On the First Day of the Week

John 20:19-31 presents us with two post-resurrection scenes, each set on Sunday, the first day of the week. By the time the fourth gospel was written, Sunday – the “Lord’s Day” – had become the regular day of Christian worship.

On the first Sunday, Jesus appeared in the midst of his assembled disciples. All the disciples who experienced Jesus’ presence were overjoyed. Thomas, however, was absent from the assembly. On the second Sunday, Jesus appeared again within the assembly, with Thomas now being present. On both Sundays, Jesus showed his hands and his side to those who were assembled. On each occasion, those who were present came to believe that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead.

The Wesley Study Bible aptly notes that the story of “doubting Thomas” should really be known as the story of “absent Thomas.” Thomas didn’t doubt more than the other disciples; he just wasn’t present in the assembly the first time that Jesus appeared. When Thomas had the same experience of Jesus’ risen presence as the other disciples, like them he believed. If Thomas had been present in the assembly on the previous Sunday, there’s no reason to think that he wouldn’t have been overjoyed with the rest of the disciples.

The section concludes with Jesus telling Thomas, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” This is the situation of John’s audience, and it is our situation as well. Assembling on the first day of the week, Christians believe in the risen one who is present in their assembly. He reveals himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. He makes himself known by showing us his wounded body in the broken bread, the heavenly manna, the flesh and blood which are food for eternal life.