April 9

Let the Glory Out- Easter 2023

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Matthew 28:1–10

Click here to hear just the sermon

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out. (E Markham).

Holy Week Poem

After the falsehood of Palm Sunday.  After the shadows of Tenebrae.  After the betrayal of Maundy Thursday.  After the torture of Good Friday.  After the silence, the emptiness, of Easter Vigil.  Now.  Come Sunday.  Come Easter Sunday…The Lord is Risen!  He is risen indeed. 

But let us take care in our comprehension of our intention of our inspiration for our consideration of our inclination toward our apprehension of resurrection.  On this glorious day.  The resurrection follows but does not replace the cross.  As the poet wrote: 

…Defeat may serve as well as victory, to shake the soul and let the glory out… 

My predecessor Dean Robert Cummings Neville, who preached beautifully last evening and is with us this morning, bequeathed me in 2006 the former desk of the former—fourth—President of Boston University, Daniel Marsh, now the desk for the Dean of Marsh Chapel.  Rectangular, 4’by 2’, the desk has only two drawers, one filled with hand written notes of thanks, encouragement, rejoinder, critique and love; the other one filled with a potpourri of desk type things—pen, calculator, tape, scissors, all.  In the back corner are pocket sized books.   I was flying to meet our son for his birthday, an annual mid-winter joy, and wanted a very small gift for him, meaningful but fit for flying without adding to him a burden going home.  Somehow President Marsh’s desk beckoned. In the back corner I found an old pocket collection of prayers and poems, which had been my dad’s during his early days as a military chaplain, given to him in 1958 by the Methodist minister in Denver Colorado.  It seemed perfect for our son’s birthday, and portable, and a further connection to his grandfather.  And a kind of binding of the generations, which becomes more important, as the years progress.

Looking through the book, on route to our birthday celebration, I was startled by a poem by Edward Markham.  Memory does not afford how, originally, I came to know the poem.  Markham was a faithful social activist, poet laureate of Oregon, who died in 1940, and best known for his social gospel poem, The Man with the Hoe.  But this prayer book poem, short and terse, somehow brought clouded memory, somehow past connection:

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out…
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture,
Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

Easter is the victorious faith to live on, to struggle on, in the aftermath of defeat.  It is the music lesson that teaches you to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.  So, our exiled Jewish forebears wept, but remembered, cried aloud, but stayed true, gave gruesome lament, but still, but yet, held on, with the faith and power together to live with and through defeat:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down, and there we wept…
when we remembered Zion.
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

Hear Good News!

God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

(Fear not for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here.  He is risen as he said.)

“One Easter I went with my grandfather to a small Presbyterian church in northern Idaho where I heard a sermon on the discrepancies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection…I was a young child… yet I remember that sermon…I can imagine myself that primal Easter, restive at my grandfather’s elbow, pushing my nickels and dimes of collection money into the tips of my gloves…memorably forbidden to remove my hat…It seems to me I felt God as a presence before I had a name for him…I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention all around me…and I thought everyone else must also be aware of it…Only in church did I hear experience like mine acknowledged, in all those strange narratives, read and expounded…”(The Death of Adam, 227-229, Marilynne Robinson)

From mid-March on, the Markham poem haunted.  And as Holy Week approached, more so still.  More so this week.  After…the falsehood of Palm Sunday.  After the shadows of Tenebrae.  After the betrayal of Maundy Thursday.  After the torture of Good Friday.  After the silence, the emptiness, of Holy Saturday.  Now.

I believe in the resurrection, both its history and its mystery.  But to convey its power as well as its meaning, the church has been trying to do for 2,000 years, come Easter, come Sunday.  Resurrection is resurrection…of the dead, from the dead.  Yet, the reality of death in all its masks never, ever leaves us, and should not be left at the door come Easter, for the sake of the preaching of the resurrection itself.  The resurrection follows but…does not replace…the cross.  Defeat may serve as well as victory, to shake the soul, and let the glory out.

Maybe that is particularly stunning and gracious news for a culture that bows the knees at victory, even when the facts show defeat.

Betrayal, disrespect, ingratitude…these things are real and are not washed away, not even at Easter.  Sin, death, meaninglessness…these things are lasting and are not erased not even at Easter.

To repeat: Easter is not mere victory.  Easter is the victorious power to live with defeat.  Easter is not mere victory.  Easter is the victorious faith to live on, to struggle on, in the aftermath of defeat.  Easter is the music lesson that teaches us to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

Your mother said, ‘when life gives lemons, make lemonade’.  She did not mean that lemons are sweet.  They aren’t.

When Martin Neimoller cried out… First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me…his cry was an honest lament of faithlessness, of utter defeat, amid a faithful call to justice.  He did not thereby claim that injustice had ended, or would.  It abides.

Robert F. Kennedy stood in the rain in Indianapolis, 55 years ago, to speak with tragic honesty about the murder of Martin Luther King: My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”  He did not forecast the coming of the kingdom in short order.  And it did not come, and King’s death presaged his own two months later.

John Fetterman of Pennsylvania checked himself into the hospital this winter for depression, and is returning to life.  He does not thereby deny the horrid anxiety and loneliness of despond. It remains.  Anxiety and depression and alienation and disconnection remain, and must be battled in resurrection spirit.

Strangely, after days, the memory of where we may first have heard the poem, or a snippet of it, emerged.  From December 2000. Al Gore indirectly cited Markham’s poem 23 years ago after the drama of dangling chads and the 566-vote loss of the Presidency in 2000, mentioning that his own father had often cited it.  That must have been part of my dim memory of the verse. He did not deny the hurt in defeat.  He had the greater motive:  to sense in defeat a portal to glory, and in his case it came, over time, in his work, early work, even early prophetic work, on climate.  In the winter of 2008, along with Professor Peter Berger, of blessed memory, Marsh Chapel hosted a screening of Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth.  He did not mean that political dishonesty had ended.  It hadn’t.

We have all known defeats, whether in relationship, in illness, in acceptances, in elections, in selections, in trusts, in, well, in life.  Yet they have a far side beyond all the trouble.  After one defeat, with grace and love, a mentor sent a note saying, ‘You were not denied…you were spared.  Not denied but spared’.

And yet, in all these moments, for all their trial, there was…what shall we call it? Call it resurrection.

Easter is the unkillable possibility of the Christian life, the power and empowerment of authentic human life, the un-maskable potential in every space and every place, for love.  Easter is the resurrection of possibility.

In a strange resurrection way, those who have given us our greatest blessings, our lasting victories, have done so knowing in full the lasting sting of defeat, in our own past.

Those who gave us Boston University in 1839.

Those who gave us the Chautauqua movement in the 1870’s.

Those who gave up the names and properties of their own denominations in Canada to forge with others the United Church there in 1925.

Those who gathered the bruised and beaten religious survivors of World War II, and created the World Council of Churches in 1948.

Those who kindled the student movement of the 1950’s.

Those who welcomed the globe into the ‘aggiornamento’ of Vatican II in 1963.

Their faithfulness in and through suffering gave life, to many, and to you and me.  Without those five movements we would not be here today, not in this shape anyway.

One friend brought an Easter memory this week:

“As I conducted the Good Friday Communion Service in (one) stark setting, I always noticed that the scent of the Easter lilies (always delivered Friday morning) drifted across the hallway into the sanctuary. What marvelous symbolism! While looking at the veiled cross and stark communion table, worshippers could not avoid breathing in a sweet reminder of Our Lord’s victory over tragedy and death.

Over the years, I have been privileged to know a good many people who have been able to sense Easter during the Good Friday’s of their lives, and were therefore enabled to move through dark days with dignity and hope. Thank God for the scent of Easter!” (The Rev. Gordon Knapp).

Sursum Corda! Hear the Easter Gospel! ‘Defeat may serve as well as victory

To shake the soul, and let the glory out’!

In the words of the Canadian Creed:

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

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

Comments are closed.