May 7

Communion Meditation- May 2023

By Marsh Chapel

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John 14:1-14

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This morning we think of our students, as classes end and exams begin, and especially our seniors, with whom we gather up in prayer the experiences of four years and lift them all in a spirit of grace and peace. 

This morning we embrace the graduates of 2023, who began in 2019, as they commence with the rest of life, and lift them all in a spirit of grace and peace. 

This morning we open ourselves to the world around us, and pledge ourselves to live not only in this world but also, and more so, for this world, for this world in a spirit of grace and peace. Speaking of grace, this morning we offer you a prayer, a grace, written by John Wesley. Wesley was the founder of Methodism, the religious tradition that gave birth to Boston University in 1839.   

His grace exemplifies that tradition: 

The words are simple:  that is significant 

The language is universal:  that is significant 

The tone is thankful:  that is significant 

The phrasing is memorable:  that is significant 

It is a prayer fit for use morning by morning, day by day, year by year, all in a lifetime:  that too is significant: 

 Gracious Giver of all good 

Thee we thank for rest and food 

Grant that all we do or say 

May in thy service be, this day 

Next week, our honored ‘This I Believe’ speakers will continue this tradition, in a spirit of grace and peace:  Allison Brown, Madison Boboltz, Hannah Hathaway,  Allison Imbacuan, Marian Karam Diaz—congratulations! 

This morning we think of our congregation, our community of faith, brought together by the gospel, and its preaching, by the gospel, and its sacrament, by the gospel and its resurrection mystery. 

We are children of those who shared with us the gifts of wonder, morality and generosity.  In mystery. 

John is a mystery.  It is odd that John has no record of the Last Supper, in his account of the passion. It is odd that John demotes Peter from his regular central role. It is odd that the gospel carries no remembrance of parables. It is odd that hardly anything of the standard ministry of Jesus, usual gospel fare, appears here. It is odd that the humanity of Jesus has virtually disappeared into the bright eternal light of his form in John, “God striding upon the earth”. It is odd that the New Testament would include a Gospel so fully at odds with its three synoptic cousins. Cousins, not siblings. It is odd that John, by the main, has no use for the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. Where would the church be without birth to cleanse and guilt to absolve? It is odd that the Gospel we read today is shaped around seven stunning miracles, and four impenetrable chapters of teaching. It is odd that a Gospel so wildly different from the rest of those in the Bible should have made the cut, and been included. If you think having Ecclesiastes—which rejects, contradicts and humiliates much of the rest of the Hebrew Scripture—included there is a strange thing, then multiply that odd presence by 20 or 50 and you have a sense of how different is John. Nor in church nor in academia have we yet begun to account for the radical freedom and difference of this nonconforming gospel. It is odd. 

What remains, as we consider our church, our chapel, our community, our common table?  

A testimony to the power of relationship remains. John 14 sets aside predictions, instructions, and demonstrations, found here in the other gospels. Here relationship, relationship alone, remains. The relationship of Father and Son. The relationship of departed and devoted. The relationship of doubter and disciple. The relationship of community and pastor. The relationship of faith and works. The relationship of Jesus and his own.  

Things that really matter are ultimately relational, whether that relationship is with others, with self, or with God. Our friends give
us ourselves. Our instincts give us ourselves. Our sense of presence gives us ourselves. So this morning let me directly ask you to think about your close relationships, your work relationships, and your relationship to God. In these relationships you may overhear the humming, mysterious allure of service.   

Your relational gits, Marsh Chapel community, and your communal duties are significant and challenging.  They include needs, plans and hopes, all part of our shared communal duties: 

Needs: Boston University needs from Marsh Chapel, Religious Life (5) 

* Sunday Worship Excellence, *All University Events Ceremonial Leadership, *Pastoral Care at Death, *Religious Life Ministry, Program and Oversight, *University ‘Identity’, in History and Hope 

Plans:  Marsh Chapel and Religious Life Strategic Plan 2023 Summary (5) 

The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is be a heart in the heart of the city, and a service in the service of the city.  Our use of President Merlin’s epigram means city as the global city, and service as worship and work.   Our foci guiding this envisioned mission are voice, vocation, and volume.  As in other iterations of our strategic plan (2006, 2009, 2012, 2017), we take our lead from the new, refreshed Boston University Plan, especially its own five-fold foci:  academics, research, globality, diversity, community. 

Hopes:  75th Marsh Chapel Dedication Anniversary (‘25) Goals (5, 200, 100, 1, 4) 

 $5M deanship endowment completed.  200. 200 students in worship.  100.  100,000 weekly contacts (building use, worship, newsletter, website, radio listenership, internet listenership, pastoral contact, other).  1.  One annual BU Religious Life Day (perhaps climate related). 4. Infrastructure advances (Live Stream; Digital Ministry; Organ; Elevator etc.).

These needs, plans and hopes involve us all, including those listening from afar.   


This morning with glad hearts we think of the three children to be baptized just following our service today.  Please stay and join us in the chancel, after our greeting in the narthex.  Bring along a hymnal.  We will speak then of baptism, a sacrament… 

We will remember an ancient, beautiful teaching, the Didache, which word simply means teaching, composed in the early second century, it may be, a younger cousin of the gospels of John and Matthew: 

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to everyone who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give. 

This morning we think of this season, Eastertide, the season of resurrection.  The resurrection of Jesus is more than resuscitation. The witness of the church, of this church too, is that God has decisively acted in history by Christ to forgive sin and to vanquish death. Nor is Christ’s being raised a form of healing, only, or translation, only, like the experiences of Lazarus or Elijah. No, this is the first fruit of the new creation, the beginning of the new age, whose outpost is the church. God’s invasion, beachhead, incursion into history, the divine d-day is announced today 

It is in this vein, 60 years after the first Easter, that our fourth Gospel writer preaches. All the aforementioned, bodily resurrection, he receives and assumes. But he has other fish to fry, morally spiritual fish to fry. For the author of John, the accounts today of absence and presence have become moral stories. Directions for some to believe and go home, for others to recognize and say something. There is a “finesse” to venerable memory that, in its delicate lightness, touches truth more truly than younger recollection. Johns shows us some of this kind of “finesse”. Some historians avoid an historic, that is bodily, or mystically vocal resurrection, because they focus on causation. Resurrection is not a historical category in the general sense. Philosophers, sociologists, scientists, cannot fathom resurrection, because it challenges the basic categories of their work. Which it does. Many others, avoid resurrection for another reason, the primary reason for the rejection of the Gospel in any case. Resurrection creates responsibility. If we are all merely creatures of biology, sociology and history, conditions over which we have no control and upon which we have no influence, then we are not free and therefore we are not responsible. We are not subjects. There is a reassuring side to this thought. While we receive no praise, we also avoid any blame. Nothing much changes anyway. Our conditions cause our behavior. “I really do not want to go to church because I know at some point somebody will ask me to do something.”  

But conditions are not, necessarily, causes. Our sinful human condition is not necessarily a warrant for ongoing sin. Our mortal human condition is not ultimately an unalterable death knell. Easter means forgiveness and heaven!  

Contrary to historical determinism, in the historic teaching of the church, on resurrection, the opposite is true. God has freely acted in raising Jesus, and has thus opened the way for response. We are free to respond. And there is the rub.  

It is not, finally, we who have the power to question the resurrection. It is the resurrection that questions us.  

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

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

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