Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

New Sunday (1st Sunday after Easter)

Sermon / Homily on John 20:19-31

Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John, Philadelphia

Gospel: John 20:19-31

First Sunday after Quomtho (Easter is not appropriate word) has many nomenclatures:

(1) "New Sunday or Renewal Sunday," because the disciple's unbelief, especially of Thomas, was completely removed and a new spirit of truth and vigor was instilled in the disciples.

(2) Eastern and Oriental Orthodox revere it calling "St Thomas Day," because Jesus appeared to the disciples exclusively to dispel unbelief of Apostle Thomas (details below).

(3) Resurrection Week was known as Hevore - Syr, (ebdomada alb-Lat, white-Eng) because in the first century numerous people took baptism in this week and the baptized faithful wore white robe (in albis- in white, symbolizing regaining the glory lost through Adam's fall), for same reason some people call it "bright week."

(4) Eastern Orthodox love to call it "Antipascha" meaning eighth day or Sunday after Resurrection (Pascha).
"On this Sunday, the second Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Antipascha, that is to say the re-dedication of the Resurrection of Christ," says Synaxarium.

(5) Romans call it "Octave Sunday," meaning eighth day after the Resurrection.

(6) They also named it "Low Sunday," because it is less important than the Resurrection Sunday.

Low Sunday was officially changed to "Quasimodo Sunday," since 1970 because that day they recite entrance antiphon, commemorating 1Peter 2:2; "As newborn babes, desire pure milk of the word."

(7) "Divine Mercy Sunday" of the Roman church in honor of St. Faustina; which has nothing to do with Resurrection events.

1, "New Sunday or Renewal Sunday:"

According to John's Gospel Jesus appeared to the disciples on the very Day of Resurrection, 20:19. He showed his hands and side and the disciples were glad. Jesus then instituted the greatest-ever-commission; with the same authority and powers by which God the Father sent Him; He breathed on them and gave them Holy Spirit and appointed them to "forgive and retain sin." Jews believed that only God (Yahweh) had the power to remit/retain sin; Jesus demonstrated that he was sent by God (Son of God) and had power to remit/retain sins, Mark 2:5-12, Luke 7:47-49. By breathing and words of command, Jesus transmitted his own authority to the apostles. In reality Christ performed a ‘second creation' or say renewed the creation. In the first creation account, "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life," Gen 2:7. Consequent to disobedience Adam lost the Spirit/glory of God. By breathing on the apostles Jesus reestablished the lost spirit/glory into the apostles; thus it is the Day of Renewal of life. "As the breath of the Almighty gave life to man and began the old world, so the breath of the mighty Savior gave life to his ministers and began a new world," says Mathew Henry. This power to forgive and retain the sins makes Christian priesthood an exception to all other powers /authorities; ipso facto, lack of this authority rendered the Aaronic priesthood redundant. Like the Passover meal and the establishment of holy Qurobo this great commission and empowerment with the exalted authority to forgive and remit sins was performed in a closed door gathering of the apostles. Thus the exclusive power to forgive/remit sins is vested with whom the apostles and their descendants ordain/ordained by laying hands and breathing on them; only the legit successors of apostles possess the powers and privileges of the commission. None of the broken groups, no matter large or small, is worthy to be called the successors of apostles. Funny, every so-called church and dubious groups or self-styled ‘denominations' stake the claim "genuine church," nothing more heinous than that for the fact is, all these are churches De Sans Christ. This in turn invests heavy moral compulsion on the part of leaders of all fractions; (self-styled churches) to shed ego and power, come together in Christ's spirit and unite into one for Christ has only one body and one bride.

2, St Thomas Day is the most appropriate name for New Sunday.

Apostle Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared first. Other apostles told him, "We have seen the Lord." Thomas said, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into his side, I will not believe," v25. Evidently, sole purpose of Christ's second appearance on the eighth day was to convince Thomas the truth of resurrection, which was more than necessary for the smooth ongoing of the commission and propagation of gospel. Romans grossly wronged in branding Thomas as "Doubting Thomas" based on this passage. Despite having closely interacted with Jesus for three years, Mary Magdalene failed to recognize Jesus, even after seeing and hearing his voice, John 20:14-15. Mary told Peter and John about the missing body of Jesus; Mary did not conceive resurrection. Out of curiosity Peter and John hastily ran to the tomb; John reached first, saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in, why because he had no clue of resurrection. Peter went into the tomb and saw the handkerchief which was around the head of Jesus was folded and kept separate from the linen symbolic of His Second Coming. They went away to their own homes, instead of announcing to or celebrating the good news with other disciples, why? Both Peter and John were fully confused, confusion is not a sign of belief, 20:5-10. All the disciples were in the same mental predicament at the time. Thus to isolate Thomas from others is a great offence against Thomas.

3, Let us consider whether or not Thomas doubted resurrection.

Greek scholars say, "Distazō" is the Greek word for doubt. "Distazō" is not used in this impugned passage. "When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted," says Mathew 28:17, "Distazō" is employed here. ‘Some' means more than one, we do not know who, but surely Thomas was not the only confused apostle. Mark's presentation is unambiguous, "He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart," (Skleero kardia-Greek), 16:14. Luke says, "Jesus himself stood in the midst of them and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were terrified and frightened and supposed they had seen a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?" 24:36-38. They (ten) not only failed to recognize His person but also voice. Not that Thomas doubted whether Jesus rose from the dead or was able to rise up or not but that Thomas stoutly put forward certain conditions to believe. He invoked his closeness with Jesus as a trusted disciple. Pertinently, Jesus took no offence on Thomas rather, took him in the right spirit, satisfying his conditions. The question why God allowed such a situation taxes us. The simple answer is that God wants us to dispel all doubts and concerns about the truth of resurrection and believe in all humility.

4, Some hold that New Sunday is to "commemorate the event of the Holy Apostle Thomas' touching the wounds of Christ," (Synaxarium).

Painting and Icons depicting Thomas touching the side of risen Christ has become fancy in Malankara Church. This contention is thoroughly against gospel accounts. St Thomas was surnamed twin (Didimos -Gr). Ascertaining who the twin brother of Thomas was is nearly impossible. Some believe St Adai, one of the 72 and the evangelist of Edessa was the twin brother of Thomas but at best that is speculation. Some people erroneously ascribe the reason for surname to his two conjoined fingers from birth and when Thomas put his twin finger into the side of Jesus, the finger miraculously made whole and separated. Other apostles were astounded to witness the miracle and in reverence kissed his hands and thus began the practice of kissing the hands of priests and high-priests. I am puzzled at the height of superstition in the name of faith; even educated people invest much credence to this utter fiction. Some people call the story a ‘legend,' a totally absurd story. Orthodox tradition of kissing the hands of priests and bishops came into existence ascribing reverence to the handling of the consecrated Eucharistic elements (Holy body and atoning blood of Christ). Jesus offered Thomas saying, "Reach your hand here and put into my side," v27, John does not mention that St Thomas touched the side of Jesus. Thomas was overwhelmed on seeing and hearing Jesus; Thomas had no difficulty to recognize Jesus, he did not dare reaching his hands and on the spur of the moment Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God," v28. No commentator has ever mitigated the intensity of Thomas' confession. "Thomas, upon Jesus' invitation, does not actually touch Jesus for proof," says Orthodox Study Bible, NT, p 266. "Thomas never physically examines or inspects Jesus' wounds as he claimed he needed to do before he would believe," says, Richard Carlson, Professor of New Testament. "We are not told whether he did put his finger into the print of the nails; it should seem, he did not, for Christ says (v. 29), Thou hast seem, and believed; seeing sufficed," comments Mathew Henry. "Verse 27: Probably, Thomas did not avail himself of our Lord's invitation," J R Dummelow, Commentary, p810. "The willingness of Christ to have his nail prints investigated banished the incredulity of Thomas, and supplied him with the assurance that eliminated all doubts. The record does not specifically say that Thomas actually placed his hands in the Master's side," Harper's Bible Dictionary, 6th edn, p755.

5, Another extraneous interpretation of this passage virtually served a reason for the Malankara Church fatally split in the seventy's.

Breathing and receiving the Holy Spirit with the authority to forgive and retain sins was the occasion proper when the apostles were ordination to priesthood; since Thomas was absent when it happened he was not even a priest, etc, bull E203/75. "He sent them authorized with a divine warrant, armed with a divine power, - sent them as ambassadors to treat of peace, and as heralds to proclaim it, - sent them as servants to bid to the marriage. Hence they were called apostles - men sent," says Mathew Henry. St Thomas as an apostle (Sleeho) was far greater than a bishop. The staggering question remains why Jesus did not repeat the acts of breathing and giving the Holy Spirit? The affirmative answer is; repetition was absolutely unnecessary; Thomas instantly received exactly what others received. To draw a parallel, Moses gathered 70 men as elders, v16, placed them around the Tabernacle, v24, the Lord descended in the cloud, spoke to Moses, took the Spirit and put Him upon the seventy, they prophesied, v25. Eldad and Medad were listed among the seventy but remained in the camp, they also prophesied in the camp at the same time, v26, Numbers 11:10 – 29. Whether or not Thomas was physically present, Jesus knew where Thomas was. Now, St Thomas is our father in Christ, who travelled more than all other apostles, begat us in Christ, 1Cor 4:15 and became a martyr piercing his side the same manner as his Master and bled for three days and the soil of India was sanctified mixed with his blood. By all means St Thomas was Apostle, Bishop and Martyr. "In the 52nd year of our Lord, St. Thomas arrived in Malayalam and preached the faith to our forefathers, established the Church and founded churches and appointed priests and they adhered to the true faith," says Mulanthuruthy Padiyola, Para 3, translated by Kurian Corepiscopa. (Note: Malayalam language did not exist 500 years before now). Should we credit the quote from Mulanthuruthy Padiyola, St Thomas was surely a bishop. However, I do not find logic in fighting over the issue because Jesus has not warranted anyone of his following to define or abrogate the Apostle's prerogatives which shall be deliberate sinning.

6, other relevant points in nutshell:

1, v19: Jesus rose from the dead on "First day of the week." His both appearances were on the first day. Thus apostles called it, "The Lord's Day" Rev 1:10. It is also known as eighth day or first day of new creation. Disciples used to gather together AA 20:7, and celebrate Holy Eucharist, on the first day of the week and we continue the apostolic tradition.

2, the door was shut, still Jesus came in. God needs no permission to come into once life. No one can shut out God. He is free from all encumbrances. Nothing, including one's thought or bed-room secret is hidden to God.
3, Jesus greeted them, after resurrection, as always, "Peace be with you." Christ is "Prince of Peace," the only source of peace. He established peace with God, the Father and the humanity by his atoning sacrifice on the cross. The most glaring need of present humanity as ever is peace of mind. One should seek to find peace from the source of peace that is Christ.

Jesus offers threefold peace;

1, Peace with God that enables to lead a sinless life,
2, peace within self, that is, to live with good conscience, and
3, peace with others by being charitable.

Fear, anxiety and bad relationship are enemies of peace. Apostles overcame fear, by fully trusting Christ; we could also dispel all evils and be at peace by relying on Christ, our God.

"My Lord and my God:"

St Thomas stands out as the only apostle who publicly affirmed that the risen Christ is Lord (breadwinner and sustainer) and God the Creator. Confession of Lordship and Deity of risen Christ is the crux of Christian faith, thus Thomas is the first Christian apologetic. ‘Proclamation of Thomas was the admission of two natures (God and human) of Christ' according to Roman teaching, which is wrong in all respects; nature conflict was not an issue at the time of apostles.

"Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed," v29.

This by no means sounds a rebuke. He greeted them with divine peace, voluntarily showed his bruised hands and pierced side, gave them Holy Spirit and commission; all these were with love, tenderness and friendliness. The same demeanor was shown at the second meeting; instead of indicting he invited Thomas to convince himself of the truth of resurrection. Blessedness for those not seen and believe amounts to a proposal for the future incumbents. The whole episode points to the fact that sensory perception is not necessary for faith. Of course, there is logic in faith but logic is not necessary for faith; for faith is more a conviction than logic.

He/she who believes that Christ the Son of God came to the world to save sinners and I am the sinner saved by Redeeming act of Christ on the cross. Let us proclaim to the world, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved," AA 4:12.

May this message find you in peace, tranquility and unflinching faith in our Redeemer.
"Meshiho kom men khabaro; mhaimneenan sharirois kom,"

Source: ICON

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for New Sunday

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