It was the spring of 1988. We had rounded the corner of the liturgical year again, and although I'd preached Easter sermons many times, I was feeling relieved that I was not preaching the Easter service that year. Senior minister Thomas Allsop would preach to the throngs of parishioners and visitors at historic Beechgrove Church of Aberdeen, Scotland.
I remember a film about Doubting Thomas that I saw in Sunday school as a girl. It was one of a series that our church showed us: the Bible story was read while a sequence of tableaux ran on the screen—it was not a motion picture, really, but more like a slide show. The actors were all attractive people with earnest expressions, and their faces stayed on the screen for a long time while the text was read. Sometimes the camera would zoom in, so that we could get a really good, long look at a particularly earnest expression.
I think I would find it all a bit too much if I were to view it today. But this was a long time ago.
The familiarity of the great texts of the New Testament can obscure the achievements of their writers. In its first three verses, the First Epistle of John joins "the eternal life that was with the Father" with the physical presence of Jesus, who has been seen with eyes and touched with hands.
You may recall that this
ending of the Gospel of Mark, the one that appears in the most ancient
manuscripts of the book, seemed too abrupt to later copyists. Before long, 11
more verses had found their way there, a busy digest of post-resurrection
experiences from a variety of sources: John's account of the scene at the tomb
with Mary Magdalene, John's story of Thomas the doubter, a version of the walk
to Emmaus, an account of Jesus' ascension, other material from Luke/Acts. These
are entered almost as bullet points.
But the tacked-on verses need
not concern us here--the Revised Common Lectionary walks away from them
politely. We are left with the bald confusion and fear at the end of the
ancient tale, from a time before it was canonized and liturgized.