This service focuses on the gospel narrative of Thomas' journey from doubt to faith; it is intended for an evening service on the Sunday after Easter. The service incorporates a dramatic reading prepared by Bert Polman, associate professor of music at Redeemer College. It was first held at the Ministers and Spouses Conference held at Redeemer College on March 28,1989.
Our Worship Begins
Hymn: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (1)
[PH 113, PsH 388, RL 325, TH 277]
Christ has risen to become the firstfruits of them that slept.
Death has been swallowed up in victory!
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hymn: "Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing"(2)
[PH 111, PsH 397, RL 326, TH 270]
We Hear the Word of the Lord
Let us pray.
Almighty God, who through your Son overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life, grant that we who celebrate our Lord's resurrection may arise from our doubts by your Spirit's power and be stirred to greater faith in our walk with you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Alleluia! Amen!
Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23 (3)
Narrator: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said,
Jesus: Peace be with you!
Narrator: After he had said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said,
Jesus: Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Narrator: And with that he breathed on them and said,
Jesus: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Hymn: "Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks"
[PH 106, PsH 402]
Scripture Reading: John 20:24-29 (and Psalms 77, 88 and 73)(4)
Narrator: Now Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But Thomas said to them,
Thomas: Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.
"I cry out to God for help;
I cry out to God to hear me.
When in distress, I seek the Lord;
at night I stretch out untiring hands
and my soul refuses to be comforted.
I remember you, O God, and I groan;
I ponder, and my spirit grows faint.
You keep my eyes from closing;
I am too troubled to speak.
I think about the former days,
the years of long ago.
How often have I not said in my heart:
"Lord, I don't know where you are going, so how can I know the way?"
I remember my laments in the night.
My heart ponders and my spirit inquires:
"Will the Lord reject us forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"
Then I thought,"To this I will appeal:
the years of the right hand of the Most High."
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will meditate on all your works
and consider all your mighty deeds.
Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
But that was long ago! Now our Lord has come to his people, and has shown his miracles anewóbut to no avail! I remember that I said,
"Let us also go to Jerusalem, that we may die with him."
Now my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
I call to you, O Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet, Lord, I am always in your care;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.(7)
Narrator: A week later, Jesus' disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.
Jesus: Peace be with you!
Thomas, put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.
Thomas:My Lord and my God!
Jesus: Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.
We Respond to the Word of the Lord
Hymn: "These Things Did Thomas Count as Real (9)
Prayers (including a time of silence)
Offering of Gift
We Depart to Serve
Hymn: "The Day of Resurrection" (11)
[PH 118, PsH 390, RL 317, TH 267]
Benediction (and choral Amen)
Notes on the Service
(1) With brass quartet and timpani, using Vaclav Nelhybel's Festival Hymns and Processionals (Agape, 1977), #36; this collection provides three settings for each of its forty-eight hymns. Several hymn concertatos are available on this hymn; sopranos should sing a descant on at least the final stanza; the hymn text and its "alleluia" responses suggest various possibilities for responsorial and/or antiphonal performance.
(2) Brass ensemble and timpani accompany from the same Nelhybel collection #38. Concertatos are also available on this hymn. Choir sopranos sing the Psalter Hymnal descant on the refrain each time.
(3) The Scripture readings in this service are to be done by three readers: a narrator (woman), Jesus (man), and Thomas (man). If necessary, a brief word of introduction may help at the beginning of the first reading. Limited staging requires the use of the main pulpit (narrator and fesus) and an off-side lectern (Thomas).
(4) During the previous hymn the Narrator has moved to the lectern, joining Thomas there.
5Then the Narrator returns to the central pulpit and sits. Thomas begins his lengthy soliloquy from the side lectern, preferably with reduced lighting or almost semi-darkness, if chancel lighting will permit this.
(6) If technically possible, provide total darkness for this pause; then resume the lament with semi-darkness as before.
(7) Then bring full lights back on. The Narrator and Jesus stand together at the central pulpit, and Thomas joins them there.
(8) Additional comments: The sermon should make clear the relationship between Thomas' story and the OT laments that I've put into his mouth. I chose to use Psalm 77 because it is a typical lament in which the poet utters a cry to God but gains comfort from thinking on the mighty deeds that God has done in the past. And Thomas (like us today!) certainly saw many of those mighty deeds.
Psalm 88, however, is even more fascinating and appropriate for Thomas. Here in the face of the disciples' claim about Jesus' resurrection, I have Thomas ask whether God could possibly act beyond the finality of death: "Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?" At the same time the psalmist laments the absence of close friends, just as Thomas must have done! I let Thomas finish his soliloquy with a brief quotation from Psalm 73.
Thus I see Thomas vacillating between doubt and hope, as in the manner of the Hebrew laments, and, I suspect, in a manner that is true sometimes in our lives (a connection that should be emphasized in the concluding part of the sermon).
(9) Let the choir sing stanzas 1-3; everyone in unison on stanza 4 with the brass ensemble joining in. Other LM tunes could be used with this hymn text—e.g. TRURO (#29 in the Nelhybel collection); or the hymn "O Sons and Daughters" [PH 116-117, PsH 393, TH 272] may be used as an alternate hymn.
(10) The brass ensemble may play here: lively tunes by the Gabrieli's or similarly festive canzonas or sonatas.
(11) This hymn is sung to LANCASHIRE [ph us, PsH 555, rl 317, th 267] to enable brass and timpani to accompany from the same Nelhybel collection, #37.
The hymns in this service were selected from the most recent editions of the following hymnals:The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and Trinity Hymnal (TH).