesus?

One: Break through our locks and fears, O Christ.
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:24-31 (Part 2, Doubt)

This is the honesty of Thomas, according to the Gospel of John: “Don’t come to tell me that Jesus has risen unless you can also tell me that Jesus still bears his wounds. Don’t tell me that Jesus has appeared from the tomb unless you also tell me that he ate at the table with you. Don’t tell me that Jesus has saved you for heaven unless you also tell me that he taught you to live with grace on earth. Don’t tell me that Jesus died for sin if he didn’t also live for the world. Don’t tell me that Jesus brings light if you haven’t learned to seek him in darkness. Don’t tell me lies about Jesus to make me feel better; let me touch Jesus and know that he is real.”

One: Believe because you see.
Many: If we believe, it is because we have touched the hands of fellowship and felt the wounds of love.
One: Believe because you do not see.
Many: If we believe, it is because our doubts are accompanied by hope, because our fears are disputed by holy imagination. We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

Thomas told the truth
that we could not say
especially not in our Easter best
with the bells ringing, with the horns trumpeting,
especially not when we so greatly needed
that one moment of triumphant joy.
But the truth is —
we worry that Easter
doesn’t change daily life;
the truth is — we live as though it does not.
It’s hard to say how resurrection
impacts the crucifixions
still happening all around us
still happening among us.
Jesus, we don’t need you for theological niceties
we need you for miraculous practicalities;
We need Easter to be touchable.
O Lord our God — help us!

One: We want to believe.
Many: O Christ, bless our unbelief.

Psalm 16 (from the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A)

One: Let us find our assurance in a psalm of confession. You are LORD; we have no good apart from you.
Many: You delight in us, by the mystery of your grace.
One: Though life is broken in bits and pieces, you are our piece and our portion.
Many: Though life pours itself out in rage and tragedy, you are our water and our cup.
One: Let us bless the LORD, who walks with us as we wander.
Many: Let us praise the LORD, who whispers a lullaby when the nights grow long.
One: Follow God faithfully, no matter the chaos;
Many: For God does not lose track of us. God alone has power over hell.
One: God alone shows us the path of life; God is our resurrection and our renewal.
Many: In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, the multiplication of peace, and satisfaction forevermore.

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