Sunday, May 15, 2011

Glad and Generous Hearts

Just a quick note on today's scripture and the use of blindness as a metaphor in scripture. The gospels are full of disability metaphors since Jesus wandered about healing both physical and spiritual brokenness. It is often difficult to differentiate between the two, but at the very least these stories should trouble our understanding of disability. Two thousand years later we are not so different--we still equate physical and mental disabilities with sin, inferiority, and spiritual illness. All of us are only Temporarily Able Bodies (or TABs); perhaps its time to rethink our understanding of wholeness and wellness and the way we use disability as metaphor.

Sermon, Sunday, May 15, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings: John 10:1-10 and Acts 2:42-47

Today’s scriptures are concerned with two important functions of religion: gatekeeping and sharing what we have in community. These aren’t the only two functions of religion (thank God), but they are two that we might speak of in this time in the church. This last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved Amendment 10A to our church’s constitution. This amendment replaces language in our ordination standards that required all ordained officers of the church to be faithful in heterosexual marriage or chaste in singleness. Because our denomination has strictly defined marriage as between a man and a woman, we do not recognize marriages between same gender partners, and therefore queer folk in long term partnerships could not be ordained as officers in our churches. The new language will go into effect in July of this year and reads this way:
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
As you can see, ordination standards remain complicated—and this is only one of a very small piece of the ordination process. Each candidate will continue to be rigorously examined by several committees before they ever get to serve in a church; the process takes 3-5 years and includes a three year Master of Divinity degree from a seminary. It is not for the faint of heart, and regardless of who your life partner is, one must still press on through a process designed to test one’s call to ordained ministry.

You can see, though, that two questions jump out immediately in the wake of this news: “How will we navigate the new standard?” and “Can we continue on together as one church, despite our differences?” So Gatekeeping and Communal Living. The passage from John and the passage from Acts. Who is in and who is out? How will we love one another?

These are not idle questions; they are questions we constantly ask ourselves. From birth we evaluate people we come into contact with as either in or out, good or evil, one of us or one of them, sane or crazy—a thousand pairings of acceptable and unacceptable. These days we can add straight and queer to the mix. But in that moment, two thousand years ago, when Jesus spoke of being the shepherd who guarded the gate, there was a specific context: a back story about a blind man.

Jesus had been walking along the road with his disciples, and they saw a blind man. The disciples asked him, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” There had long been the stigma, you see, that disability was a punishment for sin. So Jesus answered his disciples that the man’s blindness wasn’t about sin, but was about showcasing the glory of God. I can’t say I like that answer a whole lot better—I’ve got plenty of friends with disabilities who would rather NOT showcase God’s glory in that way.

But Jesus made the extraordinary claim that the man had not sinned. And then he took the necessary steps to restore the blind man to wholeness in community: in this case he healed the man’s blindness.

It quickly became apparent, however, that it wasn’t the blind man who was unwell. The blind man who now could see surprised his neighbors, who expected the beggar they had become accustomed to. “How did this happen?” they asked. And the no-longer-blind man told them Jesus had healed him. Scandalized and with “loving” concern, the neighbors brought him to the Pharisees (the religious leaders), and the Pharisees interrogated him and his parents. They threatened to throw him out of the synagogue. They threatened to throw his parents out of the synagogue. The man held fast: this man, Jesus, had healed him. This healing, he said, must be from God. And the Pharisees were angry, for this healing had happened on a Sabbath, against God's rules. They were angry because this healing was unheard of—who could heal a blind man? So the religious leaders drove the no-longer-blind man out of the synogogue and said, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”

When Jesus heard that the man had been driven out of the synagogue, he went and found the man and reassured him and received his statement of faith, “I believe.” Jesus said , “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” And this statement made the religious leaders nervous as they began to wonder if they were truly the blind ones—the ones who could not see who Jesus was, even though a miracle had been performed right there in front of them.

So this is the context for our passage this morning where Jesus says he is the shepherd by the gate, calling his own to him. This is the context: a blind man who had been forced to beg to survive in the community was restored so that he no longer needed to beg, and the religious people threw him out of the church, calling him a sinner. All who come before me are theives and bandits and seek to kill. But I, Jesus, bring abundant life for those who see me, believe me, hear my shepherd’s voice.

This passage is taken out of context so often and used as a gatekeeper text to keep the people we are frightened of out of our churches. In doing so, we become like the Pharisees, casting out brothers and sisters whom we can’t possibly see God working through. Or we tell them they can have a place, but it’s a beggar’s position near the door. When the blind beggar rises up and demands a righful place at the table, we are quick to drive him or her out, and when we are called on it by Jesus we are quick to say “you don’t mean me, do you?”

37 years ago, a gay man stood up at the General Assembly meeting. He held up a sign that said, “Is anyone else out there gay?” And this helped start the conversation that has led to our situation today. There are people on all sides (and there are many sides) who believe with deep conviction what they believe. We can all find texts in the Bible or an interpretation we like to support our positions. This has been, and continues to be a very ugly discussion in many ways, punctuated by occasional acts of kindness and grace as individuals reach out to one another. My job this morning is not to convince you how to think or feel about homosexuality. My job this morning is to point out that Jesus heals and restores person to communities. And he heals and restores communities to persons. Was the blind man born a sinner? Was it his parents? Is the gay man born a sinner? Is it his parents? Is the congregation, or the denomination sick? Were they created sinfully? Are we deathly ill and headed for extinction? Is it our fault? In this story of the blind man who is no longer blind we are reminded that Jesus heals and restores. And that those of us who drive others out of community are blind to the healing Jesus can effect. We cannot see the wellness in the other person for the sake of the perceived illness we are focused on.

Very quickly it might be said that the queer folk are driving out the orthodox believers. And just as quickly I can say that the orthodox believers drive out the queer folk. But the reality is that we all have choices about where we go to church, who to associate with and whether we ultimately stay or go. So that those of us who are here in this moment are called by Christ into community. Will we be the ones who cannot see?

What does community look like, you might ask? So I will read to you again the Acts passage:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, beause many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day to day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
There’s nothing in this passage that talks about marital status or sexual orientation. Nothing here that says anything about people having the right kind of sex with the right kind of people. What is here is fellowship, eating together, healing, and holding things in common. The sharing of all they had, opening their homes, eating with glad and joyous hearts. So I suggest that our two passages today are a stern warning as to who is actually the gatekeeper—and it’s not the presbytery or the denomination or an amendment; it’s not the local church or a committee. The the shepherd at the gate is Jesus. Beyond that, we are called into healed and restored community with one another, joyous submission to Jesus Christ and neverending prayer and praise to God.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lancellotta's Pizza in Lawrenceville

Large Pepperoni, our favorite!

Lancellotta's Pizza Ristorante
580 Lawrence Sq. Blvd., South
Lawrenceville, NJ
(You can find a menu here)

So basically, Lancellotta's Pizza is about the greatest thing that ever happened to my complicated life as a single mother, student, pastor, cat-lady. The pizza is delicious and not too expensive. It's always ready within 10 minutes, and they have all the Italian pasta stuff too if anyone in the family is in the mood for something else.

The owner is a local guy, Rob Lancellotta, and he and his staff are friendly and efficient. During our winter snow storms they stayed open, even the day after we got 30 inches or so.

Their pizza crust is homemade and tasty--crispy around the edges and just the right thickness. The sauce is zesty, but not too spicy. Just the right amount of cheese and generous with the toppings. Best of all, there aren't any green herbs sprinkled on top (some of the local shops do that here), so my children will actually eat this wonderful pizza.

There are a few tables to eat inside and a couple outside for nice days. But it's also just as easy to pick up a pie and head over to Mercer County Park or take it back to eat in.

Anyway, I don't normally do restaurant reviews on my blog, but this is the best pizza we've found, and I'm glad it's a local guy with a little shop around the corner. You should go eat there.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Joyful Submission"

My response to the passing of Amendment 10A in the PC (USA) can be found over at Letters From the Inside Out, a blog I share with a few other pastor types. The post is called "Joyful Submission."

Please show us some love over there and click through to read the post.

Love to you all!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Loving Fierce

Sermon, Sunday, May 8, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Reading: Luke 24:13-35

I struggled all week with this sermon. How much do I focus on mothers? How much do I focus on the news? How does scripture inform it all? What did the walk to Emmaus have to do with any of it? In the end, I decided to focus on the news. The best of our mothers is that fierce mama bear love that wants for the world a better place. May we all draw from our Mother God, who offers both refuge and strength for the journey.

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? I bet almost everybody here does. We are approaching the 10 year anniversary of that date, and for many of us that day remains etched into our memories. A day like that stays with us for many reasons; tragedy has a longer shelf life than joy, and the shock of death imprints itself on our hearts. It stays with us because grief and anger are tenacious in their grip, returning long after the actual event, recalled by a name (Osama bin Laden) or by fresh grief from later events or by the telling of someone else’s story. We store old trauma in our bodies, and a touch, a smell, a visual cue can bring memories tumbling back like fierce kittens tumbling after yarn.

The memory of where we were on September 11 stays with us because we tell the story over and again, creating out of that day a memorial of the lives lost. We tell the story over and again, trying to create meaning out of hate, some semblance of order out of chaos. We tell the story again and again, because for most of us, hijacking an airplane and crashing into buildings is an incomprehensible act of violence. So we tell our stories with the intention of never forgetting, to honor those who died with our memories, because the least we can do, it seems, is to not forget.

Sunday night President Obama announced an unusual late night press conference. By the time he actually spoke to the world at 11:30, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death had spread throughout social networks—the news broke first on twitter and quickly spread to facebook. I was away at a pastor’s retreat, and while most of my group had already gone to sleep, most of my twitter friends were awake and tuned in to the announcement. It wasn’t long before reactions to bin Laden’s death started rolling in: everything from jubilant celebration to mourning the 10 years of war that came out of 9/11; people dancing on the grave and people wagging their fingers at those dancing on graves; people declaring that they would mourn even bin Laden’s death and people wagging their fingers at those mourning this death. It was, like all human experiences, a hot mess, a soup sandwich, a loud, obnoxious, brawl over righteousness. And Christians are the worst when it comes to brawls over righteousness!

My twitter and facebook filled with Christians using scriptures from all the books of the Bible to justify and defend their positions (including me—don’t think I’m the righteous one here; here's a link to where I blogged my righteousness). Come the next morning, our pastor’s retreat kicked off with a session on transitional ministry. We talked about the stages of grief and how that can be applied to a congregation. We talked about life cycles and how that can be applied to a congregation. We talked about living well and dying well and how those can be applied to a congregation. We didn’t talk at all about Osama bin Laden, 9/11, the President’s speech, or the fact that all of us needed to go home and write a sermon for today that would somehow faithfully encapsulate the assassination of a political enemy, Mother’s Day, killer tornadoes, and a scripture on the Walk to Emmaus. We didn’t talk about how most of us were filled with emotion of one kind or another, having heard the news through our various social media networks before breakfast.

We didn’t talk about any of all that until we got to worship at 11:15. Our worship leader had the good sense to lay aside his worship plans for the day and created space for people to begin to process their reactions to the news.

Chris said something like, “Perhaps, in light of today’s news, we might set aside our planned order of worship and have some time to pray and sing, to tell our stories.” And then somebody bravely raised their hand and asked, “What news are you talking about?” It turned out three or four people in the room had actually followed the spirit of a retreat and left behind their social media and news sources. There was a sort of pause, and then someone else offered a summary of the President’s announcement. Like Cleopas walking on the road to Emmaus, the question hung in the room: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” We told the story again in different ways. There were a few reflections on 9/11 itself. And mostly there was reaction to the news of bin Laden’s assassination.

We are Christians, and so the stories we tell are always tied to the overarching story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have a habit of very quickly attaching our story to the Christ story and obliterating inconvenient or messy emotions. And when Christians gather, we have a habit of quickly determining what we should be feeling instead of what we are feeling. We have a habit of thinking that we are separate from the rest of the world, by virtue of our belief system. A group of pastors is no different, for all our ordination and education. For all that we had just finished a seminar on the stages of grief, there wasn’t much recognition in that worship service of anger, relief, and joy at the news of bin Laden’s death.

In this last week I have read a large number of commentaries on reactions to the assassination, mostly written by Christians, which suggest that it is wrong to rejoice in the death of an enemy. I have read commentaries challenging bin Laden’s status as public enemy number one. I have listened to people lecture how we should never rejoice in the death of an enemy. I have watched people who refuse to critically look at racial oppression (mis)quote Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that only light can overcome darkness, only love can triumph over hate. People who have never even been to New York have chimed in on what New Yorkers should be feeling. I’ve read articles explaining collective euphoria over an enemy’s death as a social phenomenon that is healthy for identity building. I’ve read others offering dire warnings of retaliation and fears over our own government gone rogue (both of which I am sure will happen, regardless of how somberly we react to bin Laden's death).

I don’t have a lot of answers about what people should be feeling at any particular moment. I do know that feelings are not the same as action, and that moral judgments about feelings are fairly useless. People feel what they do. The disciples, as they walked on to Emmaus, felt what they felt about Jesus’ death, even though Jesus had told them he was coming back. They mourned his death even though they were sent on into life with a mission, strengthened by that death. They were angry, distraught, distrustful, sorrowful. And that’s just scratching the surface. Grief is never appropriate in its habits, and it doesn’t run a predictable course, regardless of our attempts to systematize it, write about it, label it in stages, or dress it up to sell books. But we don’t like grief or anger much, so we put a time limit on it and shut it down when we see others acting it out.

As I was reading about the celebratory reactions to bin Laden’s assassination, I also found an essay from someone blogging about her experience with the destructive tornadoes in the south. That particular disaster is still fresh, a little over a week old. I found this post helpful to remember what it is like to feel fresh grief and anger over death, and also helpful to remember that many of the people who experienced 9/11 first hand have a more enduring memory of that event. I want to read you a bit of this woman’s story, because I think it’s useful to remember grief and anger in it’s fresh raw form. And unless we can access that grief and anger, either for ourselves or vicariously through another, it is not possible to understand the celebratory relief expressed last week over bin Laden’s death. I don’t think celebretory relief is where we end things—more thoughts on that in a minute. But I think it is a place to start, and probably a place we return to: grief is messy. So here are thoughts from Genevieve at A Light Slowly Growing, who could just as easily have been writing in the days after 9/11: (Go here to read the entire blogpost. It's excellent)
...Stage two is the stage that needs the name. Stage two, Anger, is coming on with full force. I want to scream at this storm. I want to take my fists fitted with brass knuckles to the face of that tornado and I want to know its name. I want to blame this all on it. I want to take all this pain and anguish and absolute fury and throw it at a name, a thing. I don't want to call it a tornado anymore. I don't want to call it a storm anymore. I want to name the thing that barrels through my dreams every night ripping everything away in its path.

God I am just so angry. Every conversation I am in or overhear, every sentence on every website, every text message and every call and every person I pass is talking about it, reminiscing in this memory I want to disappear. It's in my dreams, it's in my television, it's in my fingertips on this blog and it's in these crying spells that come on for no reason. I drive through my neighborhood and I just want to find the thing that did this, that hurt and ruined so much and so many. I want to rip out its insides and set them on fire... 
...I just wish we named tornadoes. I want to scream out a name when I wake up from these nightmares. I want to write a letter every day to a thing that I can blame. I want to have a word I can say that means more than tornado, that means more than storm. Something I can look at and say, "You won't win you selfish, cruel bastard. You won't take anything else from us.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.
It’s not a perfect analogy. Osama bin Laden was not a tornado, he was a man. There are complexities to the world situation that led to 9/11, ways in which we are all complicit in the deaths of millions of people world wide (including our own country). But what I am trying to say is that anger and celebratory euphoria are normal and appropriate.  What is more important is what we will do with that anger in the future. How will we channel our frustrations at the destructive nature of this world? If people really are against political assassination and war and terrorism, how will we actually live out a love ethic in our every day lives and in our politics?

In 2003, women in Liberia won a hard-fought political battle to end the violence of civil war in their country. They crossed ideological and religious lines to stand against rape and murder, assassination and beatings, poverty and starvation. Weary and agnry at their men warring against one another and using women and children as objects to be used as war prizes and discarded in the dirt, the women decided they would not take anymore. In an excellent movie called Pray The Devil Back to Hell, one woman said, "Liberia had been at war for so long that my children had been afraid and hungry for their entire lives."

In their anger and grief they decided it was worth the risk to be heard. And so they began to protest. They protested in the streets, in their churches, in their women’s circles. They read together, prayed together, sang together, marched together. They told their men that if they had any political power, any connections through friendship or business, any way of ending this political struggle that they had better utilize those connections and end this war. Because there would not be peace (and sex) in their homes until the men ended the war.

Over time, the women’s efforts yielded fruit and peace talks were held between the government and the rebels. The women went and stood in the streets outside the peace talks. At one point the peace talks were not going well, and officials tried to leave the building. The women rose up and blocked the men from leaving. One woman walked up to the door of the building and confronted an official directly. She said if he abandoned the peace talks she would take her clothes off then and there in the street, publicly shaming him with her nudity. Their stubbornness, their refusal to accept more violence, their determination that there would be no more rape and murder and starvation and death led to significant political and social change. That conviction did not come from setting aside anger. It came from loving so fiercely and with such fire that they refused to accept oppression and violence without a struggle.

Life is not perfect in Liberia. As in other places, including the U.S., there is still sexual assault, abuse of power, starving children, and unnecessary death. Justice is not a one time event or march, but an ongoing practice of saying no to abuse and degradation. Sometimes that means saying no with anger—fury even. And sometimes it means joy and relief when individuals who have caused death and suffering cannot cause further harm. But always it means acknowledging the complexities of our grief, our own complicitness in oppressive structures, and resolving to channel our anger and grief (at both the other and ourselves) into creative rebellion against injustice.

What does that have to do with the walk to Emmaus? I’ve wandered pretty far afield. But it has to do with this: when we walk along together seeking out the meaning in the days events we are acting faithfully. When we express our emotions, however varied and complex, we are acting faithfully. When we seek through our scriptures for truth and justice, we are acting faithfully. And when we break bread with strangers and discover Christ in our midst, we are acting faithfully. Jesus did not ask the disciples to stop feeling, thinking, or processing. He simply showed them that in the midst of their wrangling he was still present. He held out hope for how we might come to love one another better, but he never said it would be without the journey to get there. He showed that there is more to life than fearing death. He reminded us that anger and grief are part of the process. Only a part, but definitely a part. And that anger and grief, coupled with love can lead us forward into justice.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Dear Practical Thomas

Sermon, Sunday, May 1, 2011
by Katie Mulligan

Scripture Readings:
1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31

“Blessed are those who believe who have not seen.” This blessing is often taken as an indictment of Thomas and others who have their doubts. Doubting Thomas—that disciple who didn’t have the fortitude to hold onto his belief even a few days into the crisis of Jesus’ death. We read his story out of context, as if all the other disciples jumped to belief at the first moment of Jesus’ appearance—or even rather that they had belief all along, and it was just Thomas who was lacking in the faith department.

Oh, Doubting Thomas! The poor wretch. Jesus loved him anyway, but what a sad scolding he received, we think. Blessed are those who believe and do not see, we repeat smugly. And there is room for us to be smug on this side of the millennia. After all, it’s been 2,000 years since we last had an appearance of Christ on this earth—what other choice do we have? Either believe without physical evidence or walk away, because Jesus isn’t around to ask anymore. From our side of this 21 century divide, we are safely ensconced in deep traditions of belief without a body, without physical testimony, without the voice of Christ to call us to belief. Poor Doutbing Thomas—how could he be so skeptical?

But let us put Thomas into perspective in the last few days of his life. He showed up for the Last Supper, expecting a Passover meal. Instead he got a good-bye dinner, complete with a lengthy sermon on what to do after his beloved Jesus died. His feet were washed by his Teacher, which was an odd change in the order of master and servant. One of the twelve was accused of betraying the fellowship. Jesus offered up the bread as his body and the wine as his blood, telling them to remember him every time they shared a meal together.

After dinner they wandered off to the garden where Jesus prayed anxiously. By the end of the night, Jesus had been arrested. By Friday he was condemned to die on a cross by the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. Jesus was whipped, forced through the streets and up a hill and then strung up on a cross to die. Peter himself, the Rock, the one on whom Christ would build his church, Peter denied him three times the night of Jesus’ arrest. So let us be clear where the doubts began.

By the time Jesus was dead on the cross, the only disciple left standing as witness was John, the beloved disciple, and the three Marys. And that night others took his body down and prepared it for burial, leaving him in a cave in a nearby garden.

Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty on Sunday morning, and although she was confronted with fantastically glowing white angels, she still thought Jesus was the gardener until he called out her name. The disciples who had come with her didn’t even see the angels and Jesus and had already wandered back to the others, where they were huddled together in a house, fearful of the past few days events.

The Magdalene ran back to the house where many of the disciples were gathered and told them that she had seen the Lord. But they did not believe her. So that when Jesus came and stood among them—even though the doors were locked from the inside, and nobody had let him in—they did not know it was him.

Christ called out to them “Peace be with you.” But it wasn’t until he showed them his wounds that they believed and saw that it was Christ. So it is really no surprise that when Thomas showed up, and the other disciples said, “We have seen the Lord,” that Thomas did not believe them any more than they had believed Mary Magdalene. It may be true that they had witnessed the raising of Lazarus and other miracles, but the disciples had not come to a belief in their own healing powers or in the idea that Jesus transcends death. This would take time and it was early days yet.

And really, if Jesus showed up today in my living room and declared himself present, even though I had locked the door, I would want proof then too. I’d probably call some friends to come over and verify. I might take him to the doctor to have his cuts looked at. I would certainly call my pastor and spiritual director. I might call my shrink. I might indeed call the police to report an intruder into my home, and I would certainly be reluctant to bring my children too close to this man who popped up where he shouldn’t, couldn’t have been.

Doubting Thomas? Well how about Doubting Katie, because that’s true enough. And if this blessing “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen”, if that blessing is meant for me, then I have not lived up to my side of that bargain—not every day, not even most days. It’s easy enough to speak of old myths and traditions, legends of days gone by, stories told in ancient texts, translated and interpreted a thousand times over. It’s easy enough to ascribe to a creed, or even several confessions. Easy enough to follow church polity, and to bury myself in books to see if I can’t tease out the meaning of an old ancient text for today’s context.

But belief? Real honest to goodness belief? The kind of faith that would let me see Jesus with no extra coaching, no calling of my name, no breaking of the bread so that I might suddenly know it was Christ? That kind of faith few of us attain. We are left huddling behind our locked doors, half way hoping for a miracle that Jesus might come back and show us the way.

It is interesting that we refer to Thomas’ lack of sight as doubt. And equally interesting to me that we make a significant event out of this last appearance of Christ to Thomas. Some people have suggested that Thomas was grieving somewhere else, unable to bear the pain of gathering with others around the death of Jesus. But I suppose it is equally plausible that Thomas was busy. A practical man, the kind that wants evidence to back your claim, perhaps he was off in the community carrying out Jesus’ last wishes of caring for others and spreading the gospel. Thomas was not one of the disciples huddled under the roof of the house when Jesus first arrived to proclaim his resurrection. He wasn’t at the tomb that morning with Mary, holding on to his grief over the Teacher’s death. Perhaps he was out and about tending to matters at hand. Jesus after all had said that the living should leave the dead to the dead. Who knows what Thomas was up to in that week before Jesus appeared to him as well?

I can’t prove it with scripture, because the evidence is not there. We have no accounts of Thomas’ activity that week—no proof that he was working and healing and praying and living out the gospels. But what if he was? What if his busyness that week kept him from seeing Jesus—what if in some important way his belief was more intact than any of the others—what if “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen” was meant for Thomas—because he had believed and carried on with the work at hand, even though he had not yet seen Christ risen. What if Christs words were meant as an affirmation to the disciple who had not stayed behind locked doors, afraid of the world, refusing to risk in order to love? What if what he was saying was, “Thomas, you don’t believe because you have just seen me. I can see your belief in your everyday work, in the practicality of not waiting for the second coming. And bless you for that.”

Perhaps not. You’re entitled to your doubts. But regardless, blessed are you as you go out from here, never having seen Christ, but nevertheless doing the gospel work. Amen.