April — Faith and grace
April 3, John 20:19-31
The gospel reading encourages us to reflect on doubt and faith which, somewhat paradoxically, is a natural pairing. Our tendency is to focus more on Thomas’s doubt than we do on his shift to faith. With his questions and “hermeneutic of suspicion”, Thomas is perhaps a more realistic example for us to follow as we respond to God’s call to witness to the risen Christ, and continue to ask questions along the way that help us explore and deepen our relationship with God.
Our challenge then, is not to stop questioning or doubting, but to stop cooperating with fear, suspicion and hopelessness, and to help people work through the big questions that confront us. As people of faith, the capacity to love and offer grace in the midst of life’s crises is what offers a true witness to the risen Christ.
April 10, John 21:1-19
The reading this week moves us from Thomas’ doubt and his shift to faith, to the real challenge of restoration and reconciliation and calling. Peter’s encounter with the risen Christ includes a threefold questioning that presumably involves forgiveness for his threefold denial of Jesus, as well as reconciliation with Jesus. This is followed by his restoration to leadership of the apostles. The passage highlights what it means to answer Jesus’s call to “Follow me”. For Peter, it means death and martyrdom.
What does it mean for us to answer this call? Surely it should be something we find both fulfilling and disturbing, as such a call requires sacrifice and transformation. The resurrection life that Jesus offers is not a gift of cheap grace, but is a gift which should cause us to question how we live, and how we respond to the gospel.
April 17, John 10:22-30
This week’s readings are awash with shepherding images. Jesus’s likening himself to a shepherd would appear to be a metaphor that reinforces his claim that “I and the father are one”, especially as God is named as a shepherd in Psalm 23. Thus, Jesus as the shepherd could also be read as a messianic claim and, therefore, as somewhat subversive. As the shepherd in Psalm 23 has led his followers through the valley of the shadow of death, so Jesus offers to his followers a life which defies death. It is a prophetic message to the empire, to the religious establishment who would silence him, and to anyone in leadership who would enable life rather than death.
Jesus offers a message that is comforting, as well as a call to keep faith and to live in life-giving ways. For those who are leaders, he calls them to be good shepherds who help and guide those under their care.
April 24, John 13:31-35
Last week, Jesus as the “good shepherd” gave a message that offers life to us. This week, Jesus gives a command that directs in what way we should try to live out that life. The command to “love one another as I have loved you”, when put alongside the Acts readings [for May 15; see next page], suggests an inclusivity and love that goes beyond just those who follow Jesus.
A whole revolution is going on in Acts, where the kingdom of God and fellowship of the Christian churches have opened up to Gentiles. Any church which seeks to be healthy and vibrant should surely live as a church of inclusive love, a church that erases those dividing lines, and which invites everyone into the grace and love of God. Surely this is no less than Jesus expects when he calls us to love one another across lines that define race, denomination, sexual orientation, and religion.
These reflections were prepared by Rev. Elizabeth Raine, Wauchope Uniting Church and Southern Zone Minister for Mid North Coast Presbytery.