Archive for April, 2010

April 25

Remembering Howard Thurman

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

John 10:22-30

Two Approaches to Christ in John 10

Two startling, conflicting approaches to Christ accost us in our Scripture lesson this morning. One, the Presence. Two, the shepherd. It may be that you, of a sudden, this hour, will find your way forward walking hand in hand, presence to the left, shepherd to the right. You may find you need a hand one day. WS Coffin: ‘They say religion is a crutch. What makes you think you don’t limp?’

Our verses were born—hear the coached breathing, the contractions, the shouts of pain—in distress. We shall suppose the following setting: the year 100ce, the place Ephesus, the audience a small, fierce and fledgling church, the cast a group of people who have been thrown out of their community at just the moment that they have lost their main belief. They have lost belonging and meaning in the same breath of contraction. That is, they once happily affirmed Jesus in the synagogue. But that lasted only as long as they were traditionally monotheistic. Once the Spirit said of Jesus, ‘I and the Father are one’ they had to pack their bags. To grow up, they had to leave home. In the same years—I prize the courageous honesty of these early relatives of yours—they had to face up to the fact that Jesus was not coming back, in the manner of the primitive hope, any time soon. The great, primary apocalyptic hope of the primitive church—‘with a cry of command, the archangels’ call, the sound of the trumpet’—proved false. Parousia gave way to Paraclete, Armageddon to the artistry of every day, and speculation to Spirit. Necessity once again gave birth to newness. They had to open the door and unshutter the window, to broaden their religious circle and open their spiritual perspective. You need to feel your way into a moment in life—yours or another’s—in which your community of friends is wrecked and your sense of purpose is destroyed.

For instance, in these days and weeks, we embrace those about to graduate.

As you participate in various community gatherings, and then are cast out or cast out into the real world, you may have occasion to recall the Scriptural witness today to similar experience.

What we hear in John 10 is a sermon, or part of one. You may wonder why modern sermons are not limited to 8 verses. Well, things do not always get better. (☺). Motion is not progress. In this sermon, delivered 70 years after the crucifixion, an explanation of disappointment and dislocation (remember, no apocalypse and no community of origin) is affirmed, to help people. Preaching is meant to help people. To know Christ is to know his benefits. We are out in the snowbank, de-communitized, for a reason, says the preacher. Jesus in Paraclete said: ‘I and the Father are one’. But for the traditional monotheists among us, this presents a problem. One, we got. Two? Not so much. And we haven’t even raised the Trinity issue, the move to three, yet. So it is time to move, to itinerate, to know again the lostness of being outside, starting over, existential commencement.

But. Jesus in Paraclete also says something else. Your greatest freedom may surprisingly be embedded in your most hurtful disappointment. Your truest grace may surprisingly be embedded in your most wrenching dislocation. That door once opened, that window once unshuttered, offer a clean breeze and warm sunlight.

We move to commencement, a new beginning, honoring our graduates, singing freedom into the maw of disappointment, singing grace into the cavernous maw of dislocation.

At least, that is what John’s little community discovered, and called eternal life, resurrection, salvation, truth. You didn’t need that tight knit community after all. You didn’t need that suprerannuated hope after all. Because: the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. ‘My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the clear though far off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can break my inmost calm, when to that rock I am clinging. If love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?’ Two Christs: one transcendent, one immanent, one divine, one human, one silent, one shepherd. The Father and I are one. My sheep hear my voice. There is nothing more personal than voice. Not fingerprint, not DNA, not Facebook catchalls. Voice is the personal given life. Hence, preaching, the sacrament of preaching. Romans 10: faith comes by hearing. I wonder whether you are deep enough in disappointment and dislocation to bump into freedom and grace? Every sermon in almost every religious tradition is a call to decision, a dualism of decision: a call to personal loving and giving, a call to communal giving and loving, a call to relational authority and authentic relationship, a call to service and care.

Our Day Today and Two Christological Perils

Our son Ben said once of his grandfather, ‘I love to hear his voice’. Last year, his grandfather survived a nearly mortal illness. There are not words to convey the joy, the gratitude, that we his family experience in his escape. Those who have been on the brink of death can appreciate 10:28, ‘I give them eternal life and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’. Not all such deliverance has an earthly horizon. Some freedom and some grace must await us across the river. And I don’t mean Harvard. But some comes to us here. He and my mother lived here in Boston 1950-1953. In 1975, he wrote the following sentences in the back of a book. I quote them with permission.

The temptation for the people of the church in every age is to believe: a) Jesus is only human; b) Jesus only appeared to be human. For those who settle on ‘a’ there is no power, no mystery, no pull to pry them out of much of life. For those who choose ‘b’ there is no hope because mankind cannot ascend the heights of divinity. Both are heresies. The pious wise men of 325ad saw, though they could not explain it, that he was fully human and fully divine.

They departed in 1953 just as Howard Thurman came to town. Rev. Gomes last week recalled, as he and I exchanged pulpits, that George Buttrick and Howard Thurman used to do the same. Thurman’s voice carries us into two dimensions, two realms of reality. He was 100 years ahead of his time, 50 years ago, (my standard way of introducing Thurman), so he is still 50 years ahead of you (and me). He evoked the Christ of Common Ground, transcendent, universal, shared, unconfined, free. He evoked the Christ of the Disinherited, immanent, particular, grasped, embodied, back against the wall. Two Christs. One and Shepherd. Calling out to you to know the grain of your own wood, not to cut against the grain of your own wood…

Our six ministry associates prepared this sermon, in three hours of mortal combat with me, and three hours of cultural and biblical exegesis, confronting John 10 and April 25. They turned for support to Howard Thurman. To his book, THE SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND. To his book, JESUS AND THE DISINHERITED. You can too. But they as a group vehemently argued against processed religion. It worse for you than processed food, they said. I like Wonder Bread, I objected. So they had to teach me to beware processed food and beware processed relgion. They showed me a video, ‘I am Sorry I am a Christian’. They confessed,‘Even though Easter has come, it does not always feel that way’, they said. Late April means more norma
l liturgy, a coming move out of the dorms (‘talk about dislocation’), new life and growth, but also old and enduring challenges. Hear they are, in voice, our 2010 Marsh Chapel Ministry Associates, lifting again Thurman’s Common Ground and Thurman’s Disinherited.

Thurman and Transcendence: The Search for Common Ground

I am Kelly Drescher, Ministry Associate on the Medical Campus:

Our work across campus this year has involved us in many individual lives and many forms of ministry, both with religious and with unreligious people. We have striven to bring a sense of freedom and grace to all, to recognize the ‘common ground’ upon which we walk. As Thurman wrote in the Search for Common Ground, “The Hopi Indian myth carries still, in its thematic emphasis on “the memory of a lost harmony””. (CG, 40)

I am Jen Quigley, Ministry Associate for Student Affairs:

There is a unity of living structures…that includes rocks, plants, animals, and humans. Antibodies and antigens. And the arrangement of a cell in a human child (CG, 40).

I am Lauren Miramontes, Ministry Associate for the Interfaith Council:

Thurman cites Plato: ‘Until philosophers are kings…and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside…cities will never have rest from their evils’. (CG, 53)

In the voice of Howard Thurman, 100 years ahead of his time 50 years ago, there is a regard for mystery, silence, presence, the transcendent, where Jesus the Paraclete can say, ‘I and the Father are One’. One in kinship with all of creation. One in kinship with every human being, so that nothing human is foreign to us. One in transformative engagement with the soup of our natural world, our home, our condition, our circumstance. One in openness to the great differences and diversities of personal, that is to say religious, expression, including myth from long ago and far away.

The Presence.

Thurman and Immanence: Jesus and the Disinherited

I am Micah Christian, Ministry Associate for First Year Students (our fourth, he follows Augie Delbert in 2009, David Romanik in 2008, and Larry Whitney in 2007):

‘Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life, and hatred was the great denial’ (JATD, 88)

I am Soren Hessler, Ministry Associate in Judicial Affairs:

‘There is something more to be said about the inner equipment growing out of the great affirmation of Jesus that a man is a child of God. If a man’s ego has been stabilized, resulting in a sure grounding of his sense of personal worth and dignity, then he is in a position to appraise his own intrinsic powers, gifts, talents and abilities. He no longer views his equipment through the darkened lenses of those who are largely responsible for his social position’ (JATD, 53).

I am John Prust, our other Ministry Associate for Interfaith Work:

The basic fact is that Christianity, as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker, appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed…In him was life, and the life was the light of all people…Wherever this spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.

The Shepherd, as well.

An Invitation to Faith

Jan and I came over here to Boston four years ago, in order to invest the last quarter of our ministry in the next generation of preachers, teachers, ministers of the gospel. You hear today six voices that will change the world for the better. I asked them, in Thurmanesque fashion, to tell me about their sense of the divine, about presence, about shepherd. Here is what they said:


is all the world to me…
loves me…
is perpetually ripe….
means freedom…
shows us that self giving love is the way to life (John)… is my transforming friend…
has got my back…
is the consoler of the poor…the lamp of the poor …
is unconditional love…
is the constant companion on life’s journey…
My greatest gift…
Patient pursuer….
In love with us….
the Hound of Heaven…
Friend on the Journey….
challenges us because he loves us…
brings out our best self…

Now we ask you, as we sing the hymns of Easter: How will you live out the deep river truths, presence and shepherd? How will you live down its opposition, however you understand it? Have you truly intuited the brevity of life? Have you really absorbed the capacity we have as humans to harm others? Have you faced the dualism of decision that is the marrow of every Sunday, every prayer, every sermon, every service? Are you ready to make a break for it? Are you ready to discover freedom in disappointment and grace in dislocation? Are you set to place one hand in that of The Presence, and the other in that of The Shepherd?

As Director Katherine Kennedy once said, “The beauty of Thurman is that he wasn’t trying to convert people to Christianity. Rather, he wanted people to see that there is a common ground we can reach by respecting one another’s differences, while still holding onto those beliefs that are uniquely ours.”
As we reflect on such questions, may we do so in the confidence of freedom and grace

Known in the promise of this season

Reflected in the joys of springtime

Overheard in the words and vows of commitment

Expanded into the lengthening evening daylight

Enjoyed in the gatherings of families and friends

Celebrated in the ceremonies of completion

And carried forward from this hour of worship and day of remembrance

In the words of Emily Dickinson:

I stepped from plank to plank
A slow and cautious way;
the stars above my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.

I knew not but the next
would be my final inch.
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call experience.

~ The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel

April 18

Still with Us

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the sermon only.

John 21:1-19

There will not be sermon text for this week.

April 11

Be Astonished

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20: 19-31

It’s no wonder our gospel reading today begins with the disciples locked in a room together hiding for fear of the outside world. Their friend was dead, an execution they themselves witnessed, and they were suddenly left very alone. Everything they had put their trust and hope in had vanished, and they were petrified. Were they next? Guilty by association? Surely they weren’t expecting their friend and leader to be tried and convicted, sentenced to death when all along they followed him and believed he was there to fix the bad, heal the broken, and inspire change. What now were they supposed to do? Jesus didn’t give leave them a guide book for ministry 101. Instead, the disciples were left very afraid and very confused, locked away, fearful for their lives, wondering how to go on.

We are blessed with the knowledge of an empty tomb and the risen Christ. But the beginning of our gospel reading today does not reflect hallelujahs or shouts of joy – not just yet. Instead, we sense fear and concern, anxiety and numbness as the disciples wonder how it is that Jesus is dead and missing from the tomb. When we look at our reading from Acts, we sense a very different kind of emotions. The disciples here are bold and confident, sure of their faith and eager to proclaim the message of the resurrection, even when danger surrounds them. It almost seems as if they are different people than those we witness hidden in the locked room in John’s gospel. If we keep reading John’s account of Jesus’ appearing before the disciples, we know that the disciples don’t just move from being terrified to being confident without something happening in between. They stood in the presence of the divine and were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Astonishment! Hope was renewed.

And now – we are in the second week of Easter, the psalmist praising God – Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! The tomb is empty, and death could not defeat the greatest good ever known. It’s the time of year for rebirth, new life, and warmth. Spring surrounds us, and we have a bounce in our step. The world is in bloom. Thankfully we don’t have to live in the darkness and harsh weather of winter all year. And thankfully the disciples didn’t remain in the locked room forever. When face to face with the living dead, they rejoiced. How fortunate for them to be in that room when the miracle of their risen friend appeared before them. How unfortunate for Thomas, who was not with them at the time of the appearing. No, he was away. And when he returned, he refused to believe. He was so defeated and swathed in sadness and grief that he could not believe such a tall tale, even though, I’m sure, somewhere deep inside of him, he wanted nothing more than to have faith in such a wonderful story.

A Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I sat in my reading chair with a cup of coffee next to me and I pulled a book of poetry off the shelf. It had been a long time since I read poetry, but a stirring inside moved me to find something by Mary Oliver, the Provincetown poet. I read slowly and breathed deeply. I should have known inspiration and imagination would strike me, and I was amazed and grateful for her honest words on the pages. What was interesting about the book I chose, out of all the others, was that this one in particular evoked very strong emotions for Oliver. This collection of poems were written and collaborated after the death of her longtime partner of over forty years. The loss of someone so dear, someone so close and cherished – how to go on living in the midst of such sorrow. How to keep on creating beauty in the midst of such heartbreak. How to have hope in the midst of despair. She does these things!

I keep coming back over and over to the first poem in this book, called Messenger. She begins by saying her work is loving the world. She then continues, “let me keep my mind on what matters…which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished… which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here, which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart, and these body clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever” (Thirst, pg. 1: 2006). This poems says it so beautifully – how we are to be in the world, messengers of the good news, bringing light to the darkness, even in the midst of our own personal struggles and sorrow. What matters? Letting ourselves be astonished. Everything we need, we already have – gratitude, minds, hearts, and a mouth.

Letting ourselves be astonished. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We just read about the disciples’ amazement over the figure of the risen Christ in their midst. They’re reaction could have been one of skepticism, eye brows cocked, taking a step back from Jesus, arms folded across their chests, demanding an answer for the mysterious intrusion into the locked room. They could have asked for details – how is it possible that you, O Lord, are alive? Where did you go? How did you come back? How is it that you can walk through doors? What was it like being dead? Luke didn’t mention any such reactions from the disciples, but instead they let the mystery surround them. They combined that mystery with what Jesus had already taught them during his ministry, and they firmly believed that his resurrection meant he was indeed the Messiah. No, in that moment, they let themselves be astonished. Now, Thomas found himself in a similar situation a week later, when Jesus appeared before him as well. In that moment, he didn’t demand anything from Christ. Instead, he too allowed himself to be astonished.

Growing up, the only thing I really knew about Thomas was his supposed failure. His doubting. The words of a simple children’s song run through my head, don’t be a doubting Thomas, trust fully on God’s promise, why worry, when you can pray. But, Thomas was so much more than the disciple who doubted Jesus’ resurrection. Earlier in John, it’s evident that Thomas was willing to follow Jesus even to death when he said to the other disciples, rallying them to move along, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas did not hesitate. He had hope when Jesus was alive. He watched him perform miracles, transform peoples’ lives, cause excitement, find followers, and speak of future promises, even things that were beyond his understanding at that time. Thomas gave his life to following this message bearer of good news, peace, and love. When that person died, a part of Thomas died as well. He was losing hope, unsure of anything while darkness covered the world. Just when his pain was going to be too much for him to bear, his hope was renewed, face to face with the living Christ, his beloved friend and trusted leader. He knew in that moment that his life was worth something, he meant something. He held onto hope, and he believed he could make a difference, as long as the message of the good news always was being lived out.

In his book, Hope on a Tightrope, Cornell West describes hope as a “messy struggle” through which the “real work” needs to be done (pg. 6: 2008). Often hope is seen as simply something better in the future, but that’s not where hope ends, that’s where it begins. It starts with being astonished – wonder and amazement. We need to let ourselves be moved and take the time to sit and listen. From astonishment comes imagination – for something better, for love, for justice, for equality, for Christ. A
ction follows. But how does this become real unless there are those willing to do the hard work, to dig deep and trudge knee high in the mud? We learn from the disciples in Acts that living out hope isn’t easy. How often were they persecuted. Disbelief surrounded them, yet they never stopped being the messengers of the miracle they had witnessed. They never stopped living out the hope they saw in Jesus’ life on earth. They recognized that hope meant living out the truth, in very real and very difficult ways.

West’s metaphor of hope being on a tightrope is interesting, isn’t it? A balancing act, slowly stepping across, one foot in front of the other, afraid to fall, to have to start all over again. When will we ever reach the other side? But hope is on a tightrope. It must go slowly, cautiously, anxiously, and eagerly. We fall into despair when we slip, but we get back up, like Thomas. We start over again. Again and again and again. Because it’s not always easy, and living out the truth is rarely effortless. We do not always live in the Easter moment, trumpets blaring, drums pounding, the scent of lilies surrounding us, the joyful song and speech of love eternal and redemption. No, we too often find ourselves caught in between, like the disciples and like Thomas, where it’s difficult to see beyond the dismal and dreary days towards the evidence of hope, of life anew, of the living Christ. Sometimes it’s not enough to simply hear a story. If we know the good news, we must be living it out, in order for others to not simply hear the story of Jesus’ resurrection, but also to see, to witness what hope actually looks like in the flesh.

But, the hope filled aren’t always joy filled. Just as the psalmist often wrote mournful and sorrowful lines about his despair, we too sink into the turmoil of the world around us. We aren’t always clanging the cymbal, dancing with praise, or letting out shouts of delight. We are human. Just as the human Jesus wept for his dear friend Lazarus, we too often find ourselves weeping. Just as the human Jesus felt anger at the people’s corruption of the temple, we too rise up out of anger because of the things beyond our control. Just as the human Jesus cried out to God in humble prayer in the garden, we too go alone to the quiet, dark places seeking out answers and crying out to God, overwhelmed and out of breath. Just as Thomas doubted the possibility of a miracle, we too doubt the possibility of change in the world around us.

Once a year I invite the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students I work with to join me in a night of storytelling in order to share our personal journeys, our joys, and our hardships. It’s a time for truth telling and sharing, based on trust and acceptance. I always preface the event by stating anyone can share as much or as little as wanted, and, for confidentiality’s sake, nothing leaves that room after we all go our separate ways. Most students are nervous and awkward at first, unsure of what to say or how to start. I step in and begin with a story from my undergraduate years, one to which they can relate and connect. There isn’t a better start to a new academic year than in this way, in my opinion. Honesty, community, laughter, tears – knowing that you aren’t alone on campus. Knowing that somebody is there for you, and all you have to do is ask. Knowing that others have gone through some of the same life experiences as you, and there are safe places to turn towards.

I often leave these meetings full of awe. I am astonished – over and over again by the struggles some of these students have gone through and continue to wrestle with. And, I am amazed at the joy often expressed in the midst of these struggles. It’s inspiring. The creativity and passion expressed through simple words reminds me of Mary Oliver, who also has been able to continually create and inspire in the midst of struggle. When I reflect on my time with these students in this setting, I see the hope dwelling up inside of them as they continue to listen and share. If they’re not alone and others share the same vision, inspiration strikes. Hope is renewed. Like Thomas, they realize they can make a difference, and that their lives have meaning.

Thomas just needed something a little more. He needed more than a story from his friends. He needed an encounter with the living Christ. He needed hope. If we truly are made in God’s image, and if we truly are called to be bearers of the good news, we must imitate Christ. We must. The disciples in Acts were filled with renewed hope, upon seeing the risen Christ and feeling the spirit move during Pentecost. They were no longer locked in the room full of despair and frozen with fear. They experienced the resurrection first hand. They had work to do, even to their deaths. Christ’s message of hope and love would not fade. They were called to be messengers. To breathe shouts of joy, and to continue the struggle of hope.

Be astonished, friends. Move from the fear and frustration, the numbness and sorrow towards amazement of what is and what more could be. Only when we allow ourselves to be astonished may we begin to envision something more for ourselves and our world, only then will we begin to be hopeful people, and only then will our imaginations push us to show that same hope to others. Take the time to see and hear, watch and listen. Let the simple things amaze you – the spider delicately hanging from a single strand, swaying in the breeze – the beauty of the pink blossoms along Commonwealth Avenue – the kindness expressed by students from Hugs Don’t Hate offering free hugs outside of Marsh Plaza. And also, be amazed at the things you never expected, that often seem preposterous, and let yourselves be astonished. Take the time to be moved. Only then will we invite imagination to be at work inside of us, our hope being renewed and worked out together. The biblical hope requires imagination to be at work, envisioning what could be – between human beings, nations, churches, and it requires us to live that out – the truth we know of these future promises. We are called to live out the good news – to live out the truth and inspire others along the way. Work your way across the tightrope wholeheartedly and zealously, and pick one another back up, after a fall. Help one another move from fear, like the disciples, to confidence, joy, and hope. With minds, hearts, and mouths tell the simple message of what you know to be true and alive. Be messengers, full of truth, full of mercy, full of hope, full of astonishment. Amen.

~ Liz Douglass,
Chapel Associate for LGBTQ Ministry

April 4

Resurrection Light

By Marsh Chapel


The Lord is Risen! Indeed.

In thy light, we see light, confesses the church of Christ. In thy light we see. Enchantment revealed. Humility found. Abandon unbound. “In lumine tuo videbimus lumen.”

Joanna, otherwise a stranger to us, has been included in the group of women who religiously approach the tomb. Our festival today affirms that religious practice, the detailed discipline of attention to the sacred, can be showered with light. They are keeping the Sabbath by waiting until the first day of the week. They are keeping tradition by anointing the body, with materials earlier prepared. They are keeping faith by facing death. By visiting the tomb, the flesh, the corpse. At early dawn…

In reverie I look back thirty two Easters and the days preceding them, and the dead rise up. Laurie, Edson, Stan, Mildred, Lucille. You will have your own names and faces and loved ones in mind. It is one thing to attend to religious practice, and another to do so, to visit the body, when you have loved the person. At early dawn…

At early dawn…Morning light is new light. Spring light is new light. Easter light is new light.

And along they come, toward us, along the practice road. Joanna, and others. You. You are here on Easter. Something, some lingering memory of a lingering memory, has brought you along. Religious practice—ask Joanna—can sometimes, suddenly, surprisingly, bring illumination. The great joy of Marsh Chapel is that our preaching is largely to those who are in between. Not religious enough to come to church, but religious enough to listen. Still within earshot. A paper, a bagel, a willingness in whimsy to enter a bit of religious practice from afar, by radio, by ipod, by internet, by computer. Come Easter, more than other Sundays, many have come here. The beauty of the Marsh pulpit: not preaching to the choir, but to the driver, the bagel muncher, the ipod user on a bicycle, the ecclesiastical expatriate, the atheist, the one harmed by the church, the musician attuned—seemingly—only to the music, the academic, the lonely at home.


Your bit of religious practice has brought you out into the light. How so? Just what are we doing here?

Joanna and the women, moving at dawn, through the mist, toward the tomb might say something to us. The seder meal affirms the covenant people’s mission to preserve and affirm a commitment to hope.

They might affirm what we find all around us, when we pause. (Pause, say, from—too much work, too much worry, too much talk, too much e-talk, too much food/sex/drink, too much fear). At dawn, through the mist, toward the tomb, they find joy, order, humor, hope, virtue, beauty, music. There is the sweet scent of a newborn child, silent in the arm. There is the orderly happiness of that rarest of arts, a well run meeting. There is touch of humor, the truth of mirth of courth. There is the native hue of resolution behind hope. There is the patterned simplicity of a well lived life. There is the beauty of dawn or sunset or both. There is music, beautiful music, invisible beauty, the ringing beauty of music. There are hints and allegations and forms of presence. You cannot be alive, humanly speaking, and miss them.

So thinking, with Joanna, you would rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach 10,000 stars how not to dance (eecummings).

We are not really in a position to say what God can and cannot do, are we? The resurrection questions us.

Welcome to enchantment. After all the winter of disenchantment, welcome. See, what do you see? In a resurrection light, you see wonder, you see amazement, you see awe, you see enchantment.

In Spain, in the evening, during the paseo—Adios, Hola—an introduction is made and then, ‘encantado, encantado en conocerle’. Enchanted.

You listen to a child singing alone just before falling to sleep, and tell me you sense no enchantment? You watch a 9 year old, ball glove on, striding toward Fenway park, other hand in his Dad’s other hand, and tell me you sense no enchantment? You see Lake Lucille. You look down from the Matterhorn. You walk in mid December through a jewelry store. You come into a barn at dawn, with the milking in gear, and Louis Armstrong on the radio. You watch a daughter caring for her mother in the last month of life. You hear the hymns of Easter. And tell me you sense no enchantment? No wonder? No “thaumadzon”?

And yet…

Oh, we hear the other tune, too. The natural horror of earthquake. The historical tragedy of warfare. The social failure of poverty. The resurrection follows but does not replace the cross. Enchantment comes with its measure of perplexity. As Ivan Karamazov tellingly put it, even one, just one suffering innocent defies explanation or defense. Ours will be a muted, a humble, enchantment, won by living through more than by thinking through.

Strange. The strongest people, the most radiant and generous, are often those who are living after and over against and nonetheless in spite of. I knew ‘Donald’ for several years, admiring and enjoying his radiant generosity, before over lunch I learned his early loss of his first wife. Emile Fackenheim said of his faith practice, post holocaust, that he lived so in order to deny Hitler posthumous victory.

Granted this is Easter. Still, you are here, listening. In the course of some religion, you may stumble upon something brighter still. Christ is calling you to faith. Christ is offering the gift of faith. Christ is the Living One, beckoning not directing but beckoning you to faith. His word has the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission

Luther: ‘When the heart clings to the word, feelings and reason must fail. Then in the course of time the will also clings to the Word, and with the will everything else, our desire and love, till we surrender ourselves entirely to the Gospel, are renewed and leave the old sin behind. Then there comes a different light, different feelings, different seeing, different hearing, acting, and speaking, and also a different outflow of good works…when the heart is holy, all the members become holy, and good works follow naturally.’ (Sermons, Easter, loc. cit.)

Resurrection light reveals enchantment.

The Lord is Risen! Indeed.


Inside the tomb, you see, in the shadow, as you see, there is much bowing and perplexity. In humility they find no body. (This is the only gospel to make sure that the word ‘body’ is used, and to our accepted reading, some manuscripts add ‘of Jesus’, to clarify both that the body is gone and whose body is gone.) In humility, as a matter of fact, we may as well admit to what we can see, as our eyes adjust to Luke’s tomb and text: the spices had been prepared, there are two men (not one angel) in dazzling apparel, A Great Question Rises: Why do you seek the living (singular—at title?) among the dead (plural)? Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James (and so of Jesus?) and Joanna and the other women (more women) are along, but the words seem to be an idle tale (‘nonsense’, ‘empty talk’), not believable (actually, the disciples ‘disbelieve’). Most notably, we may humbly mention, the last sentence was not included in the RSV text, and would not have been read just a few years ago. It (vs 12) is attached here, but only with cautions, for in truth it is probably a later addition. Added? Yes, added. Added to include Peter. A
dded? Yes, added. Added to fit with what will come later near Emmaus. Added? Yes, added. Added to record Peter’s ‘amazement’, which a few years ago was better translated ‘wondering’, which word has a tinge of perplexity, bewilderment, and uncertainty. (It has some eerily Johannine overtones: linens?).

Peter reappears, not quite believing, but willing to doubt his disbelief, wondering and amazed at…The Living One.

There is a humility about Peter in the Gospels that does not always appear in the life of the church. Peter, come lately, at least scurries, at least sees, at least wonders, at least shows some humility before what in any case is beyond us.

All the witnesses are convinced that they have encountered him in such a way that they were convinced that he was the living Lord, commissioning them to continued service.

‘If there is one thing the world needs now’, the Methodist preacher bellowed, ‘it is humility’. This in the course of a sermon titled, ‘World’s Greatest Sermon on Humility’. Which title was revised from the original, ‘Humility and How I Achieved It’. Religion particularly has difficulty with humility, as our age again has had to learn. And as for clergy, we remember Coffin’s coffinesque quip: ‘egotists with a theological alibi’.

Come Easter, we may meditate on the importance, the propriety, of humility before what in any case is beyond us.

And yet…

In our world, stones do not move themselves, bodies do not disappear overnight. Even in the ancient world, and even among the fiercest of followers, the story of the tomb, about which Paul knows nothing, is deemed ‘an idle tale’.

Friends, we must speak plainly about what we know, even as we speak passionately about what we believe. Resurrection comes from the religion Joanna and others carry with them to the tomb. Resurrection comes from Judaism, and from a particular hope in Judaism, an apocalyptic hope. In the range of religious reality available, to Jesus and Paul and Luke and all, the cosmic apocalyptic hope of resurrection, when the dead would be redeemed from graves, was the nearest best idiom available to say this: Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?

Resurrection from the dead comes from Jewish apocalyptic. It explains, interprets and experience, namely the appearance of Jesus to his disciples. He showed himself. “Resurrection is a reflective interpretation of encounters with the Living One which had the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission.” (IBD, supplement, loc. cit.).

Paul records his ‘appearance’: to Peter, to the twelve, to 500, to James, to the apostles, and last to Paul (1 Cor 15).

For this sermon, resurrection is the preaching of the Easter Gospel, the sacrament of hearing and speaking, by which faith comes: had the power to convince, to generate new community, to establish authorized leadership, and to commit to mission

Resurrection Light uncovers humility.

The Lord is Risen! Indeed.


As George Buttrick, across the river years ago, said, ‘resurrection is the lifting of personal life into a new dimension of light and power…not.. retrogression from the vivid personal into the vague and abstract impersonal…the inner evidence is the structure of our personal life; the outer evidence, meeting the inner evidence as light meets the eye, is in Jesus Christ… faith…beckoning, always with freedom for our choosing and response…by hint and gleam, lest we be coerced’ (Sermons From A University Pulpit, 176).

He makes a telling point: ‘he showed himself to those who loved him’. Those who hear and receive the abandon, the self-abandon of faith ‘see’ Him. Not by historical inquiry, but by participation is the gospel known (Tillich).

A man driving across Ireland had car trouble. He emerged from behind the wheel and could see no one, only a horse. Suddenly the horse leaned over the fence and said, ‘Open the hood, and let me have a look’. ‘You are a talking horse?’. ‘Yes. Clean the gaskets and retry the ignition.’ The car purred, and off the man drove, terrified. He stopped in a bar to calm his nerves with a drink. ‘You look terrible said the barkeep. What happened to you?’ ‘You won’t believe it. My car broke down. Then a horse came to me and spoke, and fixed my car’. ‘Really? What color was the horse?’ ‘Black. Why?’ ‘Well, you were lucky. There is white horse over there, too. But he doesn’t know anything about car mechanics.’

Whimsy. God is loving us into love and freeing us into freedom. Freedom means this: Reality is the arena of God’s cosmic process of redemption.(What is going on around us is infused with the divine)

Wonderment, perplexity, amazement.

Humility, service, ministry.


Freedom is the Easter gospel laid bare. It is the freedom to live each day on tip toe, to live each day as if it were the last, to live each day with abandon, to live each day with self-forgetful freedom. Lost in wonder, love and praise! Lost in enchanment, humility, and Abandon….

And yet…

Don’t we get lost in the woods with too much abandon?

We do get lost. It is our nature, east of Eden. We get lost in sex without love: lust. We get lost in consumption without nourishment: gluttony. We get lost in accumulation without investment: avarice. We get lost in rest without weariness, in happiness without struggle: sloth. We get lost in righteousness without restraint: anger. We get lost in desire without ration or respect: envy. And most regularly, we get lost in integrity without humility: pride. If you have never known lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy or pride you are not a sinner, you are outside the cloud of sin, and you need no repentance. (You may not be quite human either!)

Our seven sacramental moments in life are each and all meant to release us to self-abandon, self-giving, self-mockery. In Tillich’s phrase, to move from self-centered life to life of the centered self.

Our grandson was baptized at Christmas. He shrieked and squirmed. I was holding him. He always cries when I appear. “He does know people” was all Charlie’s Dad would say. Afterward, as he stumbled around the church, guided by non-relatives, I saw him in a baptized light, a new light, a resurrection light.

We had a Bishop who loved golf, and would include college students to fill a foursome. One day we finished and went to drink ice tea. A man from the foursome ahead of us shouted: “I left my putter on the eighth green. You were right behind us. Why didn’t you pick it up?” I wanted to say, you know, he is a Bishop, but I kept quiet. After a while the Bishop excused himself. He was gone a while, then came in the shop door with a putter and silently laid it on the man’s table. Afterward, thinking about cheeks and cloaks, I saw him in a new light, a confirmed light, a resurrection light.

Richard Neibuhr taught at Yale. I still assign, to my colleagues disgruntlement, his Christ and Culture. It is still unsurpassed. I am told that he was like Wesley a punctuality freak. One day a graduate student came late, and Neibuhr clicked his watch closed and glared at him. The silence was thunderous. But later that night, a knock came at the lowly students door. Professor Neibuhr simply said, “I apologize for treating you so harshly”. I remember that story and wish I were more generous. After hearing it, I saw teaching in a new light, a forgiven and pardoned and penitent light, a resurrection light.

Speaking of the classroom, in preaching class I have each of the students select and read or recite a poem. They can tell about their choice if they choose, choosing and choices being after all at the
heart of the preaching of the gospel. One woman gave hers, a Christopher Marlowe gem, and said she picked it because her fiancé had read it in asking for her hand in marriage. “And if these pleasures may thee move, come live with me and be my love”. Afterward, I saw that poem in a new light, a heteronomous and matrimonial light, a Resurrection Light.

Gary Bergh came through our School of Theology in the 1960’s. At various Episcopal whims and wishes he dutifully moved around from church to church, with his wife Linda, also a BUSTH grad. He preached the gospel and loved the people. He is one of the reasons I am here—here in ministry, here in Boston, here in the pulpit. About three months into a happy retirement he died. Just one of those middle of the night things. Except that for those who named him as a friend, his going was like the going of breath. You know, those of you who have and have lost friends. After his passing, I saw his service in a new light, an ordination light, a resurrection light.

Catherine Corrigan taught all our children fourth grade. She was a Boston native, and a nun for a long time, until Vatican II. She then traded her habit for a public school classroom. How she loved those kids. I think about her and I think is more radiantly alive dead than many people are alive. Cancer came upon her and took her, far too early. But after her funeral, I saw her in a new light, a last rite light, a resurrection light.

In a minute we will receive the Eucharist. What is Resurrection? For Peter Berger: “Faith in the resurrection if faith in a pivotal shift in the cosmic drama, not in a televisable occurrence in a Judean graveyard. “Christ is present, ‘in with and under’ the physical elements but without the empirical nature of these elements being miraculously changed”. (Questions of Faith, 188). What is Resurrection? For Paul Tillich: ‘participation not historical argument guarantees the reality of the event on which Christianity is based’. What is Resurrection? For Martin Luther (2:215): “If we preach only its history, it is an unprofitable sermon…when we preach to what end it serves it becomes profitable, wholesome and comforting”. (Sermons, Easter, loc. cit.) What is Resurrection? For Edmund Steimle: “A sermon that begins in the Bible, stays in the Bible, and ends in the Bible is UNBIBLICAL.” (Rice, Imagination and Interpretation, preface)

The Lord is Risen! Indeed.

Resurrection Light illumines abandon.

Let us pray.

In light of Resurrection, we pray, Lord grant us the revelation of enchantment, the uncovering of humility and the illumination of abandon.

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel.