Jocelyn Breeland, Sunnyvale, CA

Warm-up Question

What is essential to sustain your faith?

Hope in the Ruins

As these words are written, the fire in Notre Dame, the historic cathedral in the heart of Paris, has finally been brought under control. Memorable scenes of the day include the silhouette of the church against the towering flames, the tall spire collapsing, and mourners praying as they watched in horror. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to launch a national fundraising campaign so the church can be rebuilt. By the time you read this, we will likely know more about the cause of the fire, the extent of the damage, and what will be required to restore Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, one of the world’s most well-known churches, was completed in 1345 and over the centuries has played an important role in the life of the city and the history of France and Europe. The exterior of Notre Dame contains many scenes from the Bible, a sort of book to teach scripture to the parishioners who, at the time of construction, were mostly illiterate. The interior contains many priceless works of art, a magnificent organ, and the treasured relics of what is believed to be the crown of thorns Jesus wore before crucifixion and a piece of the cross. They were rescued from the flames.

This is not the first time the building was damaged. In 1548, Hugenots damaged statues that they believed to be idolatrous. In 1793, 28 statues of biblical kings were destroyed when they were mistaken for statues of French kings. A bombing attempt was foiled in 2016.

Within 24 hours, hundreds of millions of dollars had been pledged to the rebuilding effort.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think restoration of the church is so important to the French people that the president – a secular leader – would vow to restore it?
  • For people of faith what, if anything, has been lost?
  • If the church building where you worship were destroyed, what would be lost?
  • Would the loss of the building make you concerned about the congregation? Why or why not?

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 5:27-32

Revelation 1:4-8

John 20:19-31

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Thomas had doubts. He had seen Jesus die and, despite witnessing Jesus’ previous miracles – including raising the dead – he could not believe that his master lived. If Thomas, who knew Jesus, had doubts, how are we, so many centuries removed, to sustain our faith?

We all have doubts. Like Thomas, we experience events that cause us to question what we believe. Even Mother Teresa, admired by many for her life of faith and charity, wrote about her serious doubts, her sense that her prayers were unheard and unanswered.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed.” But how are we to sustain this belief, our faith in Jesus, the son of God, sent for our salvation? One answer is in verse 30, “these are written that you might believe.” The Bible exists to support our faith – to teach us about God’s work in the world, about the life of Jesus and his victory over sin and death.

The Gospel writers risked, and sometimes lost, their lives to spread the good news of the gospel to all people. It’s hard to imagine this level of commitment if the events they recount in the New Testament were not true.

We are grateful for the gift of the Gospel and the stories and guidance that lead us to lives of faith. We have not seen but we believe. And we are blessed.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you, like Thomas, had doubts?
  • Do you share your doubts, as Thomas did, or do you keep it to yourself?
  • What has helped to restore your faith?

Activity Suggestions

[This activity can be done individually or in groups.]

Thinking of the warm-up question, the fire at Notre Dame and this week’s Gospel selection – and your experience as a Christian – make a list of everything you can think of that can support, nourish or restore a person’s faith.

  • Identify the items on this list that you would consider essential to Christian faith.
  • Now, discuss the ways you and your congregation offer or connect people to these essentials. Is there room for improvement?
  • Develop a plan to increase support in one of the essential areas, assign responsibility for the various tasks.

Establish a target date to implement your plan and schedule a group discussion on the results.

  • What worked well? What didn’t?
  • Did you notice any changes – in specific individuals or in the community as a whole – as a result of your work?

Closing Prayer

Gracious Lord, thank you for the gift of your son Jesus, and thank you for the gift of the Bible that teaches us and shows us the way to live lives of faith. When we doubt, or stray, draw us back to your holy word. As we are blessed, let us also be a blessing. Make us examples of your love that will bring others closer to you. In the blessed name of Jesus, Amen.