Sunday
June 13

Extraordinary Time

By Marsh Chapel

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Good morning! We are at the beginning of that season that I never really understood as a child which extends all the way through the summer until we reach Advent: Ordinary Time. Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I always thought of this season simply as “the time after Pentecost.” I legitimately did not know that it went by another name. So, imagine my surprise when in my first year of seminary I stumbled across the terminology of “Ordinary Time” when learning the church calendar. How ridiculous, I thought. Who calls it “Ordinary Time”? Well, apparently a lot of people, including the Catholic Church, the Anglican and Episcopal churches, the United Methodist Church, and even my own beloved Lutheran Church. Ordinary time as a moniker just seems so…ordinary. I don’t think it accurately encompasses the journey we travel with Jesus and the disciples, learning about his ministry, his healing, his conflicts, and his connection to the world. The celebration of Pentecost shows us the dramatic effect of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. This season is not one to merely proclaim as “ordinary”, but it continues to highlight the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit through the life and ministry of Jesus.

One of the things today’s gospel lesson teaches us about is the importance of relationship in God’s kingdom. We learn about family, conflict, and the important role the Holy Spirit plays in joining us together and transforming us to form strong bonds rooted in God’s power. But to be fair, this story is a little all over the place – Jesus is trying to eat, people say he’s gone out of his mind, the Pharisees accuse him of being in league with demons, Jesus rebukes anyone who rejects the Holy Spirit, and he also emphasizes his relationship with his chosen family in the Holy Spirit over his family of origin. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a story that is only fifteen verses long and otherwise might be a simple story of an ordinary homecoming.

In any normal circumstance, a family would be excited to see their son or brother return after having departed on a journey. However, Jesus’ reputation precedes him. While on his journey he’s proclaimed new teachings about the good news of the Kingdom of God, casted out demons, healed people, invited disciples to follow him, hung out and eaten with the marginalized, broken Sabbath laws, and gained fame among other Galileans who do not know fully who he is but want to do God’s will. People in Galilee and the surrounding area are sharply divided on what Jesus’ words and actions mean in light of established customs and Jewish law. His own family does not understand what he is doing. Remember, the story of Jesus’ life and ministry in Mark does not begin with his birth but rather at his rebirth when he is baptized by John. Jesus’ supernatural actions and challenge to powers that be is not a known entity to his family before he heads out to do his ministry. No angelic announcement foretold who Jesus was and what he was meant to do. In fact, this is the only time that Mary is mentioned in Mark’s gospel – her role in Jesus’ life is greatly diminished in comparison to the other Synoptic writers. Jesus’ family, instead, think he’s gone out of his mind, not conforming with societal and religious norms as they have come to understand them.

I’m certain most of us can relate to that experience of young adulthood when you or your child left home for college or a job and came back home for the first time. I encounter this frequently in my role as a University Chaplain – that first Thanksgiving or winter break at home can be a challenge for many students. They have changed since they went to school – gaining more freedom, learning who they are and what they want to become in a new environment, encountering new people who have different backgrounds and experiences can shift attitudes and a sense of self. Parents may be surprised at this person who arrives home – students may have even done something to cause their parents question whether they have gone out of their mind. The instinct to protect a child is a strong feeling, as is the longing for the person who once was but now who has started to self-differentiate from their family. However, most of the time we adjust; we manage to keep our families together and accept that people grow and change as they get older, but not without some growing pains. These students may have even started to form their own “families” outside of their family of origin – those who support them through difficult times, celebrate in joyful times, and overall, just “get” them. The desire to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging is at the core of our being, and as we grow and develop into adults, our sense of self leads us to create new systems of support and care.

Returning back to the gospel, another group that has certain expectations of who and what Jesus should be also appears in the story at this point. The Pharisees from Jerusalem have also heard about Jesus’ actions around the Galilean countryside and have their own opinions of what is going on. While Jesus’ family might be trying to protect him in his perceived insanity, the Pharisees come with a much bolder accusation: “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” To them, Jesus must be in league with evil forces because he is not following the religious laws they enforce. Jesus is not acting in expected or “ordinary” ways as a Jewish man or even teacher. Jesus rebuts their accusations by pointing out the logical fallacy of their argument – how can Satan cast out Satan? Truly it must take something or someone much stronger and different to “bind up” the strong man. Here, Jesus gives the Pharisees and the crowd an apocalyptic hint of his role in the world – to prevent the work of evil in the world and provide forgiveness.

We may be taken aback at what Jesus says next though. He draws a strict line between who is “in” and “out” in the kingdom of God. The good news is that most people are included in God’s kingdom – sins will be forgiven by a gracious and loving God. But, and this is a huge BUT, there is one sin that cannot be tolerated –blaspheming the Holy Spirit. God will not forgive those who commit this sin. It feels awfully weighty to us as the readers. We have come to expect that God forgives unconditionally. How can we reconcile these two claims? Also, how do we know if we are blaspheming the Holy Spirit if the work of the Holy Spirit is often a mystery to us? Perhaps the best way to think about this statement by Jesus is to place it in context of the Gospel of Mark. Presbyterian pastor James Ayers in his commentary on this passage urges that we see Jesus’ words here as a sort of tether that lets us know that the Holy Spirit is the force that can transform hopelessness into hope and can cause restoration in our lives. The only way that we truly be against God is to actively reject the Holy Spirit’s presence in the world. What we really must be aware of is that the power of the Holy Spirit continues to work on and with us to create our loving relationship with God. Jesus is laying the groundwork for what it means to be a part of God’s family.

With this knowledge about maintaining our relationship with the divine, we turn back to the conflicting realities of Jesus’ closest relationships. When Jesus’ family calls for him to come outside, he claims those he is inside sharing a meal with to be his mother and brothers. Is this a complete rejection of his biological family? Maybe. It is a definitive claim on the importance of the kind of relationship that Jesus calls us to cultivate in our lives. Jesus claims those who are doing the will of God as his siblings. In that moment, it excludes his family because they do not understand who he is and what he is doing.

Jesus wields his power in this narrative. It is not the kind of power that is most recognizable in Jesus’ time or even our own time – economic, political, or even physical – but is instead rooted in love, hope, justice, humility, servanthood, and restoration. In claiming outsiders from the rest of society to be literal insiders as members of God’s family, Jesus upends the expectations of what power should look like. In performing exorcisms and healing people, he restores right order and enables those who have been healed to be a part of society once again. He shows love to those who have been excluded, sees value in human life over the strictures of human laws, and identifies the humanity of those who have been deemed less-than because of their jobs, their status in society, or their physical or mental wellness. He is able to bind up the “strong man” because of his power of love and transformation rather than destruction. Jesus’ power is not rooted in fear or coercion, but in hope and love.

In this past year, many of us have spent a lot of time inside, especially in our homes. We’ve also probably gotten a great deal of quality time with our immediate families, or maybe with our chosen “bubble” of people. These are people that we trust. In the midst of a pandemic, there had to be a certain level of understanding about the appropriate behaviors and interactions for each of the members of our “immediate households” to maintain our health and wellbeing. We became vigilant about who was and wasn’t a close contact, redefining our physical relationship to others by only allowing certain people to share our spaces. Some of us have had time to reconnect with family members in new ways, while others have been physically separated from loved ones for extended periods of time.

Perhaps because we have had more time to think about or spend with our immediate households, we have come to recognize the importance of establishing and maintaining strong relationships with others. In this time of forced isolation from the outside world, we’ve also come to recognize the many ways in which our society is broken. COVID made us acutely aware of economic, racial, and other social inequalities that have been present for the majority of our country’s history, but which we have continually failed to address. In the early days of the pandemic, after our initial shock of having our lives upended, many of us vowed that we would never be able to go back to “normal” again in light of Black Lives Matter protests, socio-economic inequality, and growing divisions in our country. Some of us now had more time to really reflect on what was going on in the world around us and to decide how we were going to be more involved, less dismissive, and seek justice and restoration for others.

Now, in this new phase of the pandemic, where it is certainly not over but is at least on the decline in the United States, we are ready and eager to go back outside into the world. As mask restrictions lift and we begin to reunite with our friends (after, of course, we have been fully vaccinated) it might be easy to slip into our old ways of being. The busy-ness of life might return again and our care and concern for the greater socio-economic issues we were faced with during the pandemic may start fade into the background. We may slip into our own “ordinary” time where things go back to mostly “normal”. We may lose sight of the importance of the relationships we share not only with those in our “bubbles” but with the greater world. Certain aspects of the pandemic will leave their marks on us as we move forward, but how will we consider what this past year has meant to us in how we interact with our families of origin, our families of choice, and the surrounding world around us?

Many of us have a new clarity about the importance of relationships and not taking advantage of the time and opportunities to support and connect with others. Sometimes this kind of recognition can only come after we have lost something important. Dr. Don Saliers, American theologian and Professor Emeritus at the Candler School of Theology as well as father of Emily Saliers of the folk duo the Indigo Girls, summarizes our experience of the relationship of being a part of God’s family as this:

“Living out the form of discipleship Christ bids us follow means a new solidarity with all humanity.  It requires that we learn with him to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. It asks us to live into the densities of human joy and suffering. It calls us to find ourselves precisely in our willingness to give up our self-absorption.  This is a demanding task, requiring a willingness to follow him into a new solidarity with God’s whole family.”

One may hear echoes of the great theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s claim of the Cost of Discipleship in Dr. Salier’s statement. While God’s family welcomes all, it also calls on us to be willing to serve others with an open heart without letting ourselves and our egos get in the way of justice and righteousness. God’s will, while grounded in love, does not mean that it won’t come without its challenges in enacting it in the world. It means standing up to oppression. It means crying out with those in pain. It means recognizing and responding to the needs of others, even if those needs infringe upon our personal wants. To live authentically into God’s will means being mindful of how our faith informs our actions and allowing that deep inward voice to guide us along the way.

Jesus, in his ministry and his teachings, demonstrates what it means to follow God’s will. The Holy Spirit acts on us to create faith within us and then we continue to strengthen that faith through hearing the Word of God and sharing the sacraments with one another. The Holy Spirit moves in us to bear the good fruit of our faithfulness in service and care for others. It motivates us to seek justice for those who are marginalized, to create wholeness where brokenness haunts many, to acknowledge the humanity of others, and to see how we are inextricably tied together with them. Our faith is in the one who redeems and makes us whole, and thereby we are called to share the power of Christ through our own words and actions.

This is not an ordinary time. These weeks after Pentecost are an extraordinary time to hear the Word and works of God through the body of Christ. Let us live into these “Sundays after Pentecost” with a renewed sense of being siblings of Christ and God’s children. Amen.

-Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

Sunday
June 6

Preparing for Mark

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 4: 26-34

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Growth

Some big measures of the ice of contagion and the snow of infection and the wind of COVID have diminished.  For this we are thankful, and mindful, too of the actual and metaphorical powers of masks, of vaccinations, of protocols for distance.  The national pause for Memorial Day last week, including many memorials near and far, brought a sign of such diminution, if not the entire absence of cold and wind and the lingering feelings of ice and snow.

At our doorstep now the mystery of natural growth awaits us.  Some of faith and preaching is about the nature of ministry and some is about the ministry of nature and some is about both.  We are on the threshold of a new season, a season of natural growth.  Growth is a mystery.  All manner of growth is a mystery.  Ministry in and through this natural mystery is its own kind of mystery.

Somehow, together, we have weathered a hard and bitter fifteen months. Somehow, together, we have done something hard, together.   How shall we think of this?  What may we most want to remember, or not to forget, about this shared drama and trauma?  What has this hard, cold, shattering, shared experience taught us?  When someone stops you on the street, or over a meal, or on the church door step and asks, ‘What is your COVID story?’, how will you start off, and what will you say?  What is the first thing that comes to mind, and how will you put it?  I invite you to tell someone, sometime, or offer it in a meditative prayer, sometime, or write it down in poem, sometime.  Te invito.

Jesus taught in parables, teaching not without such, according to our Holy Scripture this Lord’s Day.  Some were parables of the mystery of growth, growth of the ministry of nature alongside the nature of ministry.  We are close today to the very voice of Jesus of Nazareth, in the parable served by St. Mark.  One example to stand for a dozen: so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.  Birds…of the air.  But…what other kinds of birds are there?  This is a Semitism, a sign of the Aramaic substrata of the passage, the closeness to the voice of Jesus, 2000 years later.  A mystery, too, this a mystery too.   Around us this coming month nature performs her ministry to our succor.  May this ministry of nature nudge us toward a fuller enjoyment of our own—in whatever walk of life—nature of ministry.  And the seed should sprout, he knows not how…

How shall we understand these holy words, ancient and potent?  We shall need to prepare for the work, for the work on these words, high and lifted up, in our Lord’s parable in St. Mark.  To get up high, we need a reliable scaffold.

Mark

Before you work high you build a scaffold to get yourself up there.  Over the past years, one of the most interesting church related figures, town by town, was the ‘steeple jack’, a person hired to go up high and fix things.

Steeple Jacks, famously and normally, do not use a scaffold. They use rope and pulleys, and they rightly earn a good salary. As one joked to me, sort of quoting Scripture, and speaking of the dangers of height, “Jesus said, ‘Lo(w) I am with you”. Meaning, he continued, ‘up high you are on your own’.

Our smaller churches hired Steeple Jacks for the minor tiling, shingling, painting and other repairs required of small church steeples on small steeple churches. One was squat enough (the church not the Jack) that he could go up by ladder.  Later churches had taller steeples. The trustees sometimes tried to get by with a Steeple Jack, every time repairs were needed, but most times, no, they needed to spend more. Once a section of copper plate fell off the steeple onto a University neighborhood street. Exposure, liability, act of God, randomness—these words appeared in sermons later that month.  Thankfully no one was hurt. Scaffolding went up the next week, and stayed up for several expensive days.

Both the interior and exterior spaces of churches require endless attention. As with care of the human body after a certain age, the motto for such care must be ‘maintenance, maintenance, maintenance’. Interior like exterior scaffolding also comes at a price.  (There are as you sense other sermons right here in the wings, as it were, which we will leave aside.  For now.)  Sure you prefer to change light bulbs and paint ceilings with a huge step ladder and a fearless Trustee or hired painter. Sure. But the higher the nave, the, well, I refer you to adage above. “Lo(w) I am with you”. Not high.   Even before any paint is spilled, and even before any long-lasting bulbs are replaced, there is work, there is cost, there is meaningful preparation.

Somethings similar is afoot in preaching. The preacher either swings in the breeze like a Steeple Jack, if the matters of interpretation are low fences, but, if the height is greater, scaffolding is needed.  What you see when the work is done, is the steeple repaired, the roof replaced, the paint (both coats) applied, the bulbs changed. But before all that there has been scaffolding up, so that the work could be done.  Today that is our work, to prepare for Mark.

 Scaffolds

We come this morning to the interpretation of Mark 4. Mark requires scaffolding. We cannot begin to work until we have someplace to stand. No light bulbs will be changed until we can reach the fixtures.  Come and help me a little with the scaffolding this morning.

As Mr. Cordts so ably reminded us last week, we know not who wrote Mark, only his name. He wrote for a particular community, whose location and name are also unknown. He even mentions by name members of his church, Alexander and Rufus (15:21). The book is meant to help a community of Christians. It is written to support and encourage people who already have been embraced by faith. While it purports to report on events long ago, in the ministry of Jesus, its main thrust is toward its own hearers and readers forty years later. So, it is not an evangelistic tract and it is not a diary and it is emphatically not a history.

You will want to know what we can say, then, about Mark’s community. If the community gave birth to the gospel, and if the community is the primary focus of the gospel, and if the community is the gospel’s intended audience, you would like to know something about them.

For one thing, the community is persecuted, or is dreading persecution, or both. Jesus suffered and so do, or so will, you. This is what Mark says. This gospel prepares its hearers for persecution. For another thing, the church may have been in or around Rome, or possibly somewhere in Syria. It is likely that Mark was written between 69 and 73 ce. For yet another thing, Mark’s fellow congregants, fellow Christians, are Gentiles, in the main, not Jews. He is writing to this largely Gentile group. He writes for them neither a timeless philosophical tract nor an ethereal piece of poetry. His is rather a ‘message on target’. Further, Mark’s composition, editing, comparisons, saying combinations, style and Christology all point to Mark as the earliest gospel (see, inter alia, J Marcus).

Pause over the word gospel. You have heard the word many times, and know that it means ‘good news’. It is an old term. You could compare it to ‘ghost’. Gospel is to good news as ghost is to spirit, you might say. Mark calls his writing a ‘gospel’. He creates something new. Mark is a writing unlike any other to precede it.  Any other.  Mark is not a history, not a biography, not a novel, not an apocalypse, not an essay, not a treatise, not an epistle. Examples of all these were to hand for him. Mark might have written one of any one of them. He did not. He wrote something else and so in form, in genre, gave us something new. A gospel. His is the first, but not the last.  That is the mystery of growth.  Seed scattered on the ground…the earth produces of itself…when it is sown it grows…

Mark is not great literature. It is not Homer, not Plato, not Cicero, not Shakespeare. Nor is the Greek of the gospel a finely tuned instrument. It is harsh, coarse and common. The gospel was formed, formed in the life of a community, as described earlier. Its passages and messages were announced as memories meant to offer hope. Its account of Jesus, in healing and preaching and teaching, all the way to the cross and beyond, is offered to a very human group of humans who are trying to make their way along His way.

That is, the Gospel is a record of the preaching of the gospel. To miss this, or to mistake this, is to miss the main point of the Gospel, and of the gospel. It is in preaching that the gospel arrives, enters, feasts, embraces, loves, and leaves. It is in preaching that you may hear—that you may hear today– something that makes life meaningful, makes life loving, makes life real. It is in preaching that the Gospel of Mark came to be, as a community, over time, heard and reheard, remembered and rehearsed, as the story of Jesus crucified (his past) and risen (his presence). We should not expect narrative linearity, historical accuracy, or re-collective precision here. And in fact, we find very little. Let us put it another way around. Most of the NT documents are, in one way or another, attempts to remember, accurately, the nature and meaning of baptism. Well, Mark fits that description. What does it mean, here and now, to be a person of faith?

Two Marks

Let us put it this way.  Let us put up our scaffolding this way. Ours is a tale of two Marks. Is Mark a moderate critic or is Mark a critical moderate? How you answer will both depend on and indicate where you stand on the scaffold. Moderate critic, critical moderate? That is, across the length of his Gospel, is Mark actively criticizing others or is he carefully moderating, coaching if you will, the approach of others? Is the tone of the gospel polemic or irenic?  Granted there is both, when the chips are down, as they are today, which scaffold matters most?

Mark is clearly an apocalyptic writing, although clarity about this has only fully emerged in the last few generations. Mark expects the end of all things in his own time, and so the Markan Jesus so instructs his followers. In fact, Mark expects the culmination of all things, soon and very soon. To this coming dawn, Mr. Cordts so  poetically referred a week ago.  In this regard, and in regard to his understanding of the cross, Mark has some congruence with the letters of Paul. Given this apocalyptic perspective, is Mark a critic or a coach? Critic or coach?

The first option, Mark the moderate critic, was most piercingly presented almost forty years ago. First let me give you the outline of the planking in this part of the scaffold, and then let me tell you about the carpenter.

On this view, Mark combats, combats a view of Jesus that will not accept his suffering, his crucifixion. Long after the events of Calvary and Golgotha, spirited and strong people, singing a happy song, have caused the earliest church to forget their baptism, or its meaning. They expect ease, spirit, joy, and, soon, a conquering victory over all that plagues and persecutes them. To this, Mark says: ‘no’. To say no Mark remembers in delicate detail the story of Jesus’ passion, relying on a source, a document he has inherited. To say no, Mark pointedly shows the ignorance and cowardice of Peter, at Caesarea Philippi and in Jerusalem. To say no, Mark criticizes, diminishes the miracles of Jesus, letting them wind away to nothing as the Gospel progresses. To say no, Mark describes the disciples as dunces. They didn’t understand it and neither do you, he says. Mark stays within the fold of the inherited story of Jesus, the gospel of teaching and passion, of Galilee and Jerusalem, including our parable today.  But he does so as a moderate critic of those who are unrealistic about the suffering that continues, from which the gospel does not deliver, any more than Jesus had been delivered from the cross. Saved, yes, delivered, no. On this view, at the heart of Mark there is a bitter dispute in earliest Christianity about what constitutes discipleship, baptism, and Mark is out to prove his opponents wrong. As with the alternative, there is plenty of evidence to support this sort of scaffold.

One person who most powerfully presented this view is a dear friend. In fact, he was our immediate predecessor in our Rochester church.  Our eleven years in that pulpit immediately followed his seventeen. He is a Methodist minister who did his doctoral work at Claremont. It has taken some decades for the force and power of his argument to stand up and stand out in comparison to the work of others. Ted Weeden wrote: ‘Jesus serves as a surrogate for Mark, and the disciples serve as surrogates for Mark’s opponents…The disciples (in Mark) are reprobates’. (op cit, 163).

The second option, another scaffold, Mark the critical moderate, has in a way been present for a longer time, and, one could say, is still the more dominant, the majoritarian position. The culminating presentation of this position is in a two volume Anchor Bible Commentary.  The author was (once) on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology, Joel Marcus, now at Duke. On this view, things in Mark’s community are not so much at daggers drawn. There are differences to be sure, but the disagreements are differences among friends. The Markan coaching does not face strong spirit people, committed to an idea of the ‘divine man’. Mark is not so negative about miracles. The disciples are mistaken but not malevolent. The titles for Jesus are not so telling or convincing. The real trouble is not so much in the community itself (perish the thought), but outside, among the potential deceivers of the church. Hence, on this scaffold, Mark has the job of more gently reminding his hearers of the cross, of suffering, of discipline, of the cruciform character of Christianity, as a moderate, a critical moderate, but a moderate, a coach, more than a critic, a critical moderate.

We have a hard time imaging that our faith tradition was born out of serious conflict. It is like family stories. We really don’t like to imagine that our family tree is littered with broken branches, dead limbs, crooked roots, and Dutch elm disease. We like the picture of the Palm Tree, majestic and free. The second option appeals to our sense of pride in our Christian heritage. It is a more pleasing view. But the former, Weeden’s Mark, is over time the stronger scaffold, and what we need from a scaffold is not presentation but reliability, not beauty but strength.

Here is where my feet come down. Marcus appeals to my heart, what I wish were true or truer. But my mind trusts Weeden. Our passage today is a case in point.

From the vantage point of this scaffolding, the key verse this morning is 4:29: when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.  That is, there comes a time of completion, of testing, requiring not just coaching but also and more so warning.  Warning.  Listen this summer for the warning in Mark, more than the encouragement.  Listen for the critic not just the coach. The ministry of nature is meant to prepare us for the nature of ministry.  The parables of seed and growth are meant to prepare us for those challenging moments of growth that still lie ahead.  As individuals, and as communities, we prepare and need to prepare for the challenges, the harvests, of the future.  And, friends, there are serious challenges ahead.  There are riveting, sobering, critical challenges ahead of us in the country, around this globe, and in our churches, this year to come.  Challenges.  Challenges for you, your community, your nation, its constitution and its bedrock foundation of truth and freedom.  Listen for the warnings this summer in Mark.

Coda

And hear good news, in the ministry of nature and the nature of ministry.  The church is alive! The future is open! Love waits to fill the heart! The seed sprouts, we know not how.  Foretastes, all, of heaven. If the heavenly banquet has this menu, perhaps we need over these few earthly years to acquire a certain taste for certain things, faith and hope and love.  Just a little critical warning…

So, dear friends, then travel with a little imagination…Imagine Eucharist at Marsh Chapel.  Stand to sing… Pause to reflect… Step out into the aisle… Look at and look past Abraham Lincoln and Francis Willard…Receive cup and bread, bread and cup… Kneel at the altar to pray… Stand in communion with the communion of saints…Here is the bread and cup of friendship…Imagine, a congregation reciting together a creed, a psalm, a hymn, a poem.  Imagine, if you are willing, a congregation currently in diaspora, but just now, by the word spoken and heard, a gathered and thus addressable community, you and I and all together, able to prepare for the challenges, the harvests of the future, able to prepare for Mark.

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

Sunday
May 30

A Third Way

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 1: 1-15

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The text for this sermon is currently unavailable.

-Mr. William Edward Cordts

Sunday
May 23

Spirit Days

By Marsh Chapel

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John 16: 4-15

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When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the Truth.

Spirit Days at Commencement

Pentecost, today, is the day of the Spirit.  Yet they are all spirit days are they not?  All our days, all, are spirit days. Especially, listening caringly to the Gospel of John, we are empowered and emboldened to proclaim that all days, each day, every day, they are all spirit days.  The Bible tells us so, as does Shakespeare, Scripture and the Bard being the two best sources for learning in college, and out of college:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

On arrival in Boston, some years ago, we had no grandchildren. Then they came, one by beautiful, blessed one, beginning at the end of our first year.  As she grew, she spoke, one of her first words, beneath the great CITGO logo, was, ‘sign’.  Then she walked, and walked up and down every outside staircase on Bay State Road, one by one, counting the steps.  Looking for her grandfather, off at work, she later asked, ‘Where is…somebody?  Is…somebody…coming home?’  For once, her granddad was really ‘somebody’.  Now she is 13.  You will hear from her in a spirited moment, as so fully we did hear the spirit through Commencement at Boston University this last week.

One Club launched a free laundry demonstration, on a recent Friday noon, on Marsh Plaza.  Our staff made playful comments about…a rising tide lifts all boats…whisk them away…what do they have to gain by it …Yes, it was Ajax…a whole laundry list…Reap the bounty…We were going a little stir crazy, fifty four weeks later…but at the table next to them the Sojourners Campus Ministry was writing thank you notes to social workers, and encouraging others to do the same.

Spirit Days.

Maria Erb now leads a new department at Boston University, named the Newbury Center, which is devoted to supporting first generation students, those who are first in their families to attend college.  It is a center so in keeping with the heart, spirit, tradition, history and soul of BU.  She said a few days ago:  This is my vocation, my work with first generation students.  This is my calling.  This is my ministry.  I view it as a form and type of ministry, whereby I live out my faith.  Could someone say ‘amen’ to that?

Spirit Days.

After a stirring peroration offered to Seniors, of the best ways to live and thrive into the future, a fine faculty member added, as a post script, with humor:  And also…get a cat.  At that same Senior Breakfast, our friend and colleague Dean Elmore said, ‘My mentor, George Houston Bass, in “Breer Rabbit Whole” had this closing thought that has stayed with me:

May joy, beauty and kindness be with you,

Day after day. Night after night.

May joy walk beside you,

Let kindness guide you,

May beauty surround you,

May you always want to say,

To friends, kinfolk and strangers you meet along life’s way,

May God bless and keep you each and every day.

Spirit Days.

Graduate Soren Hessler, in his fine remarks for THIS I BELIEVE, said… I believe that the modern American research university, so often built upon the educational foundation of training Christian clergy, does well to remember its roots in cultivating personal character and equipping graduates to care for the needs of the world. I believe a quality professional education, regardless of discipline must “Unite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety: learning and holiness combined.”  Graduate Afsha Kasham, said, … Being a woman has taught me a lot. But it’s mostly taught me to speak up, even if my voice shakes. Maybe they won’t believe you, but at least you’ll know that you tried.

Spirit Days.

And for Sunday’s Commencement itself:   our pioneering neighbor, the creator of the Moderna vaccine, urging us to be comfortable being uncomfortable; to learn to weather rejection; and to stay curious, always thinking ‘what if?; the head of the Boston Food Bank bluntly asking us, ‘what are you willing to really work for?’; a congresswoman bringing back to this University the voice, the voice both in content and in calling, of Coretta Scott King.

Then Monday, to hear first with the Army near Faneuil Hall, then with Navy on The USS Constitution—to be so located for commissioning!…it is like being ordained a priest at the Vatican or a preacher on John Wesley’s porch—the repeated solemn vow, taken by such young courageous women and men—to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Can you hear that America, in May of 2021? To support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Spirit Days in John

These are spirited voices, Johannine voices.  And John is so different, so radically inspired, so different and new and spirited.  Spirit abounds especially, even perhaps in full measure, only in John.  Only John places Jesus in Jerusalem thrice.  Only in John does Jesus raise the dead at mid Gospel—“Lazarus, come out!”  Only in John does Jesus preach for five chapters on the last evening, washing feet rather than celebrating mass.  Only in John does Jesus make the Jerusalem road fully and only a road of glory, from Palm Sunday to Easter.  Only in John does Jesus say, “In my Father’s House there are many rooms…”  He is going home, home.  And somehow, again strangely, we know the way where he is going.  For it is our way, too.  Only in John does Jesus walk serenely to Golgotha.  Only in John does Jesus walk to death like God striding upon the earth.  Only in John does Jesus pronounce GLORY from the jaws of death.  Remember his dying word.  Not “eli, eli” as in Matthew and Mark.  Not “Father forgive them” as in Luke.  Simply, serenely, powerful, triumphantly, yes, gloriously, he says, in John, “It is finished.”  It is done, completed, perfected—finished.  He dies to rise, and go home, making a place a space for the whole human race.  Spirit fully flourishes only in John

‘(Those who composed John) had a burning conviction that they had been given the truth (led into all truth) and that through this truth they would come to enjoy a freedom that would release them from the constraints to which they were subjected: ‘the truth will set you free’’(John Ashton, 95)

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…(They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not with the Jesus of history but with the risen and glorious Christ, and that this was a Christ free from all human weakness.  The claims they made for him were at the heart of the new religion that soon came to be called Christianity. (199)  The difference between John’s portrait of Christ and that of (the other gospels) is best accounted for by the experience of the glorious Christ constantly present to him and his community (204)

The stark strangeness, the utter difference of John from the rest of the Bible we have yet fully to admit.  But when we get to the summit, John 14 and following, we see chiseled there in ice and covered fully with wind snow, an enigmatic, mysterious riddle:  Spirit, sweet Spirit, Paraclete.  The endless enemy of conformity.  The lasting foe of the nearly lived life.  The champion of the quixotic.  The standard bearer of liberty.  The one true spirit of spirited truth.  Yet we cannot even give the history of the term, nor fully define its meaning, nor aptly place it in context, nor finally determine its translation.  Paraclete eludes us.  Paraclete evades us.  Paraclete outpaces us.  Paraclete escapes us.

Notice that the Spirit is given to all, not just to a few or to the twelve, definitely not.  Notice that it is Spirit not structure on which John relies.  Notice it is Spirit not memory which we shall trust (good news for those whose memory may slip a little).  Notice that Spirit stands over against what John calls ‘world’ here—another dark mystery in meaning.  Notice that the community around John’s Jesus is amply conveyed a powerful trust in Spirit.

Spirit Days in Life

Now the granddaughter, with whom we began at the first of life’s stages is 13 and crossing into another, and mid-Covid her local news media picked up her spirit, as she honored a retiring crossing guard:

I am writing to you because my friend…and I learned that the Crossing Guard on Monroe, Vicky, by CVS is retiring soon and this Tuesday… is her last day. Vicky has been the crossing guard for 40 years here at Brighton. She was there on our first day of sixth grade and she has always been so kind to us.

Every morning, she greets by name on our walk to school and asks us if we have anything exciting happening. She wishes us good luck on any tests that we have, and gives us advice about school and life. When we come home, she asks us about our tests, or wishes us a happy weekend. She is almost a grandmother to all of the kids she keeps safe each and every day. Vicky has been the most amazing crossing guard to us, and we will be very sad to see her go.

You will take your nourishment as you find it, day by day.  As that quintessential romantic Alexander Herzen wrote, “Art and the summer lightning of individual happiness—these are the real goods”.

Spirit Days.  Spirit Days.  Spirit Days!

Speaking of art and of the summer lightening of individual happiness, we close with a little song.  Our own daughter, a generation ago, afforded us on stage the tune, the lyrics, and the inspiration.  Our children teach us, as she has taught us, on stage.  She has taught us the power of the spoken, live spoken word, to intervene, and alter, and make new.  It takes a while to raise parents right, but over time, we sometimes learn, learning that all days of life in every one of the seven stages are spirit days.  No one says such lightly, after the last fourteen months.  After more than a year of loss, we may be able to hear something of spirit from those who have known loss too.  After this last year, those who have suffered loss, those of us who have suffered the loss of loved ones, may yet await spirit days to come.

This week I remembered our daughter’s stage voice and presence, from some years ago, in a play about love and marriage and death and spirit.  After a lifetime of loss and disappointment, and the recent deaths of their spouses, two very elderly folks fall in love at the end of musical (I Love You.  You’re Perfect.  Now Change.)  Where is life there is hope, and where there is hope there is life and where there is spirit there is life and hope together. In the song, SHE SPEAKS first, and he answers second:

I’VE GOT SOME PROBLEMS, MY HEALTH’S NOT GOOD.

Well at our age that’s understood

I’VE GOT ARTHRITS

Flairs up in June

I’VE GOT BRONCHITIS

I’ll get that soon.  No matter.   I can live with that.

I’VE HAD A BYPASS

Well I’ve had two

I DIE MY HAIR

It looks nice blue

MY WAYS ARE SET

Well, people change.  I find you sexy

I FIND YOU STRANGE

No matter.  I can live with that.

I OFTEN THINK OF THOSE I MISS

Sometimes I have to reminisce

FRIENDS KEEP DYING BUT I’M STILL STRONG

It still does hurt, but not as long

MY KIDS DON’T VISIT

Mine never leave

I MAKE A MEATLOAF YOU WON’T BELIEVE

I tell tall tales

I TELL THE TRUTH

I drink skim milk

I DRINK VERMOUTH

No matter.  I can live with that.

I LIKE THINGS CLEAN.  I SCRUB AND WASH

I’ve got a garden, I grow some squash

I KEEP IN SHAPE I MOW THE LAWN

I wake up late

I’M UP AT DAWN

No matter.  I can live with that.

I WILL BE BURIED AT MY JIM’S RIGHT.

Next to my Sue is my gravesite

BUT I’M STILL HERE WITH MUCH TO GIVE

Someday I’ll die

FOR NOW I’LL LIVE

I’ll ALWAYS LOVE JIM

And I my Sue

I JUST DON’T KNOW

You think I do?

(Together): No matter. I can live with you. No matter. I can live with you.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

Pentecost, today, is the day of the Spirit.  Yet they are all spirit days are they not?  All our days, all, are spirit days. Hear good news: When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the Truth.

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

Sunday
May 16

Boston University Baccalaureate

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to view the Boston University Baccalaureate Service

Click here to view the Baccalaureate address only

This year’s Baccalaureate speaker is Catherine D’Amato (Hon.’21), president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB).

For more information about Marsh Chapel at Boston University, click here.

For information about donating to the Chapel, click here.

Sunday
May 9

‘This I Believe’ Meditations

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

John 15:917

Click here to hear just the meditations

Sunday
May 2

Responding to Easter

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

John 15: 1-8

Click here to hear just the sermon

May we respond to Easter in worship, in history and in life

Responding in Worship

Let us respond to Easter in worship.

For here we are, just for a moment, in worship.  Hearing the hymns of Easter.  Hearing the Easter word.  We yearn for the day, may it be soon, when we can sing with each other, greet each other face to face, offer each other a Methodist handshake.  For now, we rely on daily prayer; we gather outside for morning prayer; we especially listen together, drawn in from around the globe, come Sunday at 11am.  Right now.

Others too have known the yearning of and for worship.  The beloved community which gave birth to our Gospel today did so. For a moment, move by the imagination to a borrowed upper room, say in Ephesus, maybe in the year 90ad.  Candles burn.  A meal has been offered and received.  There is among the fifty, say, there present, a gradual settling, a quiet.  It may be a long quiet, starting from that late first century numinous circle and ending—hic et nunc, here, now.   Acute pain abides in this circle, the pain of the loss of a beloved leader, the pain of the loss of a venerable religious lineage, the pain of the loss of a prized eschatological hope—love, faith, and hope, lost.  Our global radio circle today bears too a shared pain, the global trauma of global pandemic.

Yet as the circle settles, a prayer and reading and a further silence and a long hymn sung, THE ONE who has held them…SPEAKS.  Imagine the early church, small and struggling, in worship, in a borrowed upper room.  In the silence and in the singing and in then the antiphonal, mournful and joyful, worship antiphon.  Were these Gospel words first sung?

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

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

Every heart has secret sorrows, especially now, by Covid time.  Every land has cavernous grief, especially now, by Covid time.  Back then, for the antiphonal, ancient singers of our scripture, the hurts were dislocation, disappointment and departure.  And they named them.  Can you name yours?  Have you named your hurt?

Hear the Easter antiphon: ‘Abide in me…As I abide in you’.  Stay. Remain.  Settle.  Dig in. Locate.  Vines take a long time to grow.  But so?

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

With the ancient beloved community, can you lift a muted alleluia?  Every hymn, for all its joy, carries a guttural memory of acute hurt.  In worship, today, can you pray with joy without forgetting the brokenness out of which that alleluia comes?  Let Charles Wesley, let Charles Tindley, let the poor of your own ancestral family’s older past guide you.

Let us respond to Easter in worship.

Responding in History

Let us respond to Easter in history.

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

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

The two ‘books’, John and 1 John, were written by different authors, in different decades, in different circumstances, with different motives.  The Gospel acclaims Spirit.  The Letter adds in work, ethics, morals, community, tradition, leadership and judgment from on high, rather than judgment by belief and by believer.  We may just have, it is important to say, the Gospel as part of the New Testament, with all its radicality, due to its brother named letter, vouching as it were for the sanity of the Gospel.  The letter, like James Morrison Witherby George Dupree, takes good care of its Gospel mother, the very cat’s mother, you see.

On April 11, the Gospel in chapter 20 revealed the Spirit, elsewhere called Paraclete or Advocate, come upon us, received and with it received the forgiveness of sins.  But at the heels, nipping, comes along 1 John in chapter 2, which names the Paraclete or Advocate not as Spirit but as Jesus Christ—the righteous—whose commandments all are to keep, on pain of disobedience become lying, and truth taken flight.  Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other, in loving disagreement.

On April 18, the Gospel Alleluia still lingering with the Lord and God risen, the letter in Chapter 3, on the qui vive and on the attack, spells out again in no uncertain terms that the righteous do the right, handsome is as handsome does. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other in loving disagreement.

On April 25, the Gospel in chapter 10 acclaimed the pastoral image of the Good Shepherd, whose one glorification on the cross is meant to obliterate the need of any other such, even as the Letter, worried, worried out in chapter 3, a long and sorry recollection of Cain—Abel’s one-time brother—and the demands of love from one who laid down his life, and with whom and for whom we are then meant to do something of the same.  ‘Let us not love in word and speech but in deed and in truth’, says 1 John 3, when the whole of the Gospel says simply ‘love’, says that words outlast deeds, and that speech, that of the glorious Risen, ever routs works. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other in loving disagreement.

And now today, May 2, when and where our one Great Gospel, the Spiritual Gospel, counsels ‘abide’ and ‘remain’ in chapter 15, just here the letter of 1 John in chapter 4, fearing antinomial abandon, appends to his own most beautiful love poem, the charge again of lying, of lack of love of brother, of schism that surely created this letter, 1 John, as the spiritualists and the traditionalists, the Gnostics and the ethicists, parted company, one toward the free land of Montanus and Marcion, the other toward Rome and the emerging church, victorious, against which the Gospel was born, bred, written and preached. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other in loving disagreement.

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

The blessed Scripture bears incontrovertible, conflicted witness.  Easter is a conflicted, and so a muted, Alleluia, and was so already 20 centuries ago, as the resurrection cross of Jesus was raised up, in mournful joy, in a real joy made real by its honesty about sorrow.  Real joy becomes real by its honesty about sorrow. For us to move out of Covid time and on into joy, we shall need honesty about what we have lost.  And whom. (repeat). The Scripture, read hard and deep, can help us.  For history is endless contention and intractable difference, including religious history, perhaps especially including religious history.  To respond to Easter in history, for you, will mean bearing the cross of endless contention and intractable difference, the daily labor of history and community, where ‘the best of intentions run afoul of circumstance or chance’.

And more: there may well come a discreet time, for you, as a person of faith, to say something or do something, a time when some somewhat risky and uncomfortable mode of social involvement, or existential engagement, will beckon you.

Let us respond to Easter in history.

Responding in Life

Let us respond to Easter in life.

The Gospel prepares us for the lifelong work of responding to Easter.  The Gospel tells about resurrection largely on the basis of experience.  Experience and troubles, troubles that provoked lasting question.

The Gospels and Letters respond in life to Easter, in a muted alleluia, in a sober acclamation.

An Empty Tomb

The church is alive they acclaim.

Especially when we come to celebrate the life of a dear sister or brother in faith, we have a powerful experience of the church alive across the river of death. The church is the body of Christ. We affirm a bodily, physical resurrection, tasted for a time in church. I give you Emily Dickinson:

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond—
Invisible as music—

But positive, as Sound—
It beckons and it baffles—
Philosophy—don’t know—
And through a Riddle, at the last—
Sagacity must go (E Dickinson)

Or, as one of our wise beyond years undergraduates said this spring, ‘I will be careful with any kind of hope that I have’.

A Trumpet Blast

The future is open they acclaim.

There is, that is, a spiritual resurrection in your future.

Once, we met a psychiatrist who said his work was to offer the possibility that stories might have a different ending. You know that story of your life at its worst, the one that seems to have the same ending no matter how you live and how you tell it? That story can have a different ending, another conclusion. It can.

Your repeated narrative of inherited addiction can be overcome in sobriety.

Your national adolescence in forgetting the limits of power can be overcome in a more collegial, humbler, more mature foreign policy.

Your usurpation can give way to response. Your isolation can give way to community. Your imperialism can give way to justice. We can learn lessons from our experience.

Your religious amnesia about what is fun in faith—giving and inviting—can be lifted like a fog at dawn, and you can sing out your soul.

Things can, and will in Christ, be better for you and for us. That repeated tale of employment and unemployment, love and loss, relationship and rejection can change. The cycle can be broken, when what is in place is invaded by what is taking place.

An Existential Awakening

Love is real they acclaim. In this way, at least for once, the letter surpasses the Gospel, the child outdoes the parent:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Who would or could or should say more?

Let us respond to Easter in life.

Coda

The church is alive. The future is open. Love fills the heart. Foretastes of heaven. If the heavenly banquet has this menu, perhaps we need over these few earthly years to acquire a certain taste for certain things, faith and hope and love.

May we respond to Easter in worship, in history, and in life?  It is an Easter call to the altar.  It is your Easter altar call.

So, dear friends, then travel with a little imagination…Imagine Eucharist at Marsh Chapel.  Stand to sing… Pause to reflect… Step out into the aisle… Look at and look past Abraham Lincoln and Francis Willard…Receive cup and bread, bread and cup… Kneel at the altar to pray… Stand in communion with the communion of saints…Here is the bread and cup of friendship…Imagine, a congregation reciting together a creed, a psalm, a hymn, a poem.  Imagine, if you are willing, a congregation currently in diaspora, but just now, by the word spoken and heard, a gathered and thus addressable community, you and I and all together, able to respond to Easter.

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

Sunday
April 25

The Bach Experience

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

1 John 3:1624

John 10:1118

Click here to hear just the sermon

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Personal Faith

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

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

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

We know God to be a pardoning God.  We hope to be made whole in this lifetime.

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

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

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

Personal faith may quicken with personal practices, of a new post-Covid sort.  In this past year, we may have discovered some new measures of resilience, grace, creativity and love.

One may choose to play the piano again.  Another may take a language study.  One may find a daily devotional reader, which sits on a bureau so one can read it while tying a tie.  Another may sit in the quiet of the sanctuary for a while before worship, as did Emerson, who said, I love the silent church before there is any speaking.  One may wander, saunter, flaner dans le rue, walking for a bit every day.  Exercise is so spiritually central and important. Another may start to journal, to record dreams, and to record insights, and to record angers and to record escapes.  Teaching and learning are spiritual adventures in pursuit of invisibles and intangibles (W. Arrowsmith).  Or, if nothing else, you can hardly do better than a conversation, in loving care, with another person of faith, say, over the phone.  One may look hard at her life, her actual activity, to see whether it becomes the gospel, and whether it approximates the very general guidance in the wisdom saying, in singleness integrity, in partnership fidelity.  At least one, it may be, will choose to listen with weekly discipline to the Marsh Chapel recorded and broadcast service, Come Sunday.  At least one, it may be, will choose to receive as a spiritual practice, the beauty of choral music, Come This and Other Bach Sundays.

Personal faith may quicken with disciplined personal practices, perhaps of a new post-Covid sort, inspired and empowered by the presence of the Good Shepherd, who knows his own and his own know him.

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

Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music:

Bach

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

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

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

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

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

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel:

Social Involvement

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

The community of the Gospel of John 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’, hic et nunc.  In distress, we hold onto divine presence, on word, the Shepherd– here.

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

As all of our 55 weeks and Sundays of worship, teaching, fellowship and remembrance, throughout these 385 days of contagion, masking and vaccine, have evinced among us, pistis and polis, faith and culture go together.   Here Bach may help us, if especially in the surge of beauty his music showers on us a sense of grace, and in so doing gathers us as one.  The older Lutheran preference for the two kingdoms, Christ and Culture in paradox, is at some lesser closeness to the transformational aspiration in Wesley’s social holiness.  Yet Bach’s very vocational choice to embed himself in congregational musical life is itself a harbinger of transformation.  More, the universal regard for the beauty of Bach itself places on the edge of a way forward, as a global village.

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

You then, in real time, read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis, which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the use of force of any kind, as we have been this past week. For example, our own BU President, Dr. Robert A. Brown faithfully wrote this week:

It’s my hope that this trial, and the activism and awareness which resulted from Mr. Floyd’s death, will bring us closer to that elusive equality, certainly as it relates to policing and the threat posed by law enforcement practices in communities of color. I also hope his legacy—and the legacy of the many other Black people who have lost their lives to police violence—helps to illuminate and redress the many other racial injustices which continue to afflict our society. These tragic deaths cast a bright and honest light on every form of racial antipathy, and I hope this energy carries into the fight we are having today to secure voting rights for people of color, and to stand up against every other manifestation of racism around the world.

Let us run the race set before us. So, as a runner, say, you have reason and obligation to be concerned about the route itself.  Run with joy the race set, but neglect not to engage by precept and example the social support, the cultural forms required for the race.  Like our beloved Marathon, which we have not celebrated now for two years, but we may honor in imagination today:   The route.  The roads cleared.  The police.  The first responders.  The supporting cheerers.  The rules and traditions.  The many, thousands, standing by you, and standing with you, and standing for you.  Personal holiness is the run.  Social holiness is the route (repeat). They go together.

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

Ah, would that I had a thousand tongues!

 Ah, would that my mouth were

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

Than what was geared to God’s praise!

Then I would proclaim the Highest’s goodness,

For all my life he has done so much for me

 That I cannot thank Him in all eternity.

-Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

Sunday
April 18

Imagine That

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Luke 24:36-48

Click here to hear just the sermon

When I was young, my family moved from upstate New York to Northeastern Pennsylvania. We settled outside of Harford Township. A town with just over 1000 people at the time and still is not much larger today. I have grown accustomed, especially in New England to emphasizing the Harf. in Harford. There is no t in the name, but there is a yearly fair. The Harford Fair was always held in late August just before the start of school. The Fair held the promise of fireworks, friends, food, animals, and many other wonders to children and adults alike. Kids below 12 were always free, so my sister and I frequently roamed the fairgrounds.

Over time, my sister closest in age and I learned how to glean at the fair. There was loose change to be found below the bleachers after sheep showings and tractor pulls. We generally found enough for pizza or ice cream. A booth offered apples if you made a hole in one at mini-golf. It was free and the attendants were gracious if you missed. You just went back in the line until you made the shot. You could get free water from the Baptist booth, candy from Democrats and Republicans, popcorn from a local bank, and you could watch a 30-minute Christian cartoon in the shade to break the August heat. There were even a few years when family artwork won some ribbons at the school-house exhibits. To us, the fair teemed with possibility. We never quite knew what we would find, whom we would see, and the fun we would have but every August, the fair came and went.

Usually, we would watch the yearly fireworks as a family, and that meant a trip to the midway. The midway was the location of the rides and carnival games. We spent more time watching than playing there, but the lights and action were fun to see. You could feel the wind whipping from rushing rides, hear balloons popping from darts, and smell French fries. At our family trip to the Midway, Mom and Dad, or my older siblings, would slip us a few dollars and we would play some skee-ball for 10 cents a game back in the day. We would also play a ping pong ball toss game. For a dollar or two, you would get a basket full of ping pong balls, enough for all of us to take many turns. The objective of the game was to throw the ping pong balls into a narrow-rimmed cup. Most did not make it and fell to the wayside. Like many carnival games, the odds weren’t really in our favor to win the big prizes. The balls would hit the rims of the cup and bounce off but most years, one or two of us would manage to get a ball in a small prize cup. The small prize was always a goldfish in a plastic bag.

Whoever won the fish got to name it and it was theirs but we were all excited no matter who won. Throughout the evening, the fish would be thoroughly examined before being brought home. The fishbowl full of water would already be prepared and fishfood ready to be sprinkled. No matter what we did though, no matter what we tried, no fish ever lasted more than a few days. Most had gone belly up overnight. This meant that the fishbowl sat empty for most of the year. It sat empty until the fair rolled back into town. The empty fishbowl resided on a shelf across from my seat at the dinner table. I’d look at it longingly. It was a sign of death and failure. A source of discomfort. A wound for a child who mourned the loss of fish barely known and hardly attached. The empty fishbowl was a sign of death; yet, by grace it was also something else. It was also something more.

By grace, the childish wound of the empty fishbowl was also a sign of hope. For every year, with hopeful expectations I imagined what it would look like to have the fishbowl be a place of life. Every year, I looked forward to filling it with water with the hope that that year, things would be different. Filling the bowl with water each year and hoping took faith. Imaging the empty bowl full was an act of faith. This involved looking past what was to what could be seen through the childhood imagination. It was dreaming and wondering what could be if things were different.

There is a difference between childish imagination and the wonder of children’s imagination. Too often, the wonder of the imagination is set aside as childish but imagination is central to the recognition of what is real and what really matters. Science, language, arts, theology all rest upon some form of imaginative thinking and imaginative expressing. The imagination provides us meaningful paradigms to interpret life and hope in faith for goodness. The imagination does not have to be an escape from the world it can be a way of hoping for the world to come. Sometimes we have to imagine to recognize what cannot be seen otherwise. Sometimes we have to imagine to wonder at what could be. This type of imagination does not have to be childish or lead to passive reception of wounds. This type of imagination is not an opiate of the people it can be the very work that propels us to action. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream stemmed from a holy imagination that refused to allow white racism to dictate the terms of reality. He dared to dream from a different imagination. His imagination sparked hope when many thought hope was lost. The imagination can be a spark that rises from ashes to kindle new possibilities. It can propel us toward recognition of the ever-elusive presence of divine love in loose in the world today. This is desperately needed in this time of great woundedness.

Luke writes about wounds in this post-resurrection narrative following a post-resurrection narrative. Prior to this reading, Luke records that Jesus encountered disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus and the disciples spoke but the disciples did not recognize Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught but recognition did not come through quoting texts and convincing speeches. The disciples came to recognize Jesus when bread was broken. Broken bread. The bread of the Eucharist gives life but to do so has to be broken. Perhaps, another way of saying broken bread is wounded bread. After recognizing Christ in the wounded bread, Christ disappeared from the disciples. Then, the disciples turned around and went back to Jerusalem.

After returning to the eleven, it was while they were still speaking that Jesus appeared to them and said peace. Despite having just heard the testimony of those on the road to Emmaus, the disciples were startled and terrified when Jesus appeared to them. The text says that the disciples thought Jesus to be a ghost. A phantom spirit present but not physically there. He addressed the doubts verbally but then did something odd. To alleviate the concerns, Jesus invited the disciples to touch and feel his flesh but before doing that, he showed them his hands and feet. That is odd. Jesus did not ask them to look him in the eyes or tell them something that only he would know. He draws attention to his hands and feet. He showed them feet that journeyed with them and hands that had served them. He showed them hands and feet that they would recognize. But these hands and feet were not unchanged by the cross. Recall the Johannine passage read last week which makes explicit what Luke points toward. The hands and feet of Jesus bear the marks of the nails from the cross. Jesus drew their attention to the wounds of the cross.

Practical Theologian Mary Mcclintock Fulkerson tells us that “like a wound, theological thinking is generated by a sometimes inchoate sense that something must be addressed.”[1] Wounds, true wounds, cannot be ignored. They seek to be addressed. Theology, belief and faith about God often stem from wounds or relate to wounds. Wounds that could lead to questions and fear. Wounds that need to be addressed. Luke and John affirm that wounds can also be a place of recognition. A place where God has gone before us, not to justify, redeem, or cause wounds unilaterally, but to be recognized. Wounds can be a sources of imagination. Faith in Christ does not take away wounds, but faith in Christ is faith in a wounded God. Christ knew wounds and Christ knows wounds. This is the Christ that Black Liberation Theologian James Cone imagines as present among the lynched and suffering. Christ present and wounded at the site of suffering. Cone also tells us that it doesn’t take rope and a tree for a lynching to take place. They just as easily take place at the barrel of a gun. But whether it be at the barrel of a gun, the lynching tree, or the Roman cross, the God who suffers is the God of the oppressed. The risen Christ is the wounded Christ. Christ showed his wounds to the disciples so that they could imagine and recognize different possibilities.

In order to address their doubts and fears, Christ showed the disciples his hands and feet. Recognition did not come through a whirlwind of cosmic power or a glorious triumphal miracle. Recognition stemmed from wounds. The cross is foolishness but honestly, radical love involves foolishness. Imagining God’s radical love cannot speak past wounds or over wounds. It cannot spiritually bypass materiality. Jesus invited the disciples to see the very places where the nails were driven into his body. The resurrection did not take the scars away. Recognition of the scars led to recognition of Jesus as the Christ. “39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” See that it is I myself, or in Greek, egō eimi autos. egō eimi, I am. Jesus convinced the disciples of his personhood and presence by drawing attention to his scars. Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself… We see wounds all around us today. Wounds of the economic divide, racial divide, and political divides. We see wounds but do we see Christ? Do we imagine the wounded Christ present and propelling us toward change? The risen Christ is the crucified God. There is a great temptation to forget that. There is a great temptation to join Peter in his avoidance of Christ as Isaiah’s suffering servant. We cope with the wounded Christ on Good Friday. We sit unsettled with the death of Christ on Holy Saturday, but what about the wounded Christ as the risen Christ in Eastertide? This Christ is unsettling. Wounds are unsettling even as they call to be addressed.

In this Lukan scene, Jesus calls the disciples to witnesses to these things. Part of the resurrection, part of the witness is to wounds. Witnesses are those who have seen and testify through belief about that which they have seen and know. Christian memory is a witness to this Christ or it misses a core part of how to recognize Christ and imagine Christ. Christian witness is partly kindled from the imaginative spark called forth from wounds. To always miss wounds is to risk missing Christ. Wounds should not be unilaterally glorified or celebrated but they also cannot be ignored.

The disciples were looking right at Christ, but until bread was broken, until the wounds were shown, recognition of the risen Christ did not take place. This Christ is present in the work of love and liberation today. This Christ is present in places of suffering and oppression seeking to bring about wholeness and restoration. This Christ is recognized by wounds and in wounds. This work often takes form as resistance and counter-narration. The temptation to see Jesus only when the fishbowl is full precludes the work of imagining Christ when the fishbowl is empty. It is not just a good times and in bad time’s reminder, it is a question of faith, presence, and Christology. Christ is wounded even in glory. This Christ does not call us to ignore pain and circumstances or seek out suffering. This Christ is a reminder that the power of God is not in chariots and horses, nuclear weapons and guns but in everyday resistance to suffering with the wounded God.

The wounds of Christ are meant to imagine a world without wounds.  In The Cross and Lynching Tree, James Cone put it this way, “The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair.”[2] These are ongoing activities seeking present day actuality. Wounds can help us identifying the liberating presence of incarnate resurrected love today. The risen love is loose in the world today but if we cannot recognize it, we will not see it.

Luke-Acts should certainly be read and interpreted together but it is significant that this wounded resurrection account frames the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel account. The final image of Luke is of the ascension but before the ascension, Jesus opens up the imaginative interpretive possibilities latent in the experiences and memories of the disciples. He shows the disciples how to interpret Scripture Christologically but also how to believe in the presence of wounds. The risen Christ continues to be present in the work of justice, liberation, and love today. The end is a new beginning. One unforeseen and unimaginable without the grace of God. But by the grace of God, we can imagine this world.

A few years ago, I was stuck in traffic on my way home from downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. Zip-tied to a bridge over the freeway was a sign with one word written on it. The homemade sign said, “Imagine.” I’ve always wondered, “Imagine what” but even in imagining what, the sign has generated imaginative thought. The resurrected Christ is a Christ who asks us to recognize wounds and to imagine other possibilities. The imagination is not always an escape from the world it can be a way of hoping for the world to come. We stand at the intersections of wounds and woundedness. We recognize the risen Christ as the wounded Christ. We see the scars, and let us dare to imagine something different. Let us dare to imagine a world where people can get home safe regardless of skin color. Let us imagine a world where people can get home safe regardless of sex or gender. Let the imagination come to be, by the grace of the risen wounded Christ. Let us incarnate the love of God loose in the world today. Imagine that.

[1] Places of Redemption, 14.

[2] 150.

-The Rev. Scott Donahue-Martens

Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology: Homiletics

Boston University School of Theology

Sunday
April 11

Easter Basket

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20:1931

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Memory

In our spiritual Easter basket this morning we find gracious gifts of memory and mind, of story and song.

Just before Easter some years ago, a dear mentor died, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin who had been our pastor at Riverside Church in New York.  He comes to memory at Easter, as did this Easter.  His example and service were a beacon and guide for us, as was his preaching, at Yale and then in New York.  At Easter his memory arises, partly because he had gift for epigrams.  In the joy of Easter there is in the seasonal basket the particular joy of his capacity to put things simply and say things briefly.  He was a stellar epigrammatist, as in his own way, was the author of our fourth Gospel, read a moment ago.  Here are a few from Coffin:

There is more mercy in God than sin in us.

To age is grow from passion to compassion.

When my son died God’s heart broke first.

The separation of church and state is not the separation of a Christian from her politics.

Lent is the time to get rid of your guilt.

I’m not OK, and you’re not OK. But that’s OK.

Courage is the most important virtue because it makes all the others possible.

Rules are signposts not hitching posts.

The woman most in need of liberation is the woman in every man.

Hell is truth seen too late.

The trick in life is to die young as late as possible.

The longest, most arduous trip in the world is the journey from the head to the heart.

It is often said that religion is a crutch. What makes you think you don’t limp?

Good preaching is never at people, it’s for people.

To me it is hard to believe a loving God would create loving creatures that aspire to be yet more loving, and then finish them off before their aspirations are complete. There must be something more….

Mind

In our spiritual Easter basket this morning we find gracious gifts of memory and mind, of story and song.

In a class on pastoral leadership this past week, we read Parker Palmer’s classic The Courage to Teach.  In it he explores the relationship of the teacher’s inner life to the craft of teaching.  Those truest to and closest to their own best selves invariably become the most mindful teachers, of whose insights we are most often reminded.  Take Dr. Christopher Morse, who taught us to think about things.  Like heaven for instance.

How are we to think about heaven?

One way to think about something is to think about its opposite.

Our Bible uses the word heaven in opposition to the word earth. Heaven is up there. Earth is down here. ‘Heaven and earth are full of thy glory’. ‘As the heavens are high above the earth’. ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’ Heaven represents the ultimate or penultimate reality of the physical world in the Bible, as it does in the ancient philosophers.

But we are today reluctant to think that heaven is up there. For we know that ‘Up There’ is the moon, the Milky Way, and the expanding, even infinite, universe.

Our Bible also speaks of heaven in contrast to hell. Now the comparison is not between up and down, as much as it is between lasting good and lasting bad. Heaven is good. Hell is bad. But we also have some question about these inherited, mythological accounts of hell, as well as similar accounts of this Heaven. Harps, wings, clouds…fire, forks, tails…Good we acknowledge. Evil we acknowledge. Hell as the absence of God, or of good, we acknowledge. But hell as eternal torment, administered in punitive ways by a divinity of somewhat unpleasant temperament, this hell we question.

Here is a third contrast. Not heaven and earth, nor heaven and hell, but heaven and hurt. It is at the heart John and the marrow of the Easter gospel that ‘something happened’. Not up and down, nor good and bad, but now and then. This contrast is built on time, rather than on space or on morals. Heaven is then, earth is now. A belief in heaven, then, is a trust in what is ‘taking place’ over against a knowledge of what is ‘in place’. What is taking place, contrasted with what is in place. What is at hand as contrasted to what is in hand. (I am indebted here to the work of my teacher, Dr. Christopher Morse). Now we see in a mirror dimly, then face to face. Now we see in mirror dimly.  Then face to face.

Easter reminds, brings to mind. Heaven is both near and different, utterly close at hand, yet completely different from anything in hand. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ ‘The reign of God has come near to you.’ ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’. ‘The Lord is at hand…’And yet…there is nothing in our hands like what God hands us. The resurrection is Christ’s victory over death, when no other victory avails.

Story

In our spiritual Easter basket this morning we find gracious gifts of memory and mind, of story and song.

The Holy Scripture brings the story of Easter, nestled into our Easter basket this Eastertide.

Last week we heard from 1 Corinthians 15, wherein Paul writes to address an argument in the church about resurrection. (This is utterly fascinating in itself, since it shows that not 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion there was already church disagreement about resurrection!  Imagine that.)

It is a pastoral letter, a pastoral word.  Paul sits at the bedside, as it were.  He takes your hand and remembers your experience in receiving an inherited tradition: dead, buried, and raised on the third day. He mentions to you, hand on shoulder, the centrality of resurrection to the whole of Christian preaching. He pauses to place this account of resurrection into an apocalyptic frame, which he brought with him from Judaism, but notices your flagging interest in the history of religions. So, as he did with circumcision in Galatians, and as we are perhaps inclined to think he often did in polemic, Paul lets the whole Gospel ride on this one point, at this point. He recites names of people you also have heard of—Peter, James, others. With you, perhaps asking in Hemingway fashion for your experience too (what is your actual experience of life, death, love, the numinous?), he recounts experiences of others, who have known an appearance, apostles, individuals, and groups, even himself. (This is our one and only primary source reference to a personal experience of the Risen Christ, by the way). He points to popular religious practices (the experience, apparently known in the Corinthian church, of baptizing in the name of the dead). There is a lengthy pause. Then he dramatically asserts his own experience of suffering, and risks of death, as sure evidence of the power of resurrection. He pointedly equates denial of resurrection with license to do as we please. Paul even takes up, less intelligibly, and more mystically, the further question of how resurrection happens. He then more philosophically, and lengthily, assesses our experiences of the glories of nature, the created order, the firmament, the physical body. The passage is based on experience. While he starts with his own experience, he leans heavily on yours.

Then his conclusion. Listen for what is not said, too. Paul also, for all the experiential assurance of the chapter, clearly announces that he tells of a…mystery. Not a fact. A mystery. Not a miracle. A mystery. Not a wonder. A mystery. Not evidence or verdict. A mystery. Behold, I tell you a mystery…

To announce this mystery, the New Testament in general, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, convey three different accounts of resurrection. Peter (representing the first three gospels) emphasizes a physical resurrection, an empty tomb, more than resuscitation, to be sure, but physical nonetheless. Paul emphasizes a spiritual resurrection, known in revelation. John announces an existential resurrection, one that fills all of life and creation, that was presaged by the raising of Lazarus, one that makes the cross itself a glorification, a completion. Peter shows us an empty tomb. Paul blows the trumpet of heaven. John acclaims a full heart. All three emphases, perhaps providentially provided to reach the varied hearts and minds of various women and men, all the spots on the personality map, affirm that something happened. Something for dreamers, doubters and doers. Something for engineers, philosophers, and politicians. You may ask if they are all on the same page.

We reply, “They are singing out of the same hymnal: Sings Peter, ‘ours the cross, the grave, the skies’; sings Paul, ‘my chains fell off, my heart was free’; sings John, ‘he walks with me and he talks with me’.”

What the church has tried to name, over the centuries, in the weeks of Easter, is that something happened. Something physical, something spiritual, something experiential. There is room for your particular temperament here. To some measure, they must all be true. For the physical resurrection, the resurrection of the body, at the least is attested in the ongoing life of the church. And the spiritual resurrection is at least attested in the preaching of the faith. And the existential resurrection is at least attested in unexpected, undeserved, real love. Something happened. The church is alive. The future is open. Love is real.  The Lord is risen indeed!

Song

In our spiritual Easter basket this morning we find gracious gifts of memory and mind, of story and song.

It has been just over a year since our last wedding at Marsh Chapel.  So, to converse last week with a couple to be married up the coast this fall, the first since March of 2020, brought an unexpected wave of emotion.  Joy! A song of joy of its own.  After the conversation, the words and rhythms and gladness of weddings flooded in, in full.  Especially the song of St. Paul, not always used in weddings, and when used not always rightly used, but still used often, an Easter song of love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;

It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;

But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now* we see in a mirror dimly, but then* face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.

So, faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Memory and mind, story and song:  Made like him, like him we rise
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies
…Alleluia!

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!

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