Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sunday
May 17

This I Believe

By Marsh Chapel

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Acts 1:15–17, 21–26

John 17:6–19

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The test of the meditations will be posted shortly.

Sunday
May 10

Way, Truth, Life

By Marsh Chapel

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1 Peter 2:2–10

John 14:1-14

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          Wherever there is a way, there is Christ.  Wherever there is truth, there is Christ.  Wherever there is life, there is Christ.

          The Gospel today reveals three secrets to lasting health in life.  Here is the marrow of worship, wherein we care for the Body of Christ, to rediscover the things that make for peace.  This is the point of Mother’s Day, to reflect on the healthy habits of being, graciously given us by those who raised us, that have made us happy, and kept us healthy.  One day at a time. One day at a time. As my grandmother pasted on her kitchen door, in her late eighties, Today.  Do one thing.  There. You’ve done one thing.

          Now an opening confession, and a concern about your preacher today.  He is pretty rusty at preaching on Mothers’ Day.  For fourteen years past, here at Marsh Chapel, this was the Sunday our graduating seniors spoke (you will be pleased to hear four of them next Sunday, May 17).  For eleven years before that, in Rochester NY, the Mothers’ Day sermon was usually given by one of my three supremely talented female associates—with accumulated degrees from Boston University, from Colgate, from Yale, from University of Pennsylvania, from Colgate Rochester, and, exceptionally, preeminently from Ohio Wesleyan.  This was a practice based on the awareness that these three, pioneers from the first full wave, and at the top level, of women in ministry, also were all mothers of many years’ experience, and might actually know quite a bit more about it all than their boss. Which they did.  What gifts they brought to ministry!  (We shall continue to see, by the way, in similar fashion the gracious gifts, of gay clergy, now not just here and there, but in a great wave.)  Then, too, in Syracuse, the eleven years before that, the Sunday was devoted to a celebration of the United Methodist Women of that church, without whom no money would have been raised, no educational programs mounted, no mission investment done, nor hardly a fellowship dinner arranged.  The sermon came from the UMW President that day.  It usually began with an old story…

Like the one about the UMW group that was mistakenly sent to hell.  After a month the devil placed a long-distance phone call upstairs to heaven to ask that they be removed.  Why, asked Peter?  Because, said Beelzebub—they are thorn in my flesh.  They are organized.  They raise money.  They increase membership and now, the last straw, they have fundraiser to put in air conditioning.  I want them out of here.

          Or like the one about a friend who once received a gracious introduction with this humorous response: “I wish my parents were in the room to hear such a glowing, flattering introduction.  My father would have enjoyed it.  And my mother would have believed it!”

          Or like the one about the UMW leader who was asked, “Madam President, if I give lots of money to the church will it get me into heaven?”  Discarding all the theological responses to the contrary, she paused and replied, “Well, it’s worth a try!”

So, it has been 36 years, and the pastor today is a little rusty regarding Mothers’ Day preaching.  Bear with me, preach with me, and hear the Gospel; Way, Truth, Life.  Wherever there is a way, there is Christ.  Wherever there is truth, there is Christ.  Wherever there is life, there is Christ.  This is one of the deepest unities of the Scripture.  In the deep unities of Scripture, we lean again into the secrets of happy life.

          First, Way

           We learn from others.  Especially in the home.  What parents do is crucial.  Especially, we might say, during this virus, the example parents set will be the path children walk.  Parents, regardless of any or nor religious tradition, model dimensions of spirituality for their children.  Children watch and listen.  I think this Mothers’ Day 2020 of young mothers in New England.  Maybe you? Today, one half mom, one half professional, one half wife, one half home school administrator, one half neighbor.  And that’s not the half of it.

          One day I saw a young mother walking in a department store.  She had too little girls in tow to starboard, and her own elderly mother to port.  The girls pulled ahead, and grandma lagged behind, and between daughters and grandmother and promises to keep I thought I overheard this practical prayer from the mom in middle: “Lord get me through this day.”

          Phyllis Trible taught us long ago that reading the Bible involves your own perspective.  It matters what you bring with you into the reading room.  I imagine women, and men, on this Sunday, trying desperately to balance the generational claims of relationship.  And in some cases, to sift through hard memories, hurts, traumas left by another generation.  You are trying to raise another generation to be faithful, good boys and girls, women and men.  They know what they see.

          But we know others are hurting too, in harsher and different ways.  We keep things in perspective, and in prayer.  Think for a moment of the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, killed in the cross fire of race and class, the cross fire of culture and guns.  We hold things in perspective, and in prayer.

          Our Gospel lessons, like John 14, are primary sources for the time, occasion, community and condition in and for which they were first written.  They are secondary sources, at best, for what may have come before.  So, two weeks ago, Luke 24 showed us Luke, and his community, in joyful celebration of the mystery of the Lord’s ascent.  At his ascent they did assent, perhaps following decades of loss, displacement, and martyrdom.  Having lived through the long old-time religion winter of most of the first century, and all its rigors, they acclaimed a faith in a high, divine goodness, through it all.

This is the example that Jesus has shown us, in his life, and in the lives of his own.   More than we acknowledge, the examples of those around us sustain us in hidden, powerful ways.  Near Pittsburgh Frank Lloyd Wright built his famous home for the Kaufmann family, called “Falling Waters”.  It is built into the stone, on top of the flowing water, alongside the verdant forest, amid the wondrous rolling beauty of southern Pennsylvania.  It protrudes, suspended nearly in thin air, like our own lives so often seem to be.  The house is held up by cantilevers, like a diving board or a teeter totter.  The strength and saving grounding are hidden away in the rock, and out the house stretches.  I think that is like the hidden, silent strength that parents by example give to children.  We remember what we have seen, by example, through others.  This Mothers’ Day 2020 we think of suffrage and suffragettes 100 years ago:  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Staunton; of reforms and reformer, 100 years ago: Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman.

We learn from others.  Especially in the home.  What parents do is crucial.

 

          Second, Truth

          So too is what parents say.  As we are tightly quartered, now, parents at the office in the living room, and children at school in the dining room, we might want to measure what we say.  To think before we speak.

          For the gospel reveals another of the secrets to health, in what is said.  We learn from what is said to us by those whom we love.  Our minds cannot change unless our hearts are changed.  No argument will ever be as strong as ardent care.  What changes people comes from what is said by those they know who care.  One esteemed UTS professor could in the end never speak to me because he could never speak for me.  Especially, we might say, during this virus, the wisdom, the sayings, the forms of speech children hear from their parents will be more formative and more lasting than the pandemic itself.  A friend said to me, just recently, ‘I think of my grandmother telling me, ‘keep your wits about you, keep your wits about you.’

          At Sing Sing, almost100 years ago, another suffragette, the warden’s wife became one of those people.  She attended to the imprisoned.  When she found a blind prisoner, she learned Braille and taught him.  When she found a deaf prisoner, she learned sign language and taught him.  In that hardest of spaces, she spoke the language of love.  When she died and her coffin was pulled past the gates, the men stood in silence in her honor, and asked if the gate could be opened so that they might fill the chapel, promising to return.  The warden took them at their word, and to a man they kept the promise and returned.  We listen to those we trust.

          Our deeds are important.  So, Matthew Mark and Luke.  But so, and more so are our words.  So, we have a fourth gospel, John.  John best reminds us that what lasts is what we say.  What did Jesus say on the night he was glorified, John 14-17? John celebrates the secret in speech.  God-Christ-Spirit—all for John are known in the ‘glory’ that is the cross, the strange divine manner among us; the little preposition “in” holds the mystical magic every day—celebrate, dance, love, sing, live—God in Christ, Christ in God, we in him, they in us; a new commandment…new…new…something new…are we ready for something new?  Jesus has said something to us that is the very secret of lasting health.  What is it?

          He binds what he says to what he does.  Form and function come and go together.  So, Jesus is the Word, the Word of God for us.

          The Gospel continues to teach us something that is the very secret of lasting health and happiness.  At every step, Jesus is inviting you to deepen your capacity, to sharpen your acuity, to soften your heart.

          Third, Life

          Today we dimly realize, again, just how much Jesus has shared with us.  

 

I think of that young mother, balancing daughters and grandmother.  They stop at the counter, in Kaufmann’s, and she buys some perfumes and body lotions.  Later she wraps them and gives them as symbols of affection.  Especially, we might say, during this virus, the living, the sharing of life modeled by parents will in the long run have a sturdy, lasting effect on children.  It is not so much what we are going through, as how we are going through what we are going through, in spring 2020, that lasts.  It is not so much what we are going through, as how we are going through what we are going through, in spring 2020, that lasts.  

          We need to learn in the north from our southern cousins.  They have shown us how to take care of Mother Church. At least this.  We need to learn again to attend to the Body of Christ.  They care to apply the body lotions of hospitality and generosity to the Body of Christ.  They attend to the Body, like a mother tending her children and parents.  They attend to the Body, the church, the Body of Christ, like a young mother fretting for toddlers and the aged.  It is not just the Mind of Christ that we seek.  It is not only the Spirit of Christ that we need.  It is not solely the Truth of Christ that we desire.  We need years of body lotions, applied to the church, the Body of Christ, in the north. As Hal Luccock always said, in gentle reference to different religious cultures and worship attendance patterns, When I preached in the south the sermon hymn was always, ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing’. When I preached in the north, the Gospel Lesson was always, ‘Wherever two or three are gathered…’. 

          Oddly, or divinely, were we to invest ourselves fully in the house not made with hands, our more minor differences would gradually dissolve.  We need to apply some ointment, some healing salve, some body lotions to the Body of Christ.

          I remember visiting a young woman who had been raised by her grandmother. In the last months of her grandmother’s life, the young woman would visit, and I was privileged to watch their consort together.  She would stand by the bedside and comb her grandmother’s hair, and straighten her glasses, and rub her arms and hands with lotion.  It was a wordless rebaptism that meant more than all the Psalms of David and all the Parables of Jesus and all the paragraphs of the Book of Discipline.

          As Gene Outka of Yale put it: ‘God loves us before any merit on our part.  Love is spontaneous and unmotivated, indifferent to value, creative, and initiates fellowship…God’s love should (prevail) when we estimate our neighbors’ value.  We should not allow our dislike of particular harms others inflict on us, or our condemnation of particular evil deeds, however understandable or justified, to take normative precedence over God’s love for every person.  Such love should rather carry final authority for us, and evoke in us a corresponding love.’

This too is the secret of lasting health which Jesus has shared.

          The secret shown:  Love one another. Way.

          The secret spoken: Love one another.  Truth.

          The secret shared:  Love one another. Life.

          Coda

          Now, if memory serves, and remember your preacher today is rusty, a Mothers’ Day sermon concludes with a memory.  So, in the late spring of 1966, my mom invited me to have a talk on the back stoop of our parsonage, the only home then I had ever really known.  Now I had never been invited to back porch conversation.  In those days, gently, she ambled about the little town of Hamilton NY, a bucolic place, of ice skating, sleds, swimming lessons, autumn, the Baptist Church bells hour by hour and loud and deep, early in the morning, late at night.  After breakfast, one day that spring, gently, she sat with me on the back steps.  The words hardly landed, caught as I was in the Eastertide reverie of boyhood. Making plans for the next ball game. From where we sat, I could spot two windows through which I had flown, launched, catapulted two baseball.  Eric, whose dad was the Colgate librarian, was also involved. 2 Sons break, 2 fathers repair, the world turns.  I could see a half finished go cart, no wheels.  I could look at the neighbors’ garden, which I had also tilled for fun–such is youth.  Across the street lived the feared Russian professor, next door to the feared TKE fraternity, alongside a feared empty, and quite possibly haunted, house.  I could see the evidence of unreflective, free life, naive, unaware, redolent with happiness, responsive.  All this was about to change, for good or forever.  Gently she spoke, but again I could not quite hear or believe or intuit. “We are moving in June.  Next month we will leave Hamilton.  You will have your twelfth birthday in another town”.  It was clear that I did not comprehend.  “Bobby, we are going to move in June.” Then a torrent of words I did not understand, and to some measure still do not, came forth.  Itinerancy, appointment, Methodism, conference, apportionment, Bishop.  I also was not seeing her clearly, because somehow my eyes were all watered, producing a difficulty to see.  Probably due to pollen in the spring air, don’t you think?  We had not needed privacy, before, in which to speak.  Somehow, I should have known that a back-porch talk meant dark news.  And so early in the morning, early, too early to gather the friends, our fight and argue gang, and attempt to puzzle through the meaning of such disaster.  But the talk was not done.  Way, Truth, Life. She, my then young, lovely, gentle, mom, in example, and in speech, and in generosity, had something more to say.  ‘You know, I know this makes you very sad.  But this will the best thing that ever happened to you.  You will make new friends.  You will see.  You will have a new house, bigger and better.  You will see.  You can come back in the summer by bus for the Colgate chemistry program.  You will see.  Your sisters will be with you.  (Here she may have gotten a little off script).  You will see.  And there is something more.  Your dad and I and your siblings need you to help us to do this.  We are going to do this together.  You are the oldest.  And you can do it.  I just know you can, and I know you will.  You are going to love it.  I guarantee it.  And, of course, she was right. 

          Wherever there is a way, there is Christ.  Wherever there is truth, there is Christ.  Wherever there is life, there is Christ.

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

Sunday
May 3

The Shepherd

By Marsh Chapel

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1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

Acts 2:42-43

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        To begin, our colleague the Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman I have asked to give us a few verses from Robert Frost:

What now is inland shall be ocean isle,
Then eddies playing round a sunken reef
Like the curl at the corner of a smile;
And I could share Time’s lack of joy or grief
At such a planetary change of style.

I could give all to Time except – except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.

        Last Sunday, April 26, given the new and different schedule of Sunday during the pandemic, I happened to tune in to a television show, one new to me.  Before of course tuning in to WBUR for virtual worship of course.  Well, all Sunday morning TV is pretty much new to me, at least any such from the last forty some years or so.  I peddled along on my little stationary bike, sipped a coffee, and listened.  A familiar person—it took me a while to settle up on the memory of her name, not Katie Couric, not Meredith Vieira —with grace and a happy smile gave an overview of what the program would include.  Her name—ah yes, Jane Pauley.  She proposed to tell us about Julie Andrews.  

        Now most people of a certain age, and in fact many of any age, can begin singing, just at the introduction of her name.  Doe, a deer… Edelweiss…Chim chiminee…My favorite things…It was all very satisfactory, along with lazy exercise and coffee, and a kind of mental freedom somewhat or entirely new to me, Come Sunday.  In fact, it made you wonder how people leave this sort of thing behind and get going out the door to church at all.  Julie Andrews, she, of unmatchable voice, a four- octave voice as the music teacher in our home recalled, she lost her voice a few years ago in a medical operation. Did you know that?  She lost her voice.  Such a voice to lose.  Something pierced the heart, in a corona swept country, to be reminded amid our own immediate loss, of such a loss.  

        Now something happened.  In a whirl, a great whoosh, there appeared a combination of modes and media in the televised telling of this tale.  You had the guide speaking, the afore-remembered Ms. Pauley.  You had the grace and voice of the British star, Julie Andrews.  You had clips of scenes and songs from long ago, spliced and splashed into the moment.  You had soon enough the appearance of Ms. Andrews talented daughter, an author of children’s books.  You had footage of Ms. Andrews as a child in London during World War II.  Hm…You then had mother and daughter, across the miles from Long Island to Southern California, or as we like to call that area from our snow perch here in Boston, ‘heaven’.  They agreed that Ms. Andrews had found another sort of voice, in the work with her daughter on children’s books.

        It was the mixture of media, to which we are a bit more attuned here, now on Sunday, now last Sunday and now this Sunday that mesmerized, for a moment at least.  Splicing.  The old.  The new.  The Voice.  The music. An empty home, really, a kind of empty church.  All you needed was a sermon.  And it came.  The guide, the afore remembered Ms. Pauley asked the daughter, ‘what did your mother teach you that stands out in memory?’  Now that is a daunting question to answer in front of God and the whole televisioned world.  But she did neither falter nor quail at all.  ‘My mother taught me, ‘When in doubt, stand still.  When in doubt, stop, stand still’.

        Now that is in some fashion what happens for us on Sunday morning.  We come to church, or in this remarkable season, virtual worship, dressed in our doubts.  And we are asked, for just an hour, just one hour, to stand still.  To bring our doubts to the full emptiness of a silent church.  To bring our doubts to the fullness, the fullness of an empty church. 

        Ah, an empty church.  An empty church has a strange potent power to touch our hearts.  One church organist confessed that after practicing for a while, alone in the nave, he would sit, still, and “let the power of the place fill me”.  A woman told of entering an empty church after, by phone, she learned that her father had suffered a stroke: “the power of the place filled me”.  One young husband went late into a large old church when his wife went under the surgeon’s knife: “I let the power of that place help me”, he said of the empty nave.  Even a boy and girl in youth group once groped into a dark sanctuary to talk and touch and taste tender love: “the place, empty, was full”.  A Bishop, adrift in a sea of paper, prayed in a fully empty big sanctuary:  “it was powerful to be there”.  An empty church has a strange potent power to touch our hearts. Emerson:  I love the silent church, before any speaking.

        Augustine in Hippo there awaited the vandals.  St Aquinas there realized what he had written—a life work—was “so much straw”.  Thomas More there prayed before death.  Luther, Calvin and Wesley there awaited Christ.  Oscar Romero there died, in the prayer of humble access.  Though he had no elements, alone each morning Terry Waite in prison for four years had communion—by imagination—in all the great British Cathedrals:  Monday in Salisbury, Tuesday in Durham, Wednesday at Coventry….

        With you, I try to read the news and listen to the events of the day.  As you do, I try to overhear behind the immediate din of sounds and bites, something of the heart of people and of our people.  This spring, sometimes, I overhear a pained and painful sense of doubt about the possibilities in life.  A doubt that things can change very much.  A doubt that anything new could ever emerge.  A doubt that people can repent and turn around.  A doubt that systems, so entrenched and contentious, can ever be made orderly.  A doubt that any of the older differences among us can ever be bridged.  A doubt that any common expression of faith can be trusted.  A doubt that any common faith or common ground or common hope can ever, with authenticity, emerge and survive.  A doubt in which the radical postmodern apotheosis of difference has silenced the liberal late modern openness to shared experience, to promise and future, to common faith, common ground, common hope. A doubt that minimizing one’s own visibility or audibility, for the sake of something bigger and someone else, could ever be faithful or reasonable.  A doubt that the general public could be trusted to shoulder significant sacrifice.  A doubt that anything I do or you do would ever make a difference.  A doubt that this virus will ever let us go…A viral doubt.

        When this cloud of doubt gets so thick that it eclipses both the sun and the moon, it is time to hear again the gospel.  When in doubt, stand still. 

        John 10 today shows us the fullness of emptiness, presence in absence. John has always more than one opponent or contestant. He is fighting always on two fronts. So much for tradition, so much for culture. So much for depth, so much for breadth. So much for Hebrew, so much for Greek. So much for church and so much for community. So much for memory, so much for experience. John contrasts the freedom of Christ with fragile, formulaic faith. Things do not always fit into little boxes. The Hurricane winds of change, the reaches of pandemic, say, rearrange every manner of dwelling.

        The Gospel of John, more than any other ancient Christian writing, and in odd contrast to its prevalent misunderstanding abroad today, knew the necessity of nimble engagement of current experience, and the saving capacity to change, in the face of new circumstances.   The community of this Gospel could do so because they had experienced the Shepherd, present, ‘here’, here and now.  In distress, we hold onto divine presence, we hold onto the Shepherd– hic et nunc. Speaking, and hearing.  They found that in speaking of the Shepherd: ‘he is here’.  ‘I am…’  That is all, still, we have, the voice.  Utterance.  ‘I am…’  The ‘here’ is in the hearing.  Can you hear that?  It begs to be heard, here.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

        Others over time have heard the same.  At this time of year, I often think of Churchill and Wesley.

        These two Englishmen have something for us, in any spring time, and perhaps most especially this corona spring time.  Think of England in May 1940.  Think of London in May 1738.

        At the right moment, in May of 1940, Winston Churchill faced down the more polished, better heeled, more popular and more experienced old Britons of his newly formed war cabinet, and steadily led his country away from their desire to compromise with Adolf Hitler.  With Belgium defeated, Churchill clung to a love of freedom.  With France cut in two, Churchill clung to a love of freedom.  With 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk and escape virtually impossible, Churchill clung to a love of freedom.  With the whole German air force poised to incinerate England’s green and pleasant land, Churchill clung to a love of freedom.  With Lord Halifax ready to seek terms, and Lord Chamberlain ready to let him, Churchill clung to a love of freedom.   Re-read this summer John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940.   He concludes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War.  In the end, America and Russian did.  But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.”  Easter faith is about love of freedom. In his presence we find the courage for our own assent.

         In the same London, at midlife, one enchanting night in May of 1738, John Wesley heard something said in church that warmed his heart for good.   He had been on Aldersgate street that Sunday evening, going to chapel service more from duty than from passion, when he heard a preacher read Romans 8 and also Martin Luther’s commentary on that passage.  There is something so fragrant and so full about damp London in the springtime.  As he left church, Wesley felt something new, a freeing love in the heart, which is the creation and work of the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it.   Easter faith is about freeing love.  In his presence we find the courage for our own assent.

        There are for sure a lot of things wrong.  But there are also, and more surely still, a lot of things right.  Hear the good news.  You are witnesses of the goodness of God, witnesses who come from a long line of people who joyfully bless, and routinely give great thanks.  “Faith is an event expressing the conviction that the things not yet seen are more real than those that can be seen” (L Keck).  As you, as I, as we together walk toward our last adventure, our mortality, our own look over Jordan, it is this freeing love, which carries us.

        John 10 is an altar call for you.  Come Sunday, I propose that you come to an imagined communion, as did Terry Waite, ready to accept the gift of faith, to give assent in the hour of the divine presence, of the Sheperd:  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

        So come, to experience freeing love.  So come, to receive a love of freedom.  So come, to give thanks for the freedom to love.   Such is the gift of the Gospel, upon this Lord’s day.  So come, on a feast day of the Lord’s ready and willing, joyful and happy to assent to a new life of faith, hope and love.

        Wherever two or three are gathered, there I am with you.

        There is a fullness to an empty church, right here and just now.  I don’t see you.  I don’t hear you.  I don’t touch or taste or sense you present.  But I know you are out there, listening and praying and worshipping.  But I can’t see you.  That is something like faith, faith in God, in love, in meaning.  I don’t see it or hear it or measure it our touch it or scent it.  But I know it’s there.  So, alongside you, touched by the fullness of an empty church, I may just be able to go forward, as of old the apostles did too.

        To conclude, our colleague the Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman I have asked to give us our lectionary verses from Acts 2:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

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

Sunday
March 29

The Heart of Saint Teresa of Avila

By Marsh Chapel

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Romans 8:6-11

john 11:17-44

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Preface

            Someone asked last week, after our virtual worship service, about the meaning of the word ‘fallow’. “I had to look it up”, he said. “What does it mean?” A grandmother’s long-ago High School graduation gift, Webster’s Dictionary, answers: Fallow. Land plowed but not seeded for one or more growing seasons to kill weeds, or make the soil richer…The plowing of land to be left idle thus…left uncultivated or unplanted…untrained, inactive (esp. of the mind)…To leave land unplanted after plowing…to ‘lie fallow’, remain uncultivated, unused, unproductive…for at time. For a time, our time is a fallow time. You need not fear the fallow. You need not fear a fallow time. Come Sunday, a handful of worship leaders alone in an empty chapel, and an invisible but vibrant virtual congregation praying and singing along, we are honest about the fallow, our fallow time. Nevertheless, as Karl Barth would say, we are here to hallow the fallow. You are listening to hallow the fallow. You need not fear the fallow. You are offered strength to hallow the fallow.

John

            For the Gospel of John, allowed a meager three-week interjection into our lectionary this month, by interruption of Matthew, is centrally, even solely, an announcement of presence, divine presence, the presence of God, to hallow the fallow. Really only this theological, interpretative insight will make sense for you and me of John 11. In 90ad, 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). The preacher in John 11 announces presence. I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. You are a person of faith? Practice that presence.
You are a Christian? Practice that presence. You are a Christian yearning for a faith amendable to culture and culture amenable to faith? Are you? Yes? Practice that presence. The ancient, troubled, community of the beloved disciple, that of John, has your back. Even—especially—in a virulent epoch.

            Remember, what carries Jesus to the cross, in the Gospel of John, is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Not the cleansing of the temple, but the resurrection to life of Lazarus, in the Johannine narrative, brings the advent of the cross. Jesus is crucified because he claims divinity, and embodies divinity, in this Gospel. This makes a bit of sense of the placement of this reading just before Holy Week, rather than just after. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ does not capture the gravity and eternity of the moment, but it does give the average hearer a point of orientation to John 11. John Ashton wrote fiercely of this Gospel: 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…(His 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…(They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not (only) 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) (The Gospel of John and Christian Origins). For the two basic historical problems of the New Testament are ancient cousins, first cousins to our two fundamental issues of salvation today. The first historical problem behind our 27 books, and pre-eminently embedded in John, is a form of dislocation—our shared condition March 2020, dislocation–the movement away from Judaism. How did a religious movement, founded by a Jew, born in Judea, embraced by 12 and 500 within Judaism, expanded by a Jewish Christian missionary become, within 100 years, entirely Greek? The books of the New Testament record in excruciating detail the development of this second identity, this coming of age, that came with the separation from mother religion.

            The second historical problem underneath the Newer Testament is disappointment, the despair that gradually accompanied the delay, finally the cancellation, of Christ’s return, the delay of the parousia. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Paul expected to be alive to see the advent of Christ. Gradually, though, the church confessed disappointment in its greatest immediate hope, the sudden cataclysm of the end. These two problems, historical and fascinating, create our New Testament: the separation from Judaism and the delay of the parousia. In the fourth Gospel the two come together with great ferocity. What makes this matter so urgent for us is that these very two existential dilemmas—one of identity and one of imagination—are before every generation, including and especially our own. March, Lent 2020: how shall we live in faith? How do I become a real person? How do we weather lasting disappointment? How do I grow up? How do we become mature? What insight do I need, amid the truly harrowing struggles over identity, to become the woman or man I was meant to become? What imagination—what hope molded by courage—do we need to face down the ennui in distance, necessary and preventive? More than any other document in ancient Christianity, John explored the first. More than any other document in Christianity, John faced the second. Both mean choice. Both bring us to the summit of freedom. Once every three years, interrupting Matthew, we hear the great passages—Nicodemus, the Samaritans, the Blind Man, Lazarus. Hear the Gospel, John 11: We have the freedom to choose and to move:

1. From fear to love.

2. From spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.

3. From life to spirit.
4. From isolation to community.
5. From home to health.
6. From rainbow to firmament.
7. From control to freedom.

8. From spiritual hunger to hungry spirituality.
9. From nationalism to patriotism.
10.From denominationalism to ecumenism.

11.From death to life.

            In an Atlantic article this week, honest to the bone about our peril today, and rightly rejecting all thought that churches will be ‘full by Easter’ and other mendacities, Ed Yong nonetheless affirms: One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation. Buoyed by steady investments and an influx of the brightest minds, the health-care workforce surges. Gen (Z) kids write school essays about growing up to be epidemiologists. Public health becomes the centerpiece of foreign policy. The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change. In 2030, SARS-CoV-3 emerges from nowhere, and is brought to heel within a month. MAY IT BE SO.

Teresa

            Our Lenten Sermon Series, concluding today, has engaged in conversation with St. Teresa of Avila. From 2007-2016, Lent by Lent, we identified a theological conversation partner for the Lenten sermons, broadly speaking, out of the Calvinist tradition. In this decade, we have turned to the Catholic tradition. With Calvin we encountered the chief resource for others we engaged over ten years—voices like those of Jonathan Edwards (2015), Paul of Tarsus (2014), Marilyn Robinson (2013), Jacques Ellul (2012), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin, (2011), Karl Barth (2010), and Gabriel Vahanian (2007), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008). In this decade, beginning with Lent 2017, the Marsh pulpit, a traditionally Methodist one, turns left, not right, toward Rome not Geneva, and we will preach with, and learn from the Roman Catholic tradition, so important in the last 200 years in New England, and some of its great divines including Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola, Erasmus, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, and others, one per year. Perhaps you will suggest a name or two, not from Geneva, but from Rome? For those who recall, even if dimly, the vigor and excitement of Vatican II, there may well be other names to add to the list. We began with Henri Nouwen in 2017, and continued with Thomas Merton in 2018, turning last year 2019 to St. John of the Cross. Now, Lent 2020, we have listened in prayer for grace in the life, voice, heart, poetry and spirit of Santa Teresa of Avila. The heart of our Lenten theological conversation partner, 2020, Saint Teresa of Avila, her mode of prayerful, joyful living is found in… Recollection: collecting the mind’s facilities and faculties so as to be consciously present, to and with God. Discovery: The discovery of the self in and through ‘conversation’ with Christ is a discovery of the kinship with God bestowed by grace; and this is a discovery of an ever-expanding space of human growth in love and understanding…the turn inward to find God in the soul…the soul is like an infant at the breast…God’s will is that we become agents of love… Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving after communion is the center of spirituality Humility: ‘ I was humble enough to conceive of the humble Jesus Christ as my God’…For STOA not forgiveness but becoming a forgiving person is what matters…‘There are days on which one word alone distresses me’ (SO TRUE) Compassion: Not to judge one’s neighbor is one of the chief points of monastic virtue, in the eyes of the 4 th and 5 th century desert fathers of Egypt. Learning: STOA assumes the role of the teacher of Scripture, at a time and in a place when this was unheard of…she is an imaginative reader of Scripture and by her example shows the right of women to undertake this…hers is a fully incarnational pattern of spirituality Struggle: She was given to melancholy, and was a chronic depressive…left to itself, melancholy breeds madness…She further struggled, ‘having responsibility for a large number of volatile and often disturbed souls in the new communities of the reform Candor: ‘The point of real self-knowledge is to become free of the self…to turn attention to God in prayer…God’s will is the life of practical charity in community…obscure unease (Matt 19) is a saving grace…depression, illness, misunderstanding—these also keep alive a proper uneasiness…herein one finds strength for a longer journey…and for the disjunction of effort and grace… …pensamiento vs. endendimiento… Listening: God summons us into the castle…’like a good shepherd with a whistle so gentle that even the sheep themselves almost fail to hear it’ (beautiful). Simplicity: her instruction about prayer: use few, simple words…the pain of present circumstances, the moral and spiritual horror of the world…the compulsive self-destructiveness of people…and, THE BUTTERFLY… Prayer is home- coming…’There is a pervasive awareness of something begun, something promised, and the wait for it to come to fruition is agony. Love: Her prayer vocabulary includes: gift, beyond, locutions, ecstacy, visions, keeping Jesus before our eyes, to the height of ‘spiritual marriage’…the soul (deep), the spirit (high)…the point, ‘the birth always of good works’, and the soul’s forgetfulness…especially, ‘her well-loved fusion of the supposedly distinct vocations of Mary and Martha, established as the highest stage of spiritual growth… Rowan Williams, whose book, TERESA, has in part guided us this month, concludes for us: ‘In Teresa, mysticism is demystified. Like SJDLC, she emphasizes not moments, but ‘stages in the movement Godwards…decay and recomposition of available models of religious meaning…a hunger for illusory soliditiy…mystics (more than others) need a religious tradition Upanishad: monist; Gita: personal…STOA internalizes a wide range of Christian themes, myths, images… Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, SJDLC …these provide ‘points of orientation, touchstones of integrity…and then broad comprehension…

Coda

            To conclude, this week we received many prayerful notes. One read:

            Good Morning Bob,
I pray you and the entire chapel staff are well and keeping safe. I just wanted to drop-in virtually to say hello and let you know that I have listened to the services by podcast but am missing community worship. I look forward to the day that we will worship together again. Thank you for your presence and your prayers, I appreciate you. Blessings to you and your lovely wife.
To which, this response:

Dear (Friend)
            Thank you for this prayerful note, loving and honest. I share your sense of loss. It is a fallow time. It will be a lasting reminder of how precious every Sunday together is for us. But it will be a while still before we can return. So we will hold each other close in prayer, and do kindnesses, as you have done in writing.
Blessings,
            Bob

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

Sunday
May 22

Baccalaureate

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear Dean Hill’s introduction of Dr. Zewail and Dr. Zewail’s address
Click here to watch the video of Dr. Zewail’s address

Boston University’s 2011 Baccalaureate speaker was Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Ahmed Zewail. Later in the day, Dr. Zewail was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree at BU’s 138th Commencement. For more information about Dr. Zewail, please read BU Today’s article.

There will be no sermon text posted for this Baccalaureate address.

Sunday
May 8

Journeying On

By Marsh Chapel

Allow me this morning to publicly express my gratitude to Dean Hill for giving me my very own preaching series. Yes, indeed, you have arrived at Marsh Chapel, whether in person, or by radio waves or by internet signals, for the first offering in Br. Larry’s 2011 secular holiday preaching series. We begin today, Mother’s Day, and will pick up again at the end of May with Memorial Day. The series concludes on July 4, Independence Day. I consider it the highest honor to have been invited to participate in the life of Marsh Chapel in this way, although I would encourage you to note that Dean Hill reserved for himself that pinnacle of secular holidays. Yes, the very one you are remembering just now from back in February, Groundhog Day. I can only pray that some day I will attain to such a stature in preaching as to aspire to be invited on so noble an occasion. Speaking of prayer.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

Holy and Gracious God, we gather this morning of Mother’s Day and we celebrate the mothers here with us and the mothers, for some of us, who dwell far away. Keep our hearts and minds, this day and all days, in the mothering presence of your most Holy Spirit, that the thoughts of minds and the meditations of our hearts might be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Surely you have had the experience of being a passenger in a car traversing the streets of Boston. You are riding along on your way to an afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts. You know where you are going. Your driver knows where she is going. You sit smiling as you gaze out the windows. Then, your driver takes a turn. “Hmmm…” you think, “this must be a shortcut. I should pay attention for the next time when I am the one driving.” Another turn. “Really. Interesting. I never would have thought to go this way,” your minds voice utters. A third turn. Now it is impossible for you to contain your words any longer. “Um, where are you going?” “Well,” your companion replies, “I am going to the MFA. Where did you think I was going?” “Yes, I thought we were going to the MFA, too, but the MFA is over there,” you reply, pointing back through the rear windshield. “Yes, dear,” says your companion, soothingly. “But this is Boston. Sometimes it is necessary to circumnavigate the entire city just to get next door.”

Amen? Amen.

“Where are you going?” There are actually two questions bound up in this one verbal ejaculation, but let us begin by taking the question at face value. It is certainly a legitimate question to ask as we consider the journey of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is another question that we might wish to ask along with Cleopas of his companion, namely, who are you? That line of questioning, however, at least at this stage, is not terribly likely to arrive at positive results. On the other hand, it is not entirely clear that our “Where are you going?” question will lead to positive results, either given that there is no clear evidence of a village called Emmaus two stadia, which is about fifty miles, from Jerusalem. This is to say that we do not know precisely where Cleopas and his friend were going, but the question remains relevant for us.

“Where are you going?” This question may be a constant, and perhaps somewhat grating, refrain for many of our graduating students here at Boston University. Family, faculty, friends, chaplains: all want to know where our graduates will be going next. Bound up in the question are clearly many other questions. “Do you have a job?” “Are you going to graduate school in the fall?” “Are you staying in Boston or moving back home or somewhere else entirely?” There are broader implications of the question as well, not merely about the immediate future but about the long term. “Do you have a plan?” “Are you career minded?” “What are you going to be, now that you are grown up?” And the questions have implications beyond merely the trajectory of career and work. “Are you going to get married?” “Are you going to have children?” “Are you going to be able to put your life together in such a way that you will both be fulfilled and able to pay the rent?”

“Where are you going?” In a time of global economic and political uncertainty, it can be especially challenging to even acknowledge the question. “Do you have a job?” “No, but not for lack of trying.” “Are you going to graduate school?” “Well, yes, but only because I cannot find a job, and by the way, I have no idea how I am going to pay for it, either now, or in the long term.” “Are you going to stay in Boston or move home?” “Well, I would like to stay in Boston, but Boston is expensive, and although I really do not want to be the graduate who spends the next two to three years living in my parents basement, I really do not see that I have any better options at this point.” Sorry, dear friends, but here at Marsh Chapel we do not preach a prosperity gospel but a Gospel of responsible Christian liberalism, which is to say that we abide in a realistic spirit with great hope for the possibilities of the future. It is in the spirit of realism that we must confess that the prospects are not what we might have hoped when we began four years ago. And it is in hope that we journey on.

It is a funny thing, returning for a moment to our pair of companions seeking to find their way to the MFA, that the question posed by the passenger to the driver, “Where are you going?” is not really a question as to the destination, but as to the route. This is to say that passenger and driver are both clear on where it is they intend to go. They are both aiming toward the MFA. It is just that the real route of the driver does not quite align with the ideal route of the passenger. Indeed, the real question the passenger is asking when verbalizing, “Where are you going?” is, “How are you going to get there?” This too is a question we may wish to bring to Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus. After all, it is a neat trick not only to arrive but merely to set out toward a village of which there is no evidence of existence. How do you get to somewhere that isn’t?

It is my great hope that there is a primacy of the “How are you going to get there?” question in the “Where are you going?” inquisition that our graduates are racked upon by family, friends, faculty, and yes, chaplains. Indeed, of the two, it is the more profound. “Where are you going?” is simply to inquire of a single point, and the final point in the series, at that. “How are you going to get there?” inquires as to all of the infinitesimal points in between here and wherever it is you may be going. Furthermore, it is not so much a quantitative question about the points themselves, but a qualitative and relational question directed more toward the person for whom those points will be constitutive of their life. This is to say that the “How are you going to get there?” question is really a question of “Who are you, and how will you be in the world?” It is not a question of doing but of being, not that the two are ever more than theoretically distinguishable. It is a question of what sort of
person you are and what manner of being you will endeavor to live into.

“How are you going to get there?” The reason that I hope that this question is the primary question implied in the “Where are you going?” inquisition is that this is the question that a university education should prepare you to answer, even if it does not prepare you to answer the “Where are you going?” question on its face. If nothing else, I pray that our graduates have uncovered something about themselves in their experience at Boston University, whether in the classroom, in the dorms, on the athletic fields and courts, in the dining halls, while studying abroad, while participating in community service, or just walking up and down Bay State Road. This is to say what Howard Thurman said much more eloquently: “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who come alive.” In the final analysis it is a sense of concrete, embodied purpose, which only comes by moving through the spiritual process of self-discovery and actualization that empowers those who change the world. To transform others, be ye first transformed, and journey on.

Now that we have winched tight the inquisitor’s rack on Cleopas and his companion, perhaps we should stop for a moment and ponder the fact that the two questions that spring immediate to mind for us, “Where are you going?” and “How are you going to get there?” are actually not the question that Jesus poses. Jesus does not ask where these two disciples are going. It would have made sense if he had. After all, we hear throughout the Gospels of how the disciples are constantly misunderstanding what they are to do, where they are to go, and most importantly, why they are to do what they have been given to do. It would make sense that Jesus would be concerned that these disciples have once again wandered off, and as the good shepherd, that he would seek to bring them back to the fold.

Instead of asking, “Where are you going?” Jesus asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Jesus is interested neither in the destination nor in the route but in the relationships built along the journey. If Jesus had been in the car making its way through the streets of Boston toward the MFA, or at least intending to be moving toward the MFA, the driver and passenger would not have been riding along silently such that the first audible sound is the inquisitor’s whip, “Where are you going?” Had Jesus been in the car, he would have wanted to know why the pair was going to the MFA. “Well, there is a new Art of the America’s wing that has just opened, and we have heard so much about it.” “Is American art important to you?” “Yes, we are particularly captivated by the expansive landscapes of the Hudson River School.” “What captivates you so?” “Well, I think it has to do with the way the artists work with light, so that parts of the painting are illuminated while others fall into shadow. In so many ways it is more real than the actual view of which the painting is purportedly a record could ever express.” “Is not this the point of art?” “Yes, seeing the world in an artistic lens tells us more about who we are than we could ever otherwise come to know.”

Of course, the conversation with the disciples fails to actualize the potential for such a conversation. After all, these are the same dumb disciples who have been misunderstanding Jesus and his purpose and ministry since the get go. They are entirely bound up in trying to reconcile themselves to the crucifixion, and now also to the reports that Jesus is resurrected. And so Jesus must turn to admonishment. “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Once again, Jesus is left trying to bring the disciples up to speed. It is clear that the disciples have a ways yet to go as they journey on.

Speaking of journeying on, it seems that this is just what Jesus is intent to do, and what Jesus would have done had the disciples not intervened to invite him to Emmaus with them for dinner. Now, it is important to remember that these two disciples did not yet recognize that this was Jesus. Is this not often our experience as well, that we fail to recognize Christ in our midst. Often as not, Christ comes to us in the figure of others, the very same family, friends, faculty, and the occasional chaplain who winch us tight on the inquisitor’s rack. St. Francis said, “You may be the only vision of Jesus Christ someone will ever see.” A dear friend of mine said it even more boldly: “You may be the only Jesus Christ the world will ever see.” It is indeed a great responsibility.

It is significant that, even though they did not recognize Jesus, the disciples invited him into their home for dinner. The saying goes that you should always extend hospitality to strangers because you never know when you might play host to angels. Well, apparently you may also end up playing host to Christ. Jesus becomes known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. Of course, the disciples later recognize that they had in fact felt the presence of Jesus as they journeyed together along the road, in the familiar sense in which Jesus had always made their hearts burn. Perhaps, not realizing that the feeling signaled the presence of Jesus, they even took an antacid. That is what you do for heartburn, isn’t it? Anyway, they had not recognized him, which is to say, the familiar sense of hearts aflame had not risen to the level of conscious awareness, but now they were aware of the connection between what they felt on the road and what they had felt as they accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry.

This is to say that as you journey on, I would encourage you to extend and receive hospitality. In the end it is neither the goal nor even the path that is truly important. It does not really matter whether or not you ever make it to the MFA. What matters is the relationships you cultivate along the way. This is the good news of Jesus Christ for us today: resurrection and salvation by relationship. I leave you today with the prayer of my order, of the Lindisfarne Community: that we may be as Christ to those we meet, and that we might find Christ within them.
And in all things, make your mother proud. Amen.

~Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+
University Chaplain for Community Life

Sunday
May 1

Spring in London

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear Sermon only
John 20:19-31


1. Love Divine

Love Divine all loves excelling
Joy of heaven to earth come down
Fix in us thy humble dwelling
All thy faithful mercies crown
Jesus thou art all compassion
Pure unbounded love thou art
Visit us with thy salvation
Enter every trembling heart

2. Deeds That Speak

We hear today the ringing conclusion of the Gospel of John, the courageous Fourth Gospel, the gospel of love divine.

Notice the unique appearance of Thomas, so unlike anything else in any other gospel. Notice the power and irony that he who mistakes the gospel of believing for the truth of seeing, nonetheless announces the full gospel’s full truth: My Lord and my God! Notice the gospel writer who forever reminds us that signs and wonders are deeds that speak (Bultmann, TFG, 698). Notice the ardent proclamation of a personal faith that is not a conviction that is present once and for all but must perpetually make sure of itself anew, and therefore must continually hear the word anew (ibid, 699)…The recounted events have become symbolic pictures for the fellowship which the Lord, who has ascended to the Father, holds with his own (696). Seeing is not believing: believing is seeing. Touching Thomas tells the truth.

3. All Weddings Are Royal

Deeds that speak include weddings, royal and common.

The spring London fog lifted Friday and the spring London rain waited and we enjoyed a royal wedding, 2 Billion of us. The hymns, prayers, liturgy, vows, and spirit of the service are closely similar to the dozens of weddings we will solemnize here at Marsh Chapel this year. As the minister said, all weddings are royal and every bride and groom is a king and queen. For a moment the fog of three questionable wars, a warming environment, a cooling economy, and 400 tornado taken in the south lifted and the rain of anxiety waited and there was a dress, a ring, a carriage, a kiss, a party and a convertible. 60 million Britons had a holiday, and you got up early to watch. Why did we watch?

I hope we heard the sermon. A good word about a generous God who evokes generosity in us. A good word about a new century in which the discoveries of the past century we will need to control and manage: the emphasis on science in the 20th century may be giving way to an emphasis on religion in the 21st, a shift from discovery to community, from creation to redemption. A good word which quoted a personal prayer. A good word about seeds of devotion growing into eternal life, of which the Gospel of John eternally speaks. I hope we applied the sermon to ourselves, along with the beautifully read verses from Romans 12.

But I doubt that is why we watched. In fact, only one observer to my ear so far, among the 2 billion, has come closer to the deeper reason for our attention. Those of us listening to Bonhoeffer this spring will not be surprised.

4. Freedland

“The power of the young Elizabeth’s brief scenes in the King’s Speech is not solely chronological. It is not only that she was around a long time ago; it is that she was around then, during what Churchill predicted would be known thereafter as Britain’s finest hour. She is the last living connection to an episode—the island race standing up to Hitler—that has become the foundation story, almost the creation myth, of modern Britain…Britain alone, Churchill, 1940, the Blitz—this is the tale of unalloyed heroism that the country likes to tell and retell itself. And as long as Elizabeth sits on the throne, Britons remain tied to those events directly” Jonathan Freedlander, New York Review of Books, 4/28/2011, 30.

5. Their Finest Hour

We used to remember that. It is the courage in history of a real love of freedom, that has preserved our way of life, and that has us speaking English today, and not German. Wesley said he knew how to prize “the liberty of an Englishman”. That fierce, pugnacious, relentless, John Bull, bulldog, dog with a bone love of freedom. At the right moment, one momentous Spring in London, 1940, Winston Churchill faced down the more polished, better heeled, more popular and more experienced old Britons of his newly formed war cabinet, and steadily led his country away from their desire to compromise with Adolf Hitler. With Belgium defeated, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With France cut in two, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With 400,000 men stranded at Dunkirk and escape virtually impossible, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With the whole German airforce poised to incinerate England’s green and pleasant land, Churchill clung to a love of freedom. With Lord Halifax ready to seek terms and Lord Chamberlain ready to let him Churchill clung to a love of freedom. Read this summer John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940. He concludes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War. In the end, America and Russia did. But in May 1940 Churchill (alone) was the one who did not lose it.” Churchill’s mother grew up south of Syracuse in Pompey. One wonders if some of his paternal love of freedom came from the winds of the Allegheny plateau. Authority is about love of freedom.

6. Hell’s Destruction

When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid mine anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s Side
Strong Deliverer, Strong Deliverer
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield
Be Thou Still My Strength and Shield

7. Aldersgate Street

The freedom and love in today’s Scripture lesson provide an alternative. Authenticity, finally, is at the heart of any godly authority.

We once remembered that. It is the experience of freeing love, that ignited our church. At midlife, one enchanting night in the English Spring of 1738, John Wesley heard something said in church that warmed his heart for good. He had been on Aldersgate street that Sunday evening, going to chapel service more from duty than from passion, when he heard a preacher read Romans 8 and also Martin Luther’s commentary on that passage. There is something so fragrant and so full about damp London in the springtime. As he left church, Wesley felt something new, a freeing love in the heart, which is the creation and work of the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it. Authority is about freeing love. If you missed Easter Vigil, you missed a part of this story.

8. Resurrection Changes Us

“So let us listen to the stories of Jesus and his miraculous birth, his calling of disciples and teachings of friendship, his sharp knocks at hypocrisy and love of childlike innocence, his proclamation that the last will be first and the first last, his miracles of healing and his struggles with fickle crowds, his interpretations of history and parables of the Kingdom, his gospel of love and demands for justice, his institution of sacraments and founding of a beloved community, his bitter betrayal and corrupt trial, his bloody suffering and desolate crucifixion, his harrowing of Hell and glorious resurrection, his blessing of our maturity and gift of the Spirit, his ascension into Heaven and mythic transformation into the atonement for all sins, into the Cosmic Christ, into the Second Person of the Trinity, into the divine founder of the Christian movement, into an ever-loving friend personally available to each of us, into a reality that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All of these things are part of the deep truth that works in us when we celebrate them. Better yet, let’s sing them, because music moves the soul faster than words alone. What changes with resurrection? We do. What is that change? A closer connection with God. What is that connection? An entry into the divine life whose wildness is embraced with Easter joy. “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” You bet!! “Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Amen.” (Robert Cummings Neville, April 23, 2011)

9. Moral Lessons

Just how shall we live changed lives? I have studied, preached, taught and interpreted the fourth Gospel for 33 years, but I never tire of wonder and amazement at what John does not say. He says nothing to us about how we are to live. There is not a single ethical sentence in the gospel—not a proverb, not a moral, not a parable, not a wisdom saying, not a command, not one, no not one. For John trusts—John believes—that once the heart has changed, once our own devotion, decision and discussion are strangely warmed, then we will figure out the rest for ourselves. We shall to build Jerusalem, and then we shall do so.

Let us make a start today. Let us take communion with the promise to live the communion. Let us keep faith with our partners and spouses. Let us tithe, give away 10% of what we earn—at least 10%. Let us worship—an hour a week of careful liturgy, prepared preaching, vibrant music, real fellowship. You can do this. You can. I know you can. We should get ourselves into our own Westminster Abbeys more than once every thirty years.

10. Jerusalem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning Gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.


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

Sunday
April 24

In the Garden

By Marsh Chapel


Preface

In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

Mary supposes she sees the gardener. Mary points to resurrection, in the garden, which is utterly personal and calls out our devotion, decision and discussion.

In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

When we think garden we think Eden and Gethsemane, creation and crucifixion, birth and death.

My dentist, a raconteur of the first water, told me a story. (I have little chance to respond to his stories, given the instrumentation filling my jaw. It is one of the few times a preacher, who makes his living by the sweat of his jaw, is necessarily silent .) The story is about a man visiting a troubled part of the world. He finds a native and asks him what he sees. ‘Tell me in a word, how are things?’

‘Ah, in a word, good’. In a word, things are good.

Unsatisfied the traveler asks again. ‘OK, could you expand a bit. ‘Tell me, maybe in two words this time, how are things?’

‘Ah, in two words, not good’.

In a word, things are good. In two words, things are not good. Eden and Gethsemane, good and not good. Which brings us to the garden and gardener of John 20:15, and to Mary of the utterly personal resurrection.


1. Devotion

Mary announces: “I do not know (where they have laid him)” she says.

Mary has waited in the garden.

Such a lush image, such a powerful setting, a garden. In one word we have evoked Eden and points east, creation and fall, good and not good. Garden. In a word we have evoked Gethsemane and Empty Tomb, cross and resurrection, death and life. In the garden. We treasure our gardens: one of the loveliest common spaces anywhere is our Boston Public Garden; and of course we hope our Celtics will find victory in one garden or another. In the garden. There Mary has been waiting and weeping.

‘They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Other than the cry of Psalm 22, Jesus’ last word in the other gospels, there is hardly a more pathetic, sorrowful sentence in the Bible, or in history. The cross uncovers the marrow of our hurt, burrowing more deeply into our very loss and death, grief and guilt, than we ever could on our own. For us men and for our salvation: the resurrection follows but does not replace the cross. In the garden.

Earlier with the frantic run of the mysterious beloved disciple, and later with the ample doubt of the doubting Thomas, the gospel has fixed before us a discreet interaction. The same happens here. Mary and Gardener meet. Mary mistakes what she sees. She at first thinks she sees. She thinks she sees a gardener.

Mary sees the gardener, what one would expect in a garden. Such a lush image, such a powerful figure. The world of work, evoked here. The world of struggle, evoked here. The world of birth and decay, living and dying, evoked here. In the garden, a gardener.

In the Fourth Gospel resurrection is emotional, relational, and verbal: utterly personal. In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal, like devotion and decision and discussion. In the garden, resurrection includes tears. In the garden, resurrection ask for choices. In the garden, resurrection evokes speech. Why are you weeping? Emotion. Whom do you seek? Relation. I have seen the Lord. Word. In the Fourth Gospel resurrection is emotional, relational, and verbal: utterly personal.

In the garden, resurrection, so utterly personal, is meant to change the heart. “A sermon begins with a lump in the throat.”

Our families moved regularly in the adventurous rhythms of the itinerant Methodist ministry. I came home from college once to a reasonable assemblage of old belongings removed to a new space, including a box of prized baseball cards by then 10 years old. I looked through the camping gear, the scouting badges, the photos and high school letters. I took a quick look through the cards. There was Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, just where I expected them.

Later my mother said:

‘Your little brother wanted some of your old cards. I told him I knew you wouldn’t mind. He traded some of them with his new friends. They seemed pleased. I knew you wouldn’t mind’.

With some anxiety I inquired: ‘oh, which ones did he trade?’

‘Oh, I don’t remember. One was something like Roy Rodgers’

‘You mean Rodger…Maris?’

“Yes! Good for you! What a great memory you have. College has been good for you!’

“Yeah. Right.”

“Oh, and another one, something like one of the Walt Disney characters. You know Minnie or Mickey”

“You mean Mickey…Mantle?”

“Yes! Good for you! What a great memory you have for names. College has been good for you”.

“Yeah. Right”

The last boy, Mickey Mantle, led a desperate life, unlike the one suggested by his smiling countenance on the card I once owned. He chased Roger Maris all the way to the edge of a record number of home runs in a year. But he also chased drink and women. My friend George Mitrovich recently reminded me though of his devotional experience, late in life. I thought about him again, watching the Red Sox over in our shared mystery garden of Fenway Park last Saturday. Speaking of gardens. I remembered the conclusion of his life.

Toward the end of his life he fell ill. After a full life and a great career, his hard living and drinking and carousing caught up with him. But something remarkable happened, at the end. After a life of success, pressure, stress, performance, a driven life, after a driven life with some predictable habitual consequences, the last boy found himself quiet, open and empty. Some Texan friends visited him, and over time, won the trust that allows one to pray with others. And they prayed with him and for him. Somehow, in those moments of simple devotion, the last boy saw more than the gardener. I only will quote his way of putting it because it so gospel and so true: “In their prayers, somehow, I saw that I did not need to perform in order to be loved.”

That is grace, prevenient grace. That is the gospel, the love of God. That is resurrection, in the garden, utterly personal.

Faith is a gift meant for reception. It comes when we have some openness. When I go to Fenway, to our neighborhood garden, a garden of history and mystery, I enjoy a reminder of the distance from performance to love, from garden to glory, from gardener to teacher, from anxiety to wisdom, from death to life.

Such a recognition, like the recognition of the Lord in gardener apparel, can happen in very ordinary ways, even in a crowded Easter service, with communion on the way, and the sermon rounding first base. Just now, for instance.

Such a lush image, garden! The garden of Eden, our image of creation. The garden of Gethesemane, our image of crucifixion. The garden of the empty tomb, our image of salvation.


2. Decision

The Gospel of John is throughout a call to decision. ‘This things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you may have life in his name”. All manner of other dualisms—heaven, earth; light, dark; life, death, present, future—take a back seat in John to the dualism of decision, the decision in faith, for faith, with faith. Easter may roll around just in time each year to put first things first, to let the main thing be the main thing.

We have the capacity to deceive ourselves about what matters most. In the academic world we pretend that if we can write it down we need not live it through. We perceive accordingly. In academic settings we can sometimes presume that if we write it down we do not have to live it through. Not so, not so. The percentage of stellar academics—students, faculty and staff—who age, who stumble, who die is remarkable similar to the percentage of plumbers, farmers and custodians who age, stumble and die (☺).

A long time ago we were asked, in a psychology class, to identify cards as they were lifted. 2 of hearts, Jack of clubs, 8 of spades. Or so we thought. But the 8 was an 8 of hearts, only the heart was black, so we all saw in spades. We ‘saw’ within a legitimate range of what legitimately we expected to see. Hearts and diamonds are red. Clubs and spades are black. A red spade or a black diamond we do not expect to see, and so we do not see them. We saw the gardener, not the Lord.

Our moral and spiritual linguistic universe, in 2011, is something like this. We see cards in four suits, when in the garden—whether Eden or Gethsemane or Easter—the imaginative categories are different. It can require an apocalypse for us to see.

The Gospel of John, in the whole course of this 20th chapter, has a lesson for us about resurrection. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.’ (Jn 20: 29). For John, all that is necessary has been accomplished since 1: 14, ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us’. God has loved the world in his Son. Crucifixion adds nothing essential to this saving incarnation, for John. Resurrection adds nothing essential to this ancillary crucifixion, and so nothing to Incarnation, for John. All four separate (if not in fact different) endings to the Gospel, as found here in chapter 20, folkloric as Hansel and Gretel (the race won by the beloved disciple to the empty tomb, Mary and the gardener, the disciples cowering behind closed doors, touching (or doubting) Thomas), themselves are additional—even superfluous—to a needless resurrection, a needless crucifixion and a sublime, saving Incarnation. The Gospel of John is all over in the first chapter.

So. Why is all this here?

Because they are part of the story, and John has chosen to write a Gospel, not a psalm, not a sermon, not a letter, not an apocalypse (though this comes closest). So he tells the stories—tomb, garden, closed room, touching hands—and, it may be, believes them. But they are not the point. The point is in a way the opposite. Seeing is not believing for John. Believing is seeing for John.

These things are written that you may believe…

After an evening program one spring, in the verdant garden of a campground retreat, an older man and I walked at dusk. Here is a Christian gentleman: steady in worship, regular in tithing, committed in faithfulness, devoted to faith and able to discuss this gift with others. In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal. He said:

‘Now that you are my pastor, I guess I better tell you why I am the way I am. In 1944 I was hiding in a garden, along a fence like this one we are walking along, near a field like this one by us. All about me unfriendly fire was raining down, a kind of horrible death rain I had never known in 19 years growing up on a Nebraska farm. To survive I had to pass through the garden and then run, without cover, through a clearing, fully exposed. So, I ran through the garden. Before I crossed, I knelt and said a prayer: ‘If I survive this my life is yours’. I survived. So, my family and I make our decisions in the light of that decision in a garden in France a long time ago. We try to be attentive to small things. We try to put our faith first. We try to be salt and light that others can see’.

Utterly personal. Justifying faith, call it health or salvation or happiness or grace, is not so much about the freedom of the will as it is about the freeing of the will (this Augustine not just Hill). One kneels in a garden. One prays: ‘let his cup pass from me…as thou wilt’.


Discussion

John teaches us about a sanctifying grace, known in the daily discussions, the daily voices which remind us of the resurrection radiance, the real presence, in Word and Sacrament.

In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal. Sometimes it takes the death of a close friend, or mentor, to remind us. The ancient refers to this in the petition about those whom we love but no longer see. No wonder Gov. Patrick eulogized Rev Prof Gomes by saying ‘he was the freest person I ever knew’.

There is a difference between seeing things as they are and dreaming of things that never were. 43 years ago this month on the tarmac runway in Indianapolis, Robert F Kennedy said something because he saw something. He was able to recall Aeschylus because he had placed his eye on a resurrection horizon. He was able to counsel courage and patience because he placed his gaze on a resurrection horizon. He was able to mention his brother’s death, without wincing, because he placed his gaze on a resurrection horizon. He was able to meet the gaze of a rightly angry hour by lifting his gaze, lifting his chin, lifting the sight lines of a crushed people in a frightful hour. There was a transfiguring transcendence in his manner of discussion.

1 O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me! 2 Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. 3 Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. 5 Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. 7 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Resurrection is verbal, vocal.

As many of you know, my Dad died this year, and nearly died in September of 2008. We had two extra years with him. In November of 2008, as he recuperated, I saw him one morning learning to walk all over again, with my mother ever present and loving alongside. It was a miraculous sight, as was the rest of his healing. He told us in those days about a vision or dream he had had, in the coma. I share it with you to close, not as evidence of eternity, for resurrection neither needs nor admits of evidence from us, but rather as evidence of a lo
nging for eternity, and so a comfort and an encouragement. He said that in the hours near death he saw a kind of light, shining through what he described as a lattice work. “Behind and around me I could hear voices”, he said.


Coda

In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

We are in no position, ever, to say what God can and cannot do. If God is the God of the ordinary, then God is the God of the extraordinary, too, of the plain and the mysterious, of the known and the unknown.

As Huston Smith (no stranger to Marsh Chapel) reminds us: ‘we are in good hands and so it behooves us to bear one another’s burdens’.

John has chosen to write a Gospel, not a psalm, not a sermon, not a letter, not an apocalypse (though this comes closest). So he tells the stories—tomb, garden, closed room, touching hands—and, it may be, believes them. But they are not the point. The point is in a way the opposite. Seeing is not believing for John. Believing is seeing for John.

Utterly personal, in emotion of devotion, in the relationship of decision, in the voices of discussion: so resurrection, in the garden.

The point is prevenient grace: “I learned that I did not need to perform in order to be loved”. The point is saving grace: “I will make this vow: if I survive, my life is yours”. The point is sanctifying grace: “he was the freest person I have ever known”.

Why can’t we let a story be a story? These things are written not that you may see, but that you may believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven
 and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only
 Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
 He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
 was crucified, died, and
 was buried. He descended to the dead.
 On the third day he rose again.
 He ascended into heaven,
 and is seated at the right hand
 of the Father.
 He will come again to judge
 the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church,
 the communion of saints,
 the forgiveness of sins,
 the resurrection of the body,
 and the life everlasting.

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

Saturday
April 23

What Changes with Resurrection?

By Marsh Chapel

Exodus 14: 10-31
Matthew 28: 1-10

The Easter Vigil is a peculiar service, marking as it does the transition from the desolation of Holy Saturday to the joy of Easter. Given that the Jewish day begins at sundown we are already into Easter Day, although still holding vigil for the resurrection to happen. What is peculiar about the service is that it is part of the repetitive liturgical year: we pretend to be waiting but we know the outcome already because we have held the vigil for years. We the Church have held it for centuries. Since we’ve been over this before, it is time to ask what difference resurrection makes. What changes with resurrection, that we pretend to wait for it each year? As if it hadn’t happened?

A standard answer is that the resurrection was an historical event that happened almost two thousand years ago and that our Easter Vigil is only a service of remembrance, not a vigil at all. But then, what changed with that one and only historical resurrection, assuming for the moment that’s what happened? Filled with belief in Jesus’ resurrection, his followers assembled a community of people convinced that Jesus was inaugurating a new divine Kingdom, about to appear, that would culminate in their own resurrection, perhaps the resurrection of everyone. The Kingdom did not appear, of course, and the result was that instead of the Kingdom we got the Church. Now the Church is not bad, at least not very bad. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters believe the Church is a foretaste of the end-of-time resurrection of all of us to feast with Christ in Heaven. But as for what happened after Jesus’ time until now, the whole history is compatible with Jesus’ resurrection changing nothing, just as it is compatible with the claim that Jesus was not raised at all, that his body was stolen away by his disciples who made up the story of his resurrection appearances, which is what most people in the world think about that story.

So we need to look again at what resurrection means. This is the Holy Saturday part of my sermon where all otherwise presupposed certainties are thrown into question. Literally, resurrection means coming to life again after having been dead. The Bible has many resurrection stories. Both Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead, as did Jesus, the most notable of whom was his friend Lazarus. Matthew said that when Jesus died, many tombs were opened and people rose from the dead; after Jesus’ resurrection, that is, after the Sabbath, these newly resurrected individuals came into the city where many people saw them. Matthew did not say what these resurrected people did when they went about the city, but surely they must have been looking for lawyers to reverse the probating of their estates. Imagine the consternation that would have been caused by a large group of newly resurrected people whose goods had been passed on to their heirs who now needed to get their lives in order again! That we don’t hear about this consternation suggests a bit of myth-making in Matthew’s account. But the point is that resurrection in these cases only means returning to and continuing the lives that had been lived before. Resurrection itself had little religious significance beyond signifying the power or mysterium tremendum in the persons or occasions that caused the resurrection.

The literal meaning of resurrection is not religiously interesting. So those of you who worry about whether you should believe in a literal resurrection that you find hard to believe can stop worrying. Even if resurrection is literally true, that is not religiously interesting. What did Jesus do after the resurrection? Taking the resurrection appearances at face value, he made sudden appearances and disappearances, talked with his disciples, and cooked, all of which he had done in ordinary life. The astonishing transformation of the disciples and growth of the Christian community came from a deeper meaning of resurrection, not a literal one.

What then could the deeper meaning be? Is resurrection a metaphor for something else that is like resurrection? In these late modern times we know how much the mind and its expression in soul are so closely linked with the biology of the brain that bodily death is hard to square with reanimation. So preachers often say that resurrection is a metaphor for something like it, such as renewal of nature in the spring, starting over without being bound to the past, signs of vitality, fresh starts, hope for the Red Sox. Resurrection is a powerful metaphor for things such as these. The metaphor of resurrection gives zing to things like renewal; but renewal and the vernal equinox are sad come-downs from the dramatic power of resurrection in the life of Jesus. What should we think about metaphors in religion?

Step back, if you will, from the loaded metaphor of resurrection in the Easter Vigil and think about the 23rd Psalm. The King James translation is one of the cornerstones of English-speaking culture and its words resonate in our souls with a thousand associations. Say with me, if you know it:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Psalm literally says that God is a shepherd and that the singer, that is, we, are sheep. Now surely, no one past the age of ten ever has believed that literally. This would be idolatrous in reference to God and overly humiliating in reference to us—sheep are stupider than the dimmest human. A literal interpretation is nonsense.

The age-old tradition of interpretation is metaphorical. Like a shepherd who cares for his sheep, God supplies what we need, life in pleasant places, peace, tonics for the soul, a righteous life, no evil even in death, comfort, gloating repasts in the face of enemies, anointing oils, overflowing cups, a life attended by goodness and mercy lived in the constant presence of God. Each of these divine beneficences is itself a metaphor for thousands of other benefits from the benevolent God. The 23rd Psalm is such a classic because everyone understands this metaphoric meaning and is in love with the vision it sings.

But it is false! Life is full of trouble and grief, want and desolation, humiliation and defeat, and always death. To think God is like a provident shepherd is just perverse in the face of life’s realities. Sure, life has many good things, including occasional triumphs and the comforts of the overflowing cup—but all these things pass, and many people get none of them. The ancient Israelites knew this as well as anyone. The Psalm traditionally has been attributed to King David, who was anything but a docile follower of the divine shepherd. Remember how he lusted after a married woman, impregnated her, and had her husband killed. Then to punish David, God killed their newborn baby, according to the text. That text of David’s grief and resignation was read at the funeral of our daughter who died at four months. Life is trouble, not green pastures and still waters, save on rare vacations. And everyone knows this.

How then do we understand the extraordinary moving power of the 23rd Psalm when it is literally
nonsense and metaphorically false? Both literal and metaphorical intentions are claims that God and life are like what the Psalm says, in different but related senses of like. The deeper meaning of the Psalm, which everyone gets, does not have to do with likeness at all. It has to do with becoming connected. If we shape our souls with the images of the Psalm, even though it is literally nonsense and metaphorically false, we become connected with God and our own lives so as to be transformed into gratitude and peace that passes understanding, a truth far more profound than satisfaction with the good things of life. In fact, it is because life is filled trouble and grief, want and desolation, humiliation and defeat, and always death, that we move beyond the historical to the depth dimension of our relation with God. Because we know that the life of a happy sheep is a lie (remember why shepherds keep sheep), we come to realize that the genuine comforts of God are not like that. But letting the 23rd Psalm work in us to shape our soul causes us to connect with God beyond that superficial metaphor, and to take overwhelming comfort in the Abyss out of which the maelstrom of life arises. The depth meaning of the Psalm is not in its likeness to anything: it is not an icon. The depth meaning is in its transformative pointing and connection: it is an index, like a pointing finger whose direction we follow until we connect with something otherwise inaccessible. That transformative depth meaning has worked for centuries with astonishing indexical power regardless of people’s literal or metaphorical thoughts in the matter.

Come back to the resurrection of Jesus as we work our way out of Holy Saturday into Easter Sunday. The depth meaning of Easter resurrection lies neither in the literal meaning of coming back to life nor in the metaphorical meaning of springtime renewal and fresh starts. So whatever you believe about these iconic or “likeness” meanings of Jesus’ resurrection does not matter much for religious purposes because the depth meaning of resurrection does not lie there. Rather it lies in what the fulsome celebration of the resurrection stories does to transform our souls so as to connect us with God the Creator in deep ways. With those deep connections that grow from the Easter stories we can embrace the goodness of creation even when we are not so good, the wholeness of creation even when we are not so whole, the loveliness of the world even when we are halting lovers, and the meaning of life even when our own achievements are middling. Most of all we can embrace with gratitude and profound love the gratuitous and shocking creation of this wild world filled with troubles, ecstasies, desolations, satisfactions, and death because those stories of Jesus, when lived with, raise us up into that glorious creation. Those resurrection stories are not what the world and God are like. They are pointers causing us to be raised into life’s most profound ecstatic connection with the Abyss whence we come. This is the Easter triumph: not a life in which everything is new and fine but a life that transforms all the metaphoric content of crucifixion and death into the joyous glory of God’s creation itself.

The transformative work of the Easter celebration does not happen all at once. Perhaps it takes a lifetime–Good Friday, Easter Vigil, Easter Day every year. The resurrection stories of Jesus cannot be separated from all his other stories, his teachings, his historical roles, the birth narratives, and all the mythologizings of the Church that changed a rural Galilean into the Second Person of the Trinity. All these stories interweave, not as literally or metaphorically true but as indicatively true, causally true, transformatively true. So do not worry about either literal or metaphorical truth, however interesting those questions might be on their own. Do not worry about the credibility of the virgin birth, or the sagacity of the Wise Men, or the reliability of the accounts of the Transfiguration, or what really happened when people thought they saw Jesus alive after Good Friday. They are not religiously important in the long run. Worry rather about how to make those stories about Jesus and his resurrection transformative elements in our souls. Enjoy them all. Delight in the crowds of newly raised people swarming into Jerusalem after the thunderous breaking open of their tombs! Perhaps none of these stories is true as a likeness or icon of what happened. But all of them have been true for at least some people in transforming them into New Beings, as Paul put it, lovers of God: and they can be true for us.

Most Christians believe those stories with naïve innocence and are transformed by them. But it is not the likeness kind of truth that is important, however much they might believe it is. Rather it is the causal consequence of dwelling in those stories that is spiritually and theologically important. Some people these days find the stories incredible if construed to interpret reality as being like what those stories say. Sadly, such people often go on to conclude that the stories therefore simply are not true, which is a mistake. The depth meaning and truth of the stories is not in their iconic likeness to anything but in their indicative transformative powers that bring us into connection with the source of all things, with gratitude, joy, and peace that passes understanding. This is how it has always worked, even when people believed that salvation comes because the stories are literally or metaphorically true. That was naïve of them even when they actually were transformed. We need not be naïve like that. What would be naïve of us would be to think we can do without the stories and their celebrations in our souls. To proclaim the resurrection is not to assert it but to lead in the celebration of it.

So let us listen to the stories of Jesus and his miraculous birth, his calling of disciples and teachings of friendship, his sharp knocks at hypocrisy and love of childlike innocence, his proclamation that the last will be first and the first last, his miracles of healing and his struggles with fickle crowds, his interpretations of history and parables of the Kingdom, his gospel of love and demands for justice, his institution of sacraments and founding of a beloved community, his bitter betrayal and corrupt trial, his bloody suffering and desolate crucifixion, his harrowing of Hell and glorious resurrection, his blessing of our maturity and gift of the Spirit, his ascension into Heaven and mythic transformation into the atonement for all sins, into the Cosmic Christ, into the Second Person of the Trinity, into the divine founder of the Christian movement, into an ever-loving friend personally available to each of us, into a reality that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. All of these things are part of the deep truth that works in us when we celebrate them. Better yet, let’s sing them, because music moves the soul faster than words alone. What changes with resurrection? We do. What is that change? A closer connection with God. What is that connection? An entry into the divine life whose wildness is embraced with Easter joy. “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?” You bet!! “Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Amen.

~Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville,
Easter Vigil, April 23, 2011

Sunday
April 17

A Meditation on the Palms and a Meditation on the Passion

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

A Meditation on the Palms
Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Seeing with the Heart: Meditations from Marsh Chapel, 2010

The Dean: If we believe that life has meaning and purpose
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that the Giver of Life loves us
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that divine love lasts
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that justice, mercy, and humility endure
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that God so loved the world to give God’s only Son
People: And we do

The Dean: If we believe that Jesus is the transcript in time of God in eternity
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that all God’s children are precious in God’s sight
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe grace and forgiveness are the heart of the universe
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe that God has loved us personally
People: And we do
The Dean: If we believe in God
People: And we do

The Dean: Then we shall trust God over the valley of the shadow of death
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust that love is stronger than death
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust the mysterious promise of resurrection
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust the faith of Christ, relying on faith alone
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust the enduring worth of personality
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust that just deeds, merciful words are never vain
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust the Giver of Life to give eternal life
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust the source of love to love eternally
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust that we rest protected in God’s embrace
People: And we shall
The Dean: Then we shall trust in God
People: And we shall.

A Meditation on the Passion
Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill
Deliver Us From Evil, 2005

The Dean: To the question of evil let us live our answer by choosing the cruciform path of faith.
People: Let us meet evil with honesty, grief with grace, failure with faith, and death with dignity.
The Dean: Let us carry ourselves in belief.
People: Let us affirm the faith of Christ which empowers to withstand what we cannot understand.
The Dean: Let us remember that it is not the passion of Christ that defines the Person of Christ, but the Person that defines the passion.
People: Let us remember that it is not suffering that bears meaning, but a sense of meaning that bears up under suffering.
The Dean: Let us remember that it is not the cross that carries the love but the love that carries the cross.
People: Let us remember that it is not crucifixion that encompasses salvation, but salvation that encompasses even the tragedy of crucifixion.
The Dean: Let us remember and that it is not the long sentence of Holy week, with all its phrases, dependent clauses and semi-colons that completes the gospel, but it is the punctuation to come in seven days, the last mark of the week to come in 168 hours, whether it be the exclamation point of Peter, the full stop period of Paul or the question mark of Mary—Easter defines Holy Week, and not the other way around. The resurrection follows but does not replace the cross. The cross precedes but does not overshadow the resurrection. It is Life that has the last word and there is a God to whom we may pray, in the assurance of being heard: “Deliver us from evil”

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