Archive for April, 2018

Easter Alleluia

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

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John 15: 1-8

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Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

A Broken Alleluia in Worship

            An Easter Alleluia is a broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in history, and made flesh in your precious life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it. We walk by faith not by sight.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels. We hope for what we do not see. And what we do see is what we see in a mirror—dimly.  We need not over-preach, even in the glorious season of Easter. An Easter Alleluia is broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in community, and made flesh in life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it.  Can you sing a broken alleluia?

            For here we are, just for a moment, in worship.  Singing the hymns of Easter.  Hearing the Easter word.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            For a moment, move by the imagination to a borrowed upper room, say in Ephesus.  Candles burn.  A meal has been offered and received.  There is among the fifty, say, there present, a gradual settling, a quiet.  It may be a long quiet, starting from that late first century numinous circle and ending—here, now.   Acute pain abides in this circle, the pain of the loss of a beloved leader, the pain of the loss of a venerable religious tradition, the pain of the loss of a prized eschatological hope—love, faith, and hope, lost. Broken.

            Yet as the circle settles, a prayer and reading and a further silence and a long hymn sung, ALL Who has held them SPEAKS.  In the silence and in the singing and in then the antiphonal, mournful and joyful, worship antiphon.

            A verbal, spoken, uttered opening upon Ultimate Reality.

            How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed…?

            I am…light, life, resurrection, way, truth, Good Shepherd, door, bread, water.

            I am…the true vine. You shall know…’the truth’.  That they may know Thee the only ‘true’ God.

            Every heart has secret sorrows.  Every land has cavernous grief. For the antiphonal, ancient singers of our scriptural broken alleluia, the hurts are dislocation, disappointment and departure.

            Antiphon: ‘Abide in me…As I abide in you’.  Stay. Remain.  Settle.  Dig in. Locate.  Vines take a long time to grow.  But so?More than any other living scholar, John Ashton (The Gospel of John and Christian Origins) has pierced the meaning of this passage, and others like it. 

            Ashton: John’s portrait of Jesus arose from his constant awareness, which he shared with members of his community, that they were living in the presence of the Glorified One.  So dazzling was this glory, that any memory of a less-than-glorious Christ was altogether eclipsed.

            Ashton: ’The fear and anger of the Johannine community, as they see themselves exiled from the synagogue by those they call the Jews, is…projected back upon the life of Jesus’…’They had a burning conviction that they had been given the truth (led into all truth) and that through this truth they would come to enjoy a freedom that would release them from the constraints to which they were subjected: ‘the truth will set you free’’(95)

            Ashton: Conscious as they were of the continuing presence in their midst of the Glorified One, no wonder the community, or rather the evangelist who was its chief spokesman, smoothed out the rough edges of the traditions of the historical Jesus and expanded the points into stars. (They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not with the Jesus of history but with the risen and glorious Christ, and that this was a Christ free from all human weakness.  The claims they made for him were at the heart of the new religion that soon came to be called Christianity. (199)  The difference between John’s portrait of Christ and that of the Synoptists is best accounted for by the experience of the glorious Christ constantly present to him and his community (204)

            Ashton:  Some in the Johannine community spoke in the voice of Jesus.  Especially this is so in the ‘I Am’ sayings.  If Jesus on earth did not say these things who did?  Answer:  the Johannine prophet (s).

            Can you sing a broken alleluia?  Every hymn, for all its joy, carries a guttural memory of acute hurt.  In worship, can you sing for joy without forgetting the brokenness out of which that alleluia comes?  Let Charles Wesley, let Charles Tindley, let the poor of your past guide you.

A Broken Alleluia in History

            Or what about your place in history, our communal responsibility in real time?  A surface glide across Holy Scripture will not allow, cannot provide gospel insight.  You want to sift the Scriptures.  You want to know them inside and out, upside and down, through and through and through, and then, it may be, by happenstance or grace or the clumsy luck of a very human preacher, you may hear a steadying, saving word.  Look back an Easter month. There’s a blaze of light in every word. Not activism alone, but engagement matter most in history.

            Through this Easter season, Easter tide, you have perhaps noticed, noted, or winced to hear the letter of John, 1 John, amending, redacting, muting and amplifying the gospel of John.  You are keen listeners, practiced and adroit, so you will have wondered a bit about this. Why does 1 John nip at the heels of John?

      The two ‘books’ are written by different authors, in different decades, in different circumstances, with different motives.  The Gospel acclaims Spirit.  The Letter adds in work, ethics, morals, community, tradition, leadership and judgment from on high, rather than judgment by belief and by believer.  We may just have, it is important to say, the Gospel as part of the New Testament, with all its radicality, due to its brother named letter, vouching as it were for the sanity of the Gospel.  The letter, like James Morrison Witherby George Dupree, takes good care of its Gospel mother, the very cat’s mother, you see.  Milne:  James James

Morrison Morrison

Weatherby George Dupree

Took great

Care of his Mother

Though he was only three.

James James

Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;

“You must never go down to the end of the town, if

you don’t go down with me.”

            On April 8, the Gospel in chapter 20 revealed the Spirit, elsewhere called Paraclete or Advocate, come upon us, received and with it received the forgiveness of sins.  But at the heels, nipping, comes along 1 John in chapter 2, which names the Paraclete or Advocate not as Spirit but as Jesus Christ—the righteous—whose commandments all are to keep, on pain of disobedience become lying, and truth taken flight.  Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 15, the Gospel still lingering with the Lord and God risen, the letter in Chapter 3, on the qui vive and on the attack, spells out again in no uncertain terms that the righteous do the right, handsome is as handsome does. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 22, the Gospel in chapter 10 acclaiming the pastoral image of the Good Shepherd, whose one glorification on the cross is meant to obliterate the need of any other such, the letter, worried, worries out in chapter 3, a long and sorry recollection of Cain—Abel’s one-time brother—and the demands of love from one who laid down his life, and with whom and for whom we are then meant to do something of the same.  ‘Let us not love in word and speech but in deed and truth’, says 1 John 3, when the whole of the Gospel says the opposite, that words outlast deeds, and that speech, that of the glorious Risen, ever routs works. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            And now today, April 29, when and where our one Great Gospel, the Spiritual Gospel, counsels ‘abide’ and ‘remain’ in chapter 15, just here the letter of 1 John in chapter 4, fearing antinomial abandon, frolicking, deadly afraid that someone somewhere might be at peace or, worse, having fun, appends to his own most beautiful love poem, the charge again of lying, of lack of love of brother, of schism that surely created this letter, 1 John, as the spiritualists and the traditionalists, the Gnostics and the ethicists, parted company, one toward the free land of Montanus and Marcion, the other toward Rome and the emerging church, victorious, against which the Gospel was born, bred, written and preached. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            Of course, both are right.  Or we would not still need or read them, let alone together.  But you are right, too, to feel some neck pain, some whiplash, as Gospel soars and Letter deflates.  It is as if the Song of Solomon is being sung by Obededom.

            The blessed Scripture bears incontrovertible, conflicted witness.  Easter is a broken Alleluia, and was so already 20 centuries ago, as the resurrection cross of Jesus was raised up, in mournful joy, in a real joy made real by its honesty about sorrow.  History is endless contention and intractable difference, including religious history, perhaps especially including religious history.

            You then, in real time, as we read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read. You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis,which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.

            There may well come a time, for you, as a person of faith, to say something or do something, a time when some somewhat risky and uncomfortable mode of social involvement will beckon you.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

 A Broken Alleluia in Ljfe

            The more ample capacity of our northern neighbors to live in dialectic, including an Easter one, may help us today.

            Montreal self-deprecating Canada joke:  Montreal could have had the best of all worlds—British culture, American government and French cuisine; instead it got American culture, French government and British cuisine.  When you cross the border there are questions:  What is your name?  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  Do you have anything to declare?  Can you sing a broken Easter alleluia?  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            On the Canadian border, Jan, 1982 or 3, after the 9am service: ‘Was that an Easter sermon?’  We tried unsuccessfully to raise it from the dead before 11am.  A broken alleluia.

         And speaking of Montreal, Leonard Cohen, said of his broken alleluia: “It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs doexist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world.”  John was there before him, by 20 centuries. There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            You can’t get very close to Jesus (or Martin King or Howard Thurman or John the Divine) without prayer, hymnody, meditation, reading, study, Scripture, worship, preaching—RELIGION.

            Hear the Gospel!  Christ is Risen, absent and present, waiting to be heard at bedside above the rancorous cacophony about, shorn of his burial clothes, speaking to and through the spiritual confusion, the spiritual Alzheimer’s affliction of life.   There’s a blaze of light in every word.  Word broken or word holy.

            Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing hallelujah

Hallelujah

 You say I took the name in vain

I don’t even know the name

But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?

There’s a blaze of light in every word

It doesn’t matter which you heard

The holy or the broken hallelujah

Hallelujah 

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

Hallelujah

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

On Love and Sheep

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

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Click here to listen to the meditations only

How wonderful it is that Spring has finally decided to slowly show its face in Boston again! While some of us are still waiting for that perfect spring day of 65 degrees and sunshine, we cannot help but notice that in the course of the last week the grass has become a bit greener and the trees seem to have finally awoken from their winter slumber, putting forth buds and flowers. As I left my office yesterday afternoon, groups of students on blankets and playing frisbee dotted the BU Beach here behind the chapel – a sure sign that spring must be on its way. This year’s winter felt especially long, but the promise of warmer days and returning greenery has boosted my mood, and maybe yours as well.

            It’s amazing how deeply we feel our connection to the world around us, most of the time unconsciously. You may remember an especially rainy or cold day from the last few weeks when you found it difficult to get out of the warmth of your bed in the morning. Or how upon viewing a sunset with especially vibrant hues of pink, purple, and blue you stood amazed for a moment and the grandeur of the sky before you. Or maybe event sitting beside a lake or pond finding calm as you heard the shallow waves lap upon the shoreline. Deep within ourselves we find a rootedness with nature that can affect how we view the world, ourselves, and others. Indeed, we are in relationship with our environment.

            A few weeks ago, on one of those unseasonably cold Monday afternoons, a friend asked me to come to her class on Spiritual Companioning to talk with her students about nature and environmentalism as a spiritual practice. Prepared with a copy of Nature as Spiritual Practiceby Steven Chase, I invited the students to take part in an exercise entitled “Imprinted by Nature.” The activity encouraged them to reflect upon the location they grew up in – the natural surroundings, sounds, and smells and how they engaged with nature in that location. And then they were asked to think about how it compares to the area they live in now. After some time for reflection, most of the students recalled a great fondness for the area they grew up in. They described aspects of the natural world that calmed them, that had special memories attached to them, or that highlighted relationships with other people, such as grandparents or childhood friends. In contrast, when they thought of their current location, they often found it difficult to feel that same sense of connection to the world around them. The activity’s intent was to enable the students to realize the way that we have been shaped by the world around us. The truth is, the environments we grow up in create a sort of imprint on us when we are young that tacitly resides within each one of us, but that can be stirred up at any time just by taking a few moments to sit and reflect or by even encountering similar moments in our lives today.

            As a spiritual practice, the reflection on our ties with nature also connects us with the Divine. Theologians throughout the history of Christianity have commented on the ways in which nature facilitates our relationship with God. John Wesley encouraged Christians to experience the “immensity and magnificence, the power and wisdom of (Earth’s) Creator” by reading nature as a sacred text, a “mighty volume.” Martin Luther’s emphasis on the nature of God being both transcendent and immanent, “present in, through, and under all things” provides us with glimpses of the divine through our interaction with the world around us. Even Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan theologian, declared that “Nature is God’s greatest evangelist.” We may also reflect on the words of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 23 depicts our encounter with God as a Shepherd who watches over us in green pastures with calm waters. Our full humanity can be expressed in connecting ourselves to the world around us and understanding that we, too, are a part of the divine creation of the earth.

            Our connections with nature and the divine also lead us to think about the ways we are in relationship with others in our communities. People, after all, are a part of the environment. We interact with each other in the context of our environments. Our environments impact how we are able to acquire food, where we can live, and even our mental health. We live in and associate ourselves with communities that determine what values we share and uphold, which can subsequently shape our attitude toward the environment. When there is a disconnect in any of these relationships, we can lose sight of the divine presence in the world, and injustice can become prevalent.

            Today, we celebrate Earth Day. This national observance began 48 years ago in 1970. Grassroots activists, including numerous college students, were concerned with the ways the environment’s quality was being degraded. In response, they hosted teach-ins, protests, and other demonstrations to get their message across – the kind of activism which has become more familiar to us over the past year. The result was a general push in society to pay more attention to the ways in which human action harms the planet. The feeling and meaning of Earth Day has continued to grow as the environmental challenges we face have changed over time. Thankfully, churches have increased their involvement in the day, becoming value-laden locations of exploring the ways humans need to see themselves as part of creation rather than as separate from it.

Over the past week, Marsh Chapel hosted a variety of events to encourage the student body and the surrounding community to think about the ways in which we relate to the Earth.  How human beings have harmed the earth, how we can adapt and try to heal some of the harm committed, and also see they affects that the harm has on members of our human community. It was a week of varied emotions. On Tuesday, I stood out on Marsh plaza with tiny terra cotta pots, paints, and tiny succulent plants for students to decorate their own succulent to take home – an event we called “Planting in the Spirit.” I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions of students upon finding out that they could take home their own tiny succulent for free – “You’re kidding me! They’re so cute! This is seriously bringing me so much joy right now!” (I may have removed some creative expletives the original speakers used). These grand positive reactions all from a tiny plant that they could use to green up their dorm or apartment. It gave them a sense of connection to the rest of creation just by having another living organism to care for and appreciate.

In contrast, last Sunday afternoon, we heard the concerns of students and community members alike as to whether Boston has entered into the emergency stage of global Climate Change at our conversation “Are We Climate Ready?.” It was fruitful exchange, but a sobering reminder that there is still a great amount of work we must do in order to ensure a sustainable future for our planet. Throughout the week’s events, we strove to foster conversations and actions for folks to think about the ways they have become disconnected from the world around them and how they can remedy that disconnection.

            But perhaps, in light of the theme Christian love found within today’s lectionary readings, the most meaningful of the events was a panel discussion on Thursday night. The panel was entitled “Is it Bougie to be Green?: The Gentrification of the Eco-Movement.” We co-hosted with it thEcology, the environmental student group at the School of Theology. For those of you unfamiliar with the slang term “bougie” it ultimately derives from the French word “bourgeousie” which became famous in the works of Karl Marx for identifying the upper class. Today, the term “bougie” is commonly used to mean “aspiring to be a higher class than one is.” The idea behind this panel was to bring together people of faith from different backgrounds to discuss how socioeconomic factors can hinder involvement in environmentalism, and to challenge the depiction of environmentalism as a white, middle-class issue or concern. Our panelists were all leaders within their faith communities who believe that environmental justice issues should be foundational and intersectional with other justice issues prevalent in our communities – economic justice, racial justice, gender equality, and others. The panelists spoke passionately about how their experiences within the local church and their communities had informed their understanding of environmental justice issues and how to handle them from a faith perspective. They cited that the mainstreaming or trend-setting aspects of environmentalism often make it difficult for some people, especially low-income people, to have access to environmental practices due to the influence of commodification. They pointed out how particular aspects of environmentalism require you to have a certain amount of expendable income in order to participate – in buying organic foods, having access to greenspaces where you live, or investing in sustainable energy. And most importantly, how low-income communities often feel the greatest impacts of environmental degradation but have little means to act against it and are frequently forgotten by mainstream activism.

            What became clear in this panel discussion was that environmentalism should not be co-opted by greenwashed idealism that neglects to recognize the many layers of injustice that exist due to the nature of our economic systems. While remembering our connection to the natural world absolutely has value in helping to shape our appreciation for it and can help us encounter the divine, our love and care for the Earth and everything in it cannot stop there. We have to be aware of the ways that climate change and other environmental issues are impacting communities, and how those communities are finding ways to respond within themselves. The reality is effects of climate change are already making climate refugees – people who are being displaced from their homes because of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and lack of access to potable water. And these people are disproportionately impoverished – living along coastlines, steep inclines, and flood plains. Or they reside in island nations who are not so slowly losing their home country as encroaching sea levels make it impossible for people to stay. Pacific Islanders, Alaskans, and others have already begun to feel these effects have to relocate. The impacts are not somewhere out in the future, but here already, today. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at a meeting about climate change in Indonesia, “The issue of equity is crucial. Climate affects us all, but does not affect us all equally.”

            As Christians we must stand to express Christ’s love fully into the world. In 1 John we are reminded that our task in the world to emulate the love that Christ showed through “laying down his life for us.” The epistle echoes the sentiment of what the Good Shepherd does in John chapter 10 – “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He is not forced into this self-sacrifice, but instead, of his own volition, chooses to give up his life in order to protect his flock. His sacrifice is not for power or glory or payment, but for the good of the flock whom he knows and loves. A shepherd, as a leader of a flock, does not just care about himself or herself, but must be invested in the lives of all of the members of his/her flock. We, as Christians, as followers of Christ, are the sheep in this metaphor, but as sheep we learn from the shepherd how to be in the world.

 The writer of 1 John explicates the description of the role of the Christian further: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The Christian cannot simply pay lip service to love, but instead must be willing to act out the words that he/she professes in order to fully enact God’s love in the world. God’s command to love one another is to love to the point of enabling the flourishing of other, even if it means making sacrifices for the self. We must first recognize the power that we hold which privileges us within society and then, instead of using that power over others, surrendering that power for the sake of others. We may be sheep, but we are sheep who are bathed in the love of God and expected to convey that love into the world.

In her recent book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, United Methodist elder, author, and activist Sharon Delgado reminds Christians that it is not only a sense of ethical responsibility that should drive us to take care of God’s creation, but also because we can see the value expressed in it. She states:

“A strong sense of the value of creation provides a foundation for actions to preserve, defend, and renew the natural world…creation has value for us because we love it and because through it we experience the divine. We protect and defend creation not because we should, but because we care. This sense of caring includes the human family and extends to all parts of creation.” (Delgado, 185)

We need to let our love of creation, grounded in those deep-rooted connections we have with our environment, guide us into respect for the Earth that leads to love and care. Delgado is right in pointing out that we must include both our human and our earth family in all senses of our caring. By enabling God’s love to flow through us, we can see hope in the face of daunting challenges.

            In light of these environmental challenges we now face, we must utilize our knowledge of God’s love to enact justice in the world. If we are fortunate to have the privilege of comfortable existence and can take on some of the more mainstream attitudes of environmental action, such as recycling, composting, or decreasing our carbon footprints, then we must also bring attention to the ways that communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face the brunt of environmental injustices. We must find ways to be connected to these communities – to know our human neighbors as well as our environmental neighbors – in order to offer help in the most effective ways possible. We must speak truth to power when it comes to corporate practices that focus on making the maximum amount of profit at the expense of the livelihood of the most vulnerable within our society.  As we are led by the Good Shepherd who loves and comforts us, so too we must turn to the rest of our flock and find ways to express that love and care in the world around us.

As our antiphon stated today, “The Good Shepherd comes that we may have life and may have it abundantly.” Let us ensure that all have life abundantly.

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

The Bach Experience

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

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1 John 3: 1-7

Luke 24:36-48

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Personal Faith

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  

While personal faith is not merely individual faith, nonetheless, it is in persons, like you, that faith is received, and known, and nourished.   There is no hiding here, no hiding behind an unconsidered ignorance, nor behind a well-tempered philosophy, nor behind a mountainous and real hurt, nor behind sloth.  Your faith is yours, especially when it is about all you have left to go on.

So, you will continue, brightened by Easter, to develop and practice your faith.  We are not meant to live in Lent. We are meant to live in Easter. The difference Easter makes comes in part by way of a full body embrace of your own personal faith.

Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  Do you hope to be made whole in this lifetime?   

Knowing pardon, can you creatively and even at some risk, work with another whom you think needs your pardon, I beg your pardon, but who may himself think you need his?  Just how sharp is your faith in its faithful practice of what we pray, Come Sunday, ‘forgive…as we forgive’?

Longing for wholeness, can you creatively and even at some risk, take up work that you have long left behind, but you know is part of personal faith development—reading, prayer, giving, serving, listening?  Pardon? Wholeness? It is up to you.

Here the faithful Lutheran, JS Bach, can indeed help us, by means of his own example in faith.  His own Bible, we have recently been further taught, was laden with notes in the margin, questions, renderings, and ruminations.  

One may choose to play the piano again.  Another may take a language study. One may find a daily devotional reader, like the one my friend gave me by CS Lewis, which sits on my bureau so I can read it while tying my tie.  Another may sit in the quiet of the sanctuary for a while before worship, as did Emerson, I love the silent church before there is any speaking.  One may wander, saunter, flaneur dans le rue, walking for a bit every day (we even have a health group on the staff here doing so right now).  Another may start to journal, to record dreams, and to record insights, and to record angers and to record escapes. Teaching and learning are spiritual adventures in pursuit of invisibles and intangibles (W. Arrowsmith, as remembered by V. Kestenbaum).  Or, if nothing else, you can hardly do better than a conversation, in loving care, with another person of faith, over lunch, over coffee, over a beer, over the phone.  One may look hard at his sexual life, sexual activity, to see whether it becomes the gospel, and whether it approximates the very general guidance in the wisdom saying, In singleness integrity, in partnership fidelity.  At least one, probably, will choose to listen to the Marsh Chapel service, Come Sunday. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Dr. Jarrett:  in terms of today’s music, and text, what witness do you sense Bach brings us, of personal faith,  within the setting of this lovely cantata?

Bach

Today’s cantata, is, indeed, a lesson in faith, assurance, and the promise of God’s goodness in our lives. Cantata 69a – “Praise the Lord, o My Soul” was first performed on August 15, 1723, like all the cantatas in this year’s series, during Bach’s first three months as Cantor in Leipzig. We have seen in these cantatas not just a remarkable display of compositional craftsmanship, but also an authoritative theological understanding through both the compilation of the libretto and the setting of those texts. Cantata 69a features from beginning to end an exuberant and joyful hymn of praise of God and the good works that enable a life of faith. Opening with full festival forces with trumpets and timpani, Bach sets the words of Psalm 103, vs 2 in a marvelous double fugue. The music is absolutely radiant, brilliant, and brimming with the praise of all God’s faithful. With this rich texture, we can well imagine the sound of Wesley’s thousand tongues to sing the great Redeemer’s praise.

For Bach, the Gospel lesson of the day was from Mark 7, the account of Jesus healing the deaf man at the Sea of Galilee. As the cantata turns from corporate to personal praise, the soprano and tenor soloists join the voices that witnessed Jesus’s miracle proclaiming the goodness of his deeds, and the glory of God. The cheerful tenor aria is delightfully score for recorder and Oboe da caccia. Listen for the extended line that Bach writes for the word erzähle or “declare”, and like the man whose tongue Jesus loosed, the tenor promises a “Gott gefällig Singen durch die frohe Lippen” or a “God pleasing singing though joyful lips.”

With the following alto recit, we turn inward to remember our human frailty and shortcomings. With further reminder of the Gospel lesson, the alto calls on God to utter his mighty ‘Ephphata’ just as Jesus did in Mark 7:34. From the singing of that Aramaic word meaning “Be opened”, the otherwise syllabic recitative opens to a lovely melody on the words, “so wird mein Mund voll Dankens sein!” “ Then my mouth will be full of thanks!”

The bass aria which follows affirms God as Redeemer and Protector. The believer, here the voice of the bass, pens himself to Christ’s Cross and Passion, pledging to praise at all times. In the same way that Christ gladly took up the cross, thereby exalting his Passion, we, too, will rejoice and sing praise in our own Cross-bearing and suffering. Note the stark contrast of the lines for Kreuz und Leiden (Cross and Suffering) with “singt mein Mund mit Freuden” (My mouth sings with joy).

The final Chorale echoes the close of Mark 7 proclaiming “He hath done all things well!” “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, darbei will ich verbleiben.” Because God holds me in a fatherly embrace in his arms, I will let him alone govern me. Confidence, assurance, affirmation, and ultimately, faith to live in freedom, and freedom to live by faith.  

Social Involvement

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  Of deep personal faith, and active social involvement.

On the front porch of our beloved Marsh Chapel stands John Wesley, preaching, who reminds us that there is no holiness save social holiness (repeat).  In the tradition which gave birth to Boston University and to Marsh Chapel and so to our worship on this and every Sunday, personal faith and social involvement go together, and, in truth, are not found, except hand in hand.

As all of our eight days of worship, teaching, fellowship and remembrance, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have evinced among us, pistis and polis, faith and culture go together.   Here Bach may help us, if especially in the surge of beauty his music showers on us a sense of grace and in so doing gathers us as one.  The older Lutheran preference for the two kingdoms, Christ and Culture in paradox, is at some lesser closeness to the transformational aspiration in Wesley’s social holiness.  Yet Bach’s very vocational choice to embed himself in congregational musical life is itself a harbinger of transformation. More, the universal regard for the beauty of Bach itself places on the edge of a way forward, as a global village.

As Christian women and men, we are not free to celebrate faith apart from life, to affirm faith in ignorance of the polis, the city, the culture, the political.  The Bible itself is a 66-book declamation of social justice, at every turn, by every writer, with every chapter, at every point.   Moses, Amos, Micah, Matthew, Luke, Paul, All. Try and read the Bible without being confronted, accosted, seized and shaken by its fierce acclamation of the hope of justice.  Real religion is never very far from justice, even though justice alone, a crucial part of the Gospel, alone is not the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is love, which is more than justice—though not less.

You then, in real time, read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis, which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the use of military force, either as Christian pacifists, or as Christian activists watching for the just war adjectives: responsive, multilateral, proportional, non-imperial, just, and limited.

As a runner, say, you have reason and obligation to be concerned about the route itself.  Run with joy the race set, but neglect not to engage by precept and example the social support, the cultural forms required for the race.  The route. The roads cleared. The police. The first responders. The supporting cheerers. The rules and traditions. The many, thousands, standing by you, and standing with you, and standing for you.  Personal holiness is the run. Social holiness is the route. They go together.

Five years ago, today, we began Marathon Monday with our Marsh Chapel traditions.  The Dean’s breakfast. The meal of eggs, bacon, muffins and juice, with invitations to all undergraduates to arise before the race comes through Kenmore Square.  Music to sing, written in Boston long ago for a children’s choir,  “My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty”.  Longfellow cited, one if by land if two if by sea, and I on the opposite shore will be. The Gettysburg address recited, Fourscore and seven years ago. Then, out to the race and the day and the 26 mile family picnic on Boston’s best morning.  But as you know the day ended differently than planned, as our Wednesday April 11 remembrance this past week here at BU recalled.  Just recall the social involvement of those who expected to treat blisters and ended up placing tourniquets. Just recall the social involvement in the lives saved, hundreds saved, by prepared, well supported, team oriented hospitals and physicians.  Just recall your social involvement in the vigil that Tuesday evening on our plaza, the Wednesday evening worship service in our sanctuary, the Thursday morning service at the Cathedral with the President speaking words of grace, the Friday lock down.  Just recall the Monday global service for our own Lu Lingzi, which ended with her family, 18 together, bowing at the waist before the University and the world. Dime con quien corres, yo te dire quien eres.  You tell me WITH WHOM you run, and I will tell you who you are.

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  So, our song this Lord’s day, is just this:

Ah, would that I had a thousand tongues!

Ah, would that my mouth were

Empty of idle words!
 Ah, would that I said nothing other

Than what was geared to God’s praise!

Then I would proclaim the Highest’s goodness,

For all my life he has done so much for me

That I cannot thank Him in all eternity.

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean. &  Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

 

Easter Antinomy

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Click here to listen to the full service

John 20: 1-18

Click here to listen to the meditations only

Frontispiece

    Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

    The Lord is Risen.  Hallelujah.

    A few years ago, I stood at a friend’s hospital bedside.  Disoriented by hospital surroundings, harsh scents, frequent and sharp noises, brusque treatments, odd sights and the wholly unfamiliar atmosphere into which she had been cast, my friend the patient spoke anxiously about something only she could understand.  It was gibberish. She told clearly and convincingly a story that was gibberish. Her production of the tale was I think a way of fending off the threatening environment around. We listened, family and pastor. Her daughter simply stood alongside, rubbing her arm, as she talked.  The narrative became more and more wild and unfastened. I wondered what might be said, argued, to quell the storm. Nothing came to mind. Opposite, port side, her daughter calmly rubbed her arm, soothed her brow, straightened the bedding, listened, and, saving-ly, said, at last, ‘Yes, mom, it is hard, sometimes, to know what is real and what is not real’.

    Easter claims, in the teeth of death, that faith and love are real.  Death makes us mortal. Facing death in faith makes us human. Death makes us mortal.  Facing death in love makes us human.

Absence

    Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear in faith. Absence.  Go to church in love to. Presence. Absence\Presence.  Faith\Love. Choice\Church. Risen! Hallelujah!

    You know by hard experience that my preference come Sunday at 11am is to preach about sin and death and the joy of tithing.  But. This is Easter. So, that is all we shall say about my favorite themes.

    For today is Resurrection Day, a glad, joyful day.  For today, rubbing our arm and mopping our brow and turning down the bedding on those more regular themes, is One who, absent and present, in faith and love, by the bedside of your befuddlement, puzzlement, and confusion murmurs, whispers, ‘It is hard to know sometimes what is real and what is not’.

    The Gospel tells of two modes of resurrection, two experiences which the earliest Christians prized and preached, two senses of resurrection, both read today in John 20.

    Two contradictory meanings of the chief article of Christian belief, as Calvin named resurrection.  Thus, an Easter Antinomy, a paradox, a combination of contradictory truths, both true, different, opposite, complementary, dialectical:  an Easter Antimony.

    Peter and the Beloved Disciple (and with them the whole company of Christians militant and triumphant, including you and me) have one first experience of resurrection.  This is the experience of Jesus’ absence.

    An empty tomb.  Discarded grave clothing.  Silence. Emptiness. Nothing.

    In other gospels, an angel voice and message, but not here:  He is risen.  That is: he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.

    The first meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is that he is absent from this world, absent from our eyesight, absent from our apprehension, absent from the cave Plato so loved, with its dancing shadows.  Not here. See the place. Peter and John—for all their differences, Church and Spirit—had in common the race to see Jesus (which Peter lost and the Beloved Disciple won, as gospel ever trumps tradition and spirit ever trumps institution.) Peter and John went to find him and did not find him there. He is simply not to be found, AWOL, gone.  Our early sisters and brothers faced this absence and its fear, head on. They faced down fear in faith.

    You see.  The empty tomb creates an opportunity, a possibility, a challenge.  In fact, it forces—Jesus’ resurrection absence forces—an encounter with faith.  Resurrection means the power of an intervening word to be spoken and heard. Only a Risen, that is Absent, Christ, a hidden, silent God, the God beyond God, can also give the full possibility of faith.  If we knew everything, we would not need faith.

    He is risen means he is not here, so you must decide for yourself whether to live in faith or not, whether to face your fear in faith, or not.  It means that no one else is out there, or in there, or there, writing the script for your life, or for our shared life.  You have to write the script yourself. And. You have to write the script, set the stage, get the props, choose the cast, direct the show and star in it at the same time.  Acting alone won’t cut it. And that is plenty, plenty scary.  It means that God raised Jesus from the dead, now absent from your life, to give freedom, and to let the chips fall where they may.

    Last month I hurried out of the office in late afternoon, hoping to ‘miss the traffic’ on the way to Needham.  This is our lot in Boston, to live to miss the traffic. Half way to the car, I realized I had taken the wrong folder, and had to return to the office to pick up the speech I was to give that night at the 100-year-old Boston Minister’s Club (the age of the club, not of the members).  I came again out of the office and was met by a wonderful young woman, perhaps a senior, saying: “I need to talk to you.  It won’t take long. I need to ask for a prayer.  You see: I have just found the perfect job, and interviewed for it.  I pray they will send me on to the next level. It is the perfect job.”  It has been a while since I have used ‘perfect’ and ‘job’ in the same sentence, but, pray we did.  What a joy to be taught again by bright students about the thrill and possibility in life!

    But notice: After Good Friday service, I found a note perched like a bird on my office door window.  She had indeed succeeded! But more: her mother had said to her, mom to daughter, ‘Let your faith be greater than your fear’.  A note with that line, 40 hours before a two point Easter sermon, the first of which is ‘face your fear in faith’: that is serendipity a little close to the bone!

    An article last week recalled Desmond Tutu, a happy warrior, whose good humor in the face of real difficulty made others smile.  Reagan smiled to remember him, and when asked “How is Bishop Tutu?”, with a little whimsy replied, ‘Tutu—Soso”!

    That is the touch of humorous Novocain before the needle:  Tutu knew well about the faith forged in freedom. Desmond Tutu had it right:  God sure must love freedom because he has given us the freedom to go straight to hell if we so choose (repeat).

    The ‘silent as a tomb’ tomb puts before you today the matter of faith.

    Faith faces fear and embraces freedom.  It is God’s gift, received on the human side by a singular leap.

    Faith to live the good news of a loving God in the face of a stark cross, and an empty tomb.

    Faith in a silent, invisible God, hidden God, when so many visible idols tempt.

    Faith when you cannot see ahead.

    Faith as a walk in the dark.

    Faith when you are defeated.

    Faith to try something new, to take a new path.

    Faith to risk.

    Faith to open a door.

    Faith to face down fear.  It’s up to you!

    Jesus’ absence, which the disciples courageously took as a call to faith, is the first resurrection experience.  That is, the first thing the Gospel, and the Scripture and the Church have said about Easter is: he is absent, he is not here, see the place where they laid him.

Presence

    Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear with faith. Absence.  Live in love in church. Presence. Risen!  Hallelujah!

    The Easter Gospel tells a second truth.  The second truth stands contrary to the first, contradicts even the first, but does not eliminate the first.  Jesus is present. Mary says; “I have seen the Lord’. And several others chime in, finally and definitively Thomas, a few verses hence from today, doubting and fingering and swearing” “My Lord and My God!”  Others, along the Emmaus road: “Did our hearts not burn within us?” And all the early chapters of Acts. And the breakfast of fish with Jesus to come to Chapter 21.

    Without batting an eye, the earliest Christians affirmed, mightily and happily, an Easter antinomy.  Even as Peter proclaimed the tomb empty, Mary shouted back: “I have seen him”. Jesus’ presence, too, not just his absence, is felt, seen, and known.  Risen Christ Present—He is with us to open yet another possibility, challenge, and opportunity. Risen Christ present assembles the church, teaching love.  Resurrection is known in participation before doctrine (Tillich).

    A dramatist, celebrating Broadway, once wrote, “the only thing more frightening than being alone is being with someone”.   

    Resurrection means the resurrection of the body—of Christ: the church.  The body of Christ, the church carries the pronouncement of the intervening word, in her ministry of love, love of God, love of neighbor, and so lives as a community of faith working through love.

    Are we lovers anymore?

    The resurrection body of the church, the Body of Christ, breathes love.

    After twenty years of funerals, I was finally asked to be a pall bearer.  In ministry, you do weddings before you are a bride, you marry others’ children long before you marry off your own and have that expense I mean joy, you bury others’ dads and moms before yours die.  And you instruct pall bearers before you ever lift a casket yourself. We gathered in an old village church, with a light dusting of snow that morning, and sun filling the sanctuary. Hymns were sung, prayers offered, a short, true eulogy.  Flowers. A verse of ‘It is well with my soul’. A reading of Romans 5, the love of God poured into our hearts. The casket of a dear old Methodist lady, grandmother and friend. An invitation to lunch at the Grange. My children did not know what a Grange was.  Choir, do you? Again, the scent of flowers, the heft of the casket, to await burial when the ground had thawed. Christ present, surely, oddly, truly present, with us in grief and hope in the community of faith working through love.

    The church is so fallible, always both a representation and a distortion of the divine.  But when divine, so divine! At the Grange—look it up—over lunch, a north country memory emerged, true and loving.  Mrs. Skinner, an elderly minister’s widow, told about their assignment long ago to Conifer NY, in 1933. Here is an Adirondack logging town with one road in and one road out, as of then no church building.  The congregation met in—the Grange. They raised money in the depression to build a church. But a missionary visited, and told about the needs in China. So, the little congregation thought about it. (Are we lovers anymore?).  They looked around the Grange Hall where they had been worshipping a while already. And they decided they could do so a while longer. They sent the money raised for the church building—to China. ‘That was a loving church’ she remembered that cold funeral day.  That was a loving church in humble Conifer NY, 1933. You only have what you give away in love. Just when you think the church has broken your heart for the last time, Mrs. Skinner comes along to remind you of what love can mean.

    Are we lovers anymore?  Risen Christ Present schools us in how to be together in love for others.

    Speaking of school:  the church goes beyond the church.  One April long ago I had breakfast in the High School where decades earlier I had eaten school lunch, where Jan and I met singing in the choir.  Once one of the best schools in the country, it had fallen on harder times. But that morning a group of neighbors and parents and others were running a breakfast like our Easter breakfast this morning.  They flipped flap jacks. They fried bacon. They sold tickets. They took names and donations. They baked and talked and worked. Said one secular saint—I don’t forget it, so many years later—as she worked to support my Alma Mater: ‘I have to believe this school can work if we love it enough, if we just love it enough’.  You fill the blank for school:  library, neighborhood, college…country?  I believe it can work if we love it enough, if we just love it enough.  Christ wanders around outside of church. Present, oddly present, surely present, in work, in mission, in longing—in love.

    Are we lovers anymore?

Coda

    In absence, Christ gives faith.  In presence, Christ gives love.

    In absence, Christ teaches us to be our own-most selves.  In presence, Christ teaches us to be together.

    In absence, Christ begets faith, which is personal.  In presence, Christ begets love, which is communal.

    In absence, Christ forms courage in the heart, as he did for Peter on Easter.  In presence, Christ forms a company of lovers, a community of faith working through love, as he did through Mary on Easter.

    Faith and love are real.  Faith and love are the Easter Antinomy.  Faith and love are real resurrection experiences.

    The Easter Antinomy, two contradictory truths, snug as a bug in a rug together:  Jesus absent and Jesus present. In oxymoron, in paradox, both are true though they contradict one another, or, perhaps, because they contradict on another.

    Some mornings you wake up and sing with Mary, ‘I have seen the Lord’.  Some mornings you lose the foot race with Peter, but shout: ‘He is not here.  He is risen.’ Every day, things change: what made life, life, becomes absent; what will make life, life, becomes present.’

    Praise God!  Easter morning, now, both presence and absence radiate Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear with faith. Absence. Live in love in church. Presence. Risen! Hallelujah!

    Can you live, as taught Luther, praying as if it all depends on God and working as if it all depends on us?  Praying in presence and working in absence?

    Bitter cold winds, and an icy afternoon swept us into a warm little restaurant, in Kingston Ontario, of a February weekend a decade or three ago.  It is good to come in from the winter cold, to wait from the promise of warmth in spring. The fire crackled. The space and time for freedom in faith and joy in love heartened alongside the hearth.  Then, over the radio waves came a deep, hurting, baritone voice, that of Leonard Cohen, welling up out of Montreal, out of pain, out of life. A broken hallelujah, the only kind fit for the Christian on Easter, the only sort ample enough for the Easter Antinomy:  Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in?
    Risen?  Indeed! For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord’.

-The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.