Thursday, May 26, 2011
Yes, it is mostly done. Baked, filled, frosted. The only thing left to do is to apply the marzipan roses, which will wait until we get there. It is shaped like Texas, sort of. The roses are yellow, sort of. It will do, I hope.
Top picture, the frosted cake, complete with monogram of the soon-to-be-wedded couple.
Middle picture, the marzipan leaves and stems.
Bottom picture, the marzipan roses, which look more "blush" than yellow in this picture. That's okay.
So very glad it is done, and I sure hope it survives the trip more or less intact.
For those who haven't read it before, here's the story of my own wedding cake, which I made in a frenzy of sugar and insanity many years ago. I'm glad this project was a smaller one.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
- The secretary is away for a few days this week. Fewer people come into the office when she is away...they come in to chitchat or gossip with her. In contrast, when they come in to see me, it's usually some sort of crisis of body or heart or mind or soul. I like the quiet of the office these few days. I'm getting a lot of writing done and preparing for the arrival of our summer seminary intern. I need to bring together a lay committee to support her in her time with us. So should I give her some of the (ahem) challenging folks, so she can learn to negotiate her role with them? Should I give her the grandmotherly types, who will ply her with cookies and tell her all the parish gossip? Should I include a young person, to bring a different voice into the room? We shall see where the Spirit will lead.
- Last meeting of our Interfaith Clergy Group yesterday. A delight, thanks to the hospitality of our Baptist brother. Just as delightful as the food was the conversation. What a joy to sit around and talk theologically with a group of diverse people (in every sense) who are theologically educated! We talked about the five things the church has dropped the ball on (we came up with economic and educational justice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and talking more about what is enough in our lives). I also heard a description of hell that I hadn't encountered before: "My grandmother said it was so hot that if there was a stairway made of razor blades, you'd run up it in a heartbeat to escape the heat." And another recalled something she had heard in seminary, that hell is a place that demonstrates God's graciousness in that God loves us all so much, and is so generous to all, that he provides a wall for those who have chosen to step away from his presence. An interesting twist on the idea that hell is the absence of God's presence. We prayed for one of our number who is undergoing family stress, and another two who are contemplating merging their two churches, since neither is big enough to really support a church on its own. We talked about opening people's hearts and minds to a more expansive view of Christ's saving grace. I love these folks, their generous hearts, their sharp minds, their comfort in serving the folks where they are rather than always looking forward to a bigger pulpit.I learn every time we meet, and I'm honored to be stepping into the chairmanship of this group for the coming year.
- Family wedding this weekend. I am looking forward to it tremendously, especially because the bride's grandfather is conducting the ceremony. Busman's holiday of sorts, but it's a delight to be able to go and be present and enjoy! I understand my nephew, who is busily studying religion in college, is getting ready to ask me all sorts of questions about the Nicene Creed. I think I'll bring excerpts from Augustine's "Anti-Pelagian Letters" with me, just for giggles. PH and I are singing a duet - "Jesus, Like a Shepherd Lead Us," which was sung at their parents' and grandparents' wedding. Pray that the allergies are kept at bay and that I sing the first line right.
- Speaking of the wedding, I am charged with making the Groom's Cake. We have a Texas-shaped cake pan, since the groom is from TX, and the cake will be a two-layer almond cake with peach cream filling and vanilla buttercream, with marzipan yellow roses. The cake layers are made and frozen. I will make the cream filling tonight, and start on the marzipan roses. It will all have to be done and frozen by tomorrow night, so it arrives safely in PA on Friday afternoon. Haven't done serious pastry work in a while, so I'm feeling a little rusty. If it turns out halfway decent, I'll post a picture of it for you.
- Time to go prepare for the noon Eucharist with healing prayers. I expect the attendance will be sparse, since several of the usual attendees are away on a gambling holiday at Dover Downs. They always promise to donate 10% of their winnings, and I always have mixed feelings about it all. The good news is that this is simply low-stakes fun rather than addiction. Still.
- Thinking about the folks in Joplin. An old colleague of mine lives there...haven't been able to find out if he and his family are okay. Sigh. It's a tough world out there. Praying for all who have been affected.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
How do we build a church? Repent. Be baptized as a follower of Christ. Share the teachings. Share a simple meal.
That what we have been reflecting upon these past few weeks, as we have moved from the glory of the resurrection to the task of carrying on what Jesus taught us. Building a church, one step at a time.
It started out simple, but it didn’t take long before it got more complicated. We’re human beings. We tend to take the beautifully simple, and make it twisted and complex, with exceptions and questions and arguments and struggles for power.
We see how that starts to unfold in the earliest days of the church when we hear Stephen’s story today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. It’s a glorious moment…Stephen has an ecstatic vision of heaven and of Jesus, with God the Father. But then the people to whom he is speaking grab him and stone him to death. It is a martyr’s death, and Stephen dies echoing the words we heard from Jesus “Lord, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Not a very happy ending to Stephen doing what Jesus had told him to do, simply following the instructions to teach and to baptize. The rosy glow of excitement at the start of a mission ends in a brutal death, a palimpsest of the crucifixion.
Well, it’s a little more complicated than this truncated piece of Stephen’s mission would lead us to believe, so I’m going to give you some more of the story.
Stephen had been anointed and sent out into the mission field, along with some other people who seemed to have the gifts to do that work. Off he went, with memories of the time that Peter preached and 3000 were baptized.
It would be simple, right? Preach a good sermon and they would flock to him for baptism, right?
Stephen went to a synagogue to teach – that was how you reached out to members of the Jewish community, by teaching. He worked some miracles, the details of which are now lost in time. Some of the people were troubled by what they heard, and misrepresented his teachings, saying "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."
This got the synagogue leadership pretty upset, so they asked Stephen to come and explain himself. He responded with a fire and brimstone sermon – it runs fifty-two verses, much longer than any Episcopalian would sit still for – and it ends up, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it."
Whoa! Not a shock that the people who heard this excoriation reacted the way that they did. They were enraged.
And even though he followed up the sermon with a joyful exclamation that he was having a vision of heaven and of Jesus, they were having none of it. They did exactly what he himself predicted: this prophet of the words of Jesus was murdered.
That’s what we do to prophets when they tell us in no uncertain terms how off-track. we have become. Whether it is a scientist saying we need to address our excessive use of fossil fuels to save the earth, God’s creation, from catastrophic climate change, whether it is an economist saying that Federal budgets laden with pork-barrel spending and special deals for the rich are unsustainable, whether it is a doctor saying that if we don’t stop eating those Krispy Kremes we’re going to have a heart attack…we don’t like someone to tell us that we are doing something wrong. And so, either physically or metaphorically, we kill the prophets. Jesus knew that: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Say the wrong thing, you’ll come to a hard end.
That’s why we preachers so rarely preach like prophets. To be blunt, we’re afraid. We saw what happened to Stephen when he called them out. We saw what happened to Martin Luther, who was nearly killed several times for decrying the failures of the church. We saw what happened to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and professor who was killed by the Nazis for his opposition and for his part in an assassination attempt against Hitler. We saw what happened to Dr. Martin Luther King.
Prophets usually get killed.
No wonder we don’t preach like prophets.
There are exceptions, of course. The great Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann still preaches with power and conviction, reminding us of our heritage as Abraham and Sarah’s sons and daughters, and how we, like the Israelites, have often failed in our covenant with God. Stanley Hauerwas, a Christian ethicist and ardent opponent of war, is sometimes called the crankiest man on the planet. Yes, he’s cranky, just like Jeremiah was, or Isaiah. Prophets don’t care what people think of them. They call it like they see it.
So the question for me, when I hear Stephen’s story, is this: should I preach it like I see it, and start ducking when I see the stones headed my way? Should I temper the message so I don’t aggravate anyone’s sensibilities, but miss the opportunity to shape someone’s understanding about how they need to change to follow the Gospel?
Ah, yes…the Gospel. That’s what I go back to whenever I am perplexed.
So I take a look at today’s Gospel, Jesus in discourse with his disciples. This is a very familiar passage – we often proclaim it at memorial services, as you know. Jesus is talking, elliptically and poetically as he always does in the Gospel of John, about leaving them and going to be with his Father in heaven. They don’t get it. Not surprisingly, Thomas asks a clarifying question. Thomas is the king of the clarifying questions. Jesus answers “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus thinks he’s answered the question. But then Philip, one of the disciples that eventually went out into the mission field with Stephen, pipes up with another idea. “Well, Lord, we don’t quite understand all this way and truth and life stuff. Just make it simple for us. Just show us your heavenly Father and then we’ll be cool with it.” Seeing is believing, right? I guess he wasn’t paying attention during that whole mess with doubting Thomas and the wounds in the hands and side.
Now at that point, Jesus could have gotten all prophetic on him, and started shouting, “You stiff-necked dummy! Your heart and your ears are uncircumsized”, just as Stephen would later tell the listeners in the synagogue. But Jesus, although frustrated with their lack of understanding, chose to deal with it in a different way. He reframed the problem for them, and encouraged them. He was both prophetic and pastoral, a shepherd guiding his flock.
Jesus said, “I wish you would understand this. You don’t need to see the Father with your eyes. You’ve got me. See me, see my Father. It really is that simple. And if you trust me on this, you’ll be doing the same remarkable things that I have done while I was with you.”
Not a tirade about how thick they seemed. A sigh, and then an explanation, and then an encouragement.
And that’s the kind of prophetic preaching I think I can manage without fear of stones aimed at my head. Prophetic, but also pastoral. Sometimes my teaching and preaching will point out where we all get off track, where we all forget what Scripture teaches us. It would be presumptuous of me to assume that you’re the only ones with the problem here. We share the same struggles. We are all on this road together to greater fulfillment of the great commandment. So don’t expect me to call you a stiff-necked uncircumsized people – I know who among you has a stiff neck, but the other thing, that’s way too much information for any preacher to have – but do expect that sometimes we will talk together of uncomfortable things, of the ways we all struggle and fail, of the things we do that causes God to wonder if we are ever going to get it.
But if I don’t balance that with encouragement, with my certainty that with God’s help, we can all do better, then I deserve stones. If I simply say what we do wrong and don’t offer the hope that we can fulfill what Jesus expects of us, then I deserve criticism.
Building a church, as the disciples learned, is a process of trial and error. We do something, and it works marvelously (3000 baptized!) and we rejoice. We do something else, and it is an abysmal failure, and we worry that it will cause the walls to fall down around us, or that those stones will be aimed directly at our heads. But the thing the disciples figured out, a few dumb questions and a few arguments later, and that we are still figuring out amid our own questions and arguments, is the one thing that Jesus reminds us. He is with us. We ask him, he helps. He is the way, the truth and the life.
We build our church on him, speaking out when we get off-track, encouraging when we struggle. We are both prophetic and pastoral, because Jesus taught us to be. A stone here or there, it will happen. We will most likely not be stoned to death. We will ask dumb questions and get off-track. But no matter what, we have the best of teachers and models to help us, to give us the tools to build with.
And for the time being, please keep those stones in your pockets.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
The prophet Isaiah did his work during a time of transition and trial for the people of Israel. They fell into captivity by the Babylonians. The nation of Israel was split apart, with some staying in Israel, some being sent in dispersion to other parts of the Babylonian empire. As a result, in many parts of the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear of the great sadness of the people, dispersed, unable to follow the old ways, forced by their captors to entertain them, to work for them, to accept new ways and foods and rules that felt so very alien to them.
But this brief passage near the end of Isaiah’s recounting is a song of rejoicing. It is when the captive Israelites have returned home to their native land, and it is a time of joy. They are returned to their land and their God, and they are ecstatic.
Isaiah cries “By God’s spirit, I bring good news to the oppressed, I bind up the brokenhearted, I proclaim liberty and release! It is the year of the Lord’s favor, and of comfort for those who mourn. We will replace the ashes with garlands of flowers. We will replace the anointing oil of death and grief with that of joy.”
Could there not be a better passage from Scripture for us to ponder as we remember or brother in Christ, Alex M? Our beloved Alex, who is returned to his God with his broken heart mended, a garland on his head, anointed with the oil of gladness?
His life paralleled what Isaiah spoke of. Certainly he knew sadness. This past year, he lost his partner in life and love, his beloved Nadine. He had lost his brother and sister-in-law. His dear son David died tragically of brain cancer a decade ago. Sadness upon sadness, grief upon grief…layers of brokenheartedness.
Much as those children of Israel, dispersed across an alien empire did, so many centuries ago.
He knew about being a stranger in a strange land. He was born here – barely – his mother was pregnant with him when she arrived in this country from Lebanon. Although he was American by birth, he was Lebanese by blood, and by family, and the family relished and continues to relish its roots. And yet it could not have been easy to be a child from the Middle East in West Virginia. To always balance the competing requirements of being like all the American kids – though he was an American kid himself – and of honoring the beautiful culture and land that the family had left. A part of America, and yet like so many immigrants, not completely a part. A sense of difference, of expectations that might press down on him sometimes.
Much as those children of Israel did as they struggled in Babylon to find their way back to their own culture, their own place.
Alex could have chosen to focus on the tension between the two worlds he inhabited. He could have wept at the loss of homeland, as I suspect his own mother sometimes did. He could have thought too hard about those who thought he didn’t look American enough, or that he ate foods that were different.
Much as the children of Israel sometimes did, and complained bitterly about, during their time of trial.
But the bitter oil of mourning was not his flavor. He chose the oil of gladness.
He embraced his country, and it truly was his country. He served in the Armed Forces.
He kept true to the great beauty of his culture, relishing a good kibbeh or a delicious mamoul even this past weekend. He would argue as to the right proportion of lemon juice and garlic in the tabbouleh, and laugh while he was doing it.
He loved his work, and was good at it, whether at Dillard’s or at other retail establishments. He loved people, and his customers knew it. His was the adornment of the garland of fresh and beautiful flowers. No ashes of discontent or sadness for him.
He knew, in the way that only those who have had deep challenges in their lives do, that we do not travel this earth alone. We do it in companionship with others, who have their own deep challenges, who help each other, and with the help of the God who restores our joy over and over again.
He grieved, but he knew that grief, although deep, is transitory. He understood that God surrounds us with divine love and with the love of our families and friends, and it is that which binds up our wounded hearts.
We do grieve today. Alex was a delight. He never complained (except to Sandy and Sherry, but just to keep them on their toes). He was always supremely hospitable. I spent some time alone with him the day before I died. After we had shared prayers and Holy Communion and anointing, I said, “Just rest, Alex. I’ll sit here quietly and read and keep you company.” But he couldn’t rest. He felt the obligation to engage in conversation if I was in the room – I finally left so the dear man could actually fall asleep in peace. He didn’t want to put people out – he drove himself to WalMart frequently rather than waiting for one of the girls to take him, and was beloved of the clerks there, who delighted in conversing with him as he scootered around the store. How could we not grieve the loss of such a man?
But we know, as he knew, that he is now wearing that garland of flowers. He is anointed with the oil of gladness. He is with his dear ones, especially Nadine and David, who have the TV tuned to “Dancing with the Stars” and a plate of hummus and kibbeh and tabbouleh on the table. For Alex, and for all of us who love him, it is indeed the year of the Lord’s favor. It is good news. He is where he was intended to be, in the place where there is no oxygen tank necessary, no Lasix required. He is listening to the music and is watching people dancing, and perhaps even dancing a bit himself.
Alex M was an oak of righteousness, and he is rooted in heaven now, and we are graced by the gentle shade he has cast on all of us.
Thanks be to God.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
Sermon for Sunday, May 8, 2011 Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Luke 24:13-25 “The End of the World As We Know It”
In 1987, the musical group REM put out a song called "It's the End of the World As we Know It."
It was full of apocalyptic references – plagues of birds, earthquakes, planes oddly presaging those which flew into the World Trade Center…the singer spoke of all these end-time things, all that echoed in the world in that time, and ended up with the surprising phrase “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” Strange words. We think the end of the world will not be something about which we feel fine. We think it might be terrifying. How could anyone feel fine?
There have been a lot of news stories recently about the end of the world. A few folks believe that they have absolutely positively calculated the date when the rapture will occur. Hang in there – it’s not too far away – only two weeks to go. May 21st. Fasten your seat belts, folks – Judgment Day is upon us…or so say a few people who spend their days calculating God’s celestial date book.
On one of the websites that promote 5/21 as the big day, they also claim that God created the world in 11013 BC, and that the flood occurred in 4990 BC. What? God wouldn’t do big things in years that are round numbers? Or might it be, that God’s time, as Scripture reminds us, is not humanity’s time?
…and if that’s the case, all this business of calculating end time dates is nothing but foolishness. Jesus told us “…you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matt 25)
But trying to make sense of that which is unknowable is the constant preoccupation of us human creatures. We struggle with incomprehensible things. We want to fit them into our frame of reference, things that make sense to us. For some folks it’s playing with words to calculate when something will happen. For others, it is trying to rebuild after chaotic things change our world.
For us, at various points in our lives, “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” but we don’t feel fine. We feel disoriented, confused, troubled.
And that is just where Jesus’ followers were after Jesus had been crucified. It was the end of the world as they knew it. They felt awful, frightened, didn’t know what to do next. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. Jesus was supposed to be the King who saved them from the way the Roman empire pressed down on them like a strangling iron bar on their necks.
But he didn’t save them, or so they thought in those early days. He simply…died. His life was ended. His teachings, what did they mean now? They were grieving the man, and they were grieving the loss of hope.
How do you rebuild hope when hope is gone?
In the Gospel, we hear the story of how Jesus came back to them, to comfort and encourage them. To remind them that he was not dead, that he had risen. Those strange and subtle sentences he had shared with them, the promises that he would reign over a sovereignty that was not of this world, that he would die and rise again, those thoughts were floating around the outer reaches of their memory, but they could not put together what it all meant. Even with the stories of the women who had visited the tomb and found it empty, they still could not understand. For them, they truly feared that their world had ended when Jesus’ life was extinguished.
Two of those disciples were walking together to Emmaus. They were talking about everything that had happened – in modern terms, they were “processing” the trauma that they all had undergone in the week that preceded. Trying to make sense of it, trying to figure out the calculus of a dead rabbi who had preached a new understanding of relationship with God.
And then it starts out like an old joke: “Two disciples walk down the road…” but then they had a surprise. They met someone on the road who seemed strangely unaware of the happenings that had rocked them to their very core. They shared the chronicle with the stranger. Was the stranger another rabbi, another teacher? Surely he must be, because he calmed them, comforted them, explained the words that had been floating in their memories. He accompanied them to the place where the disciples were staying, and enjoyed a meal with them, a simple one. Bread. Wine. He blessed it, and broke it, just the same way as they had experienced just a few days earlier. And then they realized with whom they had been dining…it was indeed Jesus, risen from the dead. No sooner had they realized, than he vanished from their sight, evanescent as a flicker of a flame…just enough to keep them going. Just enough to rebuild their hope.
They were struggling, because the world as they knew it was indeed over. A new one had begun. They were amazed that they hadn’t recognized him at first, when they were talking to him on the road – “Weren’t our hearts burning when he taught us on the road?” –but they were strengthened by that brief visit, that confirmation that what Jesus had taught them was true. He was not dead. He was risen and again. A new beginning, and a shot of fortitude for those poor confused and frightened people.
An end, but also a beginning. Dramatic, right?
But what did it look like after that conversation? How did the church form itself in those first days? We’re practical people and we like practical how-to guides, don’t we? How do you start a church amid the ashes of what had gone before?
We find an answer in our first reading this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles.
In this passage, Peter is the prime rebuilder.
Now Peter was an unlikely person to be the rebuilder-in-chief. Remember, he was the one who denied Christ, not once, not twice, but three times. He regularly misunderstood what Jesus taught – remember the time he got so off-base that Jesus said “Get behind me, Satan?” Peter was the big, ungainly not-altogether-bright guy who sometimes had a bit of a temper. Think of the character Norm from the old sit-com “Cheers,” or the older brother Rob from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Not a natural leader, something of a coward when things get tough. Rebulder of hope? Hard to imagine.
And yet Peter does it. God uses even the most unlikely people to carry out the divine mission.
Peter stands up and says to the others, “we’re starting the work again. Yes, the Lord is gone, but he was truly the Messiah. And we all were responsible for his death, each of us in our own way. But we have work to do, the work he taught us to do.” Peter challenges those with him. They say “How do we make up for the fact that we were part of the reason for Jesus’ death?”
And he lays it out in very simple terms. Repent your sins, whatever they are. Get baptized – confess your belief in Jesus as the Christ. Accept the Holy Spirit which will come into you and guide you to a right life.
Rebuild one brick at a time. Repent for the things you’ve done before. Commit yourself to God through baptism. Have a meal, a simple one. Bread. Wine. That’s all it takes. Do the things that rebuild hope.
Some 3000 people became disciples that day. The hunger for hope, for a new world built on the remnants of the old one, is powerful and deep. At the end of the world, we must find a way to help fashion a new one. They did it. So can we.
In ways both individual and corporate, we may have had those Good Friday moments. It may have been the end of the world as we know it, but with God’s help we build a new one, and it will be fine. Good Friday is past. Eastertide is here.
And, by the way, on May 22nd, I expect we will all be here, worshipping the one whom we love above all others. Hopeful, growing stronger, feeling the Spirit in us in new ways. I feel fine!
Saturday, May 07, 2011
- great Book Group on Monday - I so enjoy this group and their wise and witty conversations!
- spent two and a half days up at ShrineMont for the Bishop's clergy conference. Interesting presentations (Frank Wade was particularly awesome), beautiful weather, Southern cooking, worship at the Shrine. Plus my husband was with me, celebrating his birthday in secret!
- good visits and conversation with a bunch of dear folks. I do love my work.
- one of my parishioners was named the county's "Teacher of the Year." She deserves it and then some! Go GW!
- a clean house, because we had some friends over for dinner last night. Menu was grilled pizza, green salad, French potato salad, grilled spice-rubbed flank steak, and a Texas cake (in the shape of Texas, not the flavor of Texas). It's a long story, involving a Groom's Cake to be made in the not-too-distant future. Yes, Hannah, the cake did release from the pan very nicely. Last night's version was white chocolate ganache frosting, almond cake, raspberry Bavarian filling.
- a trip to NoVA this evening for a retirement party. A long trip but this friend is worth it. There are frozen gougeres (cheese puffs) in the freezer that will go with us for the festivities.
- the sermon is written, the Adult Forum (first in a series about different faith traditions - tomorrow is Judaism) is done, and the house is still reasonably clean, even after last night's dinner party.
- StrongOpinions has only two more exams to go. Graduating from Columbia May 18th. TBTG!
Sunday, May 01, 2011
I happen to love the apostle Thomas. He reminds me of most children I know. He asks the question everyone is thinking, but would never dare to say aloud.
“Mommy, why is that woman so fat?”
“Why does that kid look weird?”
“Daddy, how come we can’t have ice cream but Uncle Joe gives his kids ice cream AND soda?”
Invariably, the parent of such a child, a child with no filter between brain and mouth , turns beet red in embarrassment and then shushes their offspring. “Johnny, that’s not a nice thing to say!”
And equally predictably, the child has a follow-up at the ready, “But it’s TRUUUUUUUE!”
At which point the parent either hisses, “I’ll explain it to you about it later,” or says “Sorry” to the victim of the drive-by question, or hauls the kid off to a corner for a little chat about being rude.
And so it goes. Our social conditioning trains us to avoid the questions that are troublesome, but our children, not yet fully socially conditioned, jump right in and ask uncomfortable questions. Honest questions, yes, but uncomfortable. Oh, how we hate those questions!
The irony, of course, is that we ourselves are usually thinking those questions just as our child is piping up with them. Not that we would ever admit it, of course…we’re so much more polite than that. A teensy bit dishonest, but avoiding being rude is better than a little white lie, right?
Well, Thomas the disciple seems to have missed that lesson. He must have been an interesting child to raise, don’t you think?
He asks the obvious question when Jesus, raised from the dead, stands among the disciples in that locked room. Everyone’s nerves are on edge, of course. Who knows whom the authorities will come after next? But Jesus is suddenly there, and they may be excused for being shocked. After all that stress, a trick of the eyes, perhaps….how could it be? Jesus had predicted his resurrection, but to see him again…
But the disciples are too polite to say out loud “Is this for real?” because they are equally afraid that the answer is yes, in which case they are in the presence of the most extraordinary of miracles, or the answer is no, in which case they are all losing their minds.
But Thomas? Thomas is that one with no filter between brain and mouth. He says out loud what the others may, in the darkest recesses of their hearts, be thinking: “This is too bizarre. Unreal, even. Unless I actually touch him, touch the wounds, I’m not buying it.”
Thomas gets a bad rap…Doubting Thomas, they call him. But being a seeker, wanting to know what is really going on, challenging and trying to understand, isn’t that what we all try to do?
His level of understanding of all he had learned from Jesus is pretty basic, because he missed the opportunity to ask the more meaningful question: “This is bizarre. What am I supposed to understand from this experience?”
Ah, that’s a question! Not one we’d expect from one of our children, who go to the most basic issues.
Thomas, childlike, is looking for a physical answer to a spiritual phenomenon. He wants to get some physical evidence of what seems to be a miracle. What he should be seeking is a spiritual answer to a physical phenomenon. Here is the risen Jesus Christ in front of him, in the flesh. How does his understanding of Jesus as God change as a result of this?
It’s exactly what Jesus then tries to lead him to.
"Come over here, put your hands into these wounds. Do you believe it now? Have you believed because you now have the physical evidence? Okay, you’ve got what you wanted, but blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. They start from faith, from the assumption that God is capable of anything, is more beautifully complex than we can comprehend, and then remarkably they begin to recognize God’s work around them and in them. They believe and then they see…
St Anselm of Canterbury, one of the great fathers of the church, put it this way: “I believe in order that I might understand.”
Miracles abound. We don’t see them unless we have a context for them. We believe, and then the unimaginable makes sense. The barren woman who conceives a child in old age. The first peony blooming in the garden in springtime. The cancer that was inoperable that has shrunk. A double rainbow. Tadpoles turning into frogs. The child who survives a horrific crash.
None of these things make sense in a merely scientific world, in a world where we seek physical evidence, our hands in the wounds, a world we try to make as small as our human minds can fathom.
But believe, then see how the Divine breath blows through this world in strange and wonderful ways.
Believe, and feel the rush of that breath in the garden, in the Risen Christ, in your hearts. Be blessed, and see.
If we believe, then the things that don’t make sense slowly begin to unfold. We no longer struggle to fit them into our human constructs, we see them for the expression of divine love and creativity that they are.
We are all Thomases, trying to treat Christ’s resurrection as if it were a mystery to be unraveled on an episode of CSI. Perhaps it is time to believe, and treat that Resurrection as if it were an exquisite work of art, a Michelangelo, a Picasso, to touch our hearts and open our minds to the depth and breadth and height of Divine gift.
Believe. What you will see if you try will amaze you.