Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

September 3

Alma Mater

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 16:21–28

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Class of 2027!  Family, and friends, and siblings and parents and all!  Welcome today to Boston University, which in a few short years you will come to name, come to call Alma Mater, soul mother, your soul mother.  The place where your young self gives way to your own-most self, your first self gives way to your second self, your early self gives way to your later self, where, may it be so, you come to yourself, you find yourself, you become aware, maybe fully for the first time, thanks to your soul mother, of your very soul.  

By their fruits ye shall know them.  As our President Kenneth Freeman said not long ago, we want to cultivate a sense of gratitude, an encultured sense of thanksgiving.  We do so by giving energy and wings to a simple phrase in American English, a lovely tongue, thank you.  Say thank you in prayer, in memory, in speech, in note, in letter in cyber text.  Let’s give some energy to ‘thank you’ this year.   

As our Provost Kenneth Lutchen said not long ago, we are here to form guide and shape others, not only to be an become intelligent people, but also to become intelligent people who go forth to make the world a better place. Intelligent people who go forth to make the world a better place.  The founders of Boston University, those Methodists of 1839, would smile to hear him say that. 

Every school and college in this BU community of 42,000 souls, has a role to play, and we say our own thank you, in advance, for the freedom, the financial and temporal and special and personal freedom to study, and for the fruit such study will produce: 

For the study of education 

Whose fruit is both memory and hope 

For the study of communication 

Whose fruit is truth 

For the study of engineering and computational and digital science 

Whose fruit is expanding global connection and safety 

For the study of management, business and economics 

Whose fruit is community 

For the liberal, metropolitan and general studies of art and science 

Whose fruit is freedom 

For the study of social work 

Whose fruit is systemic compassion 

For the study of law 

Whose fruit is justice 

For the study of art—music, dance, painting, drama, all 

Whose fruit is beauty 

For the study of hospitality 

Whose fruit is conviviality 

For the study of military and physical education 

Whose fruit is security  

For the study of medicine, dentistry, public health and physical therapy 

Whose fruit is wellness 

For the study of theology, the queen of the sciences, and its practices of religion 

Whose fruit is meaning, belonging and empowerment 

In this year may the family of Boston University—students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, neighbors all—become, by grace, thankful, thankful thankful for the freedom of such studies, which may make us:: 

healthier, more just, more connected, fairer, truer, sturdier, freer, gentler, deeper, safer, more compassionate, and more aware 

And how? 

All the world’s a stage. 

And all the men and women merely players; 

They have their exits and their entrances; 

And one (person) in his time plays many parts 

(W Shakespeare) 

And how? 

Walk. Listen. Read. (repeat) 


There is a great rush, a wind of life, energy, and hope with which every school year begins. May we not ever miss the privilege and joy of this Matriculation moment. Here you are, having bid farewell to mother and father, and said hello to your roommates. Your own life, your own most life, your second but truly first life now begins, or commences in another way. We should, all, remove our sandals, for this holy ground. ‘I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ In this moment of Holy Worship, Holy Scripture, Holy Communion, let us recall, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. 

Spiritual life in college, as in all life, but in a particularly particular way, causes you to walk, to walk pretty, to walk in a certain way. You will walk in a moment down Commonwealth Avenue, whose more Eastern blocks Winston Churchill called ‘the most beautiful street in America’. He was not wrong. Like the heart beating lub-dub, like spirit and flesh engaged together, like ear and eye, mind and heart, sol y sombra, one two, one foot two foot, hay foot straw foot, you are on the trail. I take my hat off to you, and bow before you, as did St Vincent De Paul before his students, with the dim awareness that in your midst is genius, somewhere someone somehow. 

Boston is the country’s best walking city, a pedestrian palace of nature and culture. You know from the SAT the French phrase, ‘flaneur dans le rue’, to saunter down the street with no especial task, just the breathing joy of breathing, and so you are a flaneur of the spirit. Walk. Walk at dawn. Walk. Walk in the mid-day. Walk. Walk in the evening. Walk in the sunshine and especially the snow. But walk. And for those otherwise abled, guide the walkers with a sense of strength in difference.  Saunter on Newbury Street, and in the Public Garden, and all the way out the Emerald Necklace. 

Come Sunday, that’s the day, walk to worship, walk to church, walk to the Chapel. It is the one walk most needed, on which all the rest in some balefully unappreciated measure does depend. The ordered public worship of Almighty God is not a matter of indifference, at least to the current Dean of Marsh Chapel. You are child of God. Walk here and hear so.  And remember what it feels like.  Every three months my friend is given an knee injection to relieve pain.  On the day of the shot, he says, ‘at least for a time, I remember what it is like to walk pain free’.  That is what walking can do, and that is what worship is for, to remind you of who and whose you are. 


Now the spiritual life takes shape. Here you are. Come and listen. Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century set out his orders for his order, beginning with the first and most important. Listen. It is not what you see but what you hear that matters, lasts, counts, gives meaning. Faith comes by hearing not scanning. Hearing comes by the Word of God, not the words on a screen. The keyboard is not the window of the soul. What holds, molds, scolds, folds, for youngs and olds, is in the hearing. We have several regular worshippers, sight impaired, who will remind you, in their faithfulness, of the primacy of the ear. Listen. 

Listen for what is not said, for the dog that does not bark. Listen for what engages, and for what enrages, both. Listen to the sounds of silence. Listen for a word of faith offered in a pastoral voice toward the prospect of a common hope. Listen for a word of faith offered in a pastoral voice toward the prospect of a common hope. “Dad, I heard something fantastic the other day. It went like this…’ We have two ears, and one tongue. 

What Jesus said in 30ad is written down at last, and with a healthy dollop of interpretation, by Matthew in 85ad. There was a long line of listening, hearing, sharing, speaking, long before the writing.  The Scripture offers to hearing and faith the paradox of saving and losing life: you only have, only possess, only truly hold what you have the power, grace, freedom and courage to give away. If you do not have it, you cannot give it. If you give it, truly, you then show you have owned it.   These sayings were written down together in Matthew 16 because they shared a tag word—life. What can you give in exchange for your life? 

One side of the message is conservative: hold on, flee false forfeit, prize life now you have it). Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses is life will find it. The other side of the message is liberal: splash around with generosity, give with no thought of return, take up the cross, follow. The two teachings together are a paradox, an antimony, even, by some measure they are at daggers drawn. Which one for which day on which way will you say? I give you an unusual idiom, out of the freedom of American English: It’s up to you. It’s up to you.  Over time you will need them both, the more liberal and the more conservative. Over time, you will need them both. Listen. Tune your ear to God.  To learn which to choose and when demands, requires, the training of the ear 

Our dear friend, and ninth BU President, now of blessed memory, who died yesterday, Dr. Aram Chobanian, longtime Dean of our Medical School, the school now named in part for him, could listen.  He had the gift, the knack of that physician’s grace, the grace of listening, of the artful bedside manner.   


As today, so every Lord’s day, much is read, come Sunday. If you come to church here every Sunday for three years, you will hear the whole Bible, more or less, four lessons per week.  Free of charge!  You will hear.  One will read, read to you. A love of reading conjured in college—for this we pray for one and all.   Not scanning. Reading.  Not speed reading.  Reading every word.  Reading will take you out beyond and behind the twin towers of your birth. You have come of age in the shadow of the mists of COVID, class of 2027.   You were raised in part in the shadows of anxiety, depression, alienation, loneliness. Masked. You came to age under the aspect of ZOOM.  The loss was not face, the loss was voice.  The loss of voice to the omnivorous screen. But now you are at last in college, in part again to find your voice. 

Read. Thereby you escape the confines of the early 21st century. Are there no other escape routes? No. You read. While other party, you read. While others drink, you read. While others play, you read.   You will come to a great land that has been awaiting your arrival. It is the land of memory. It is the land of hope. See the meadow, bright in the morning! Memory. Hear the chorus of birdsong at dawn! Memory. Now you are ready to move into memory in reading.   Pick a favorite verse. Read it well enough to commit it to memory. One said last week, When you start to memorize you start to notice the things you notice, your own habits of attention, your habits of reading. As the congregation knows by frequent infliction, today’s epistle is one of mine. (Romans 12: 9-13). Reading will take you to a land of memory, the location of a deeper story. 

Read.  Start with Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. You dwell in the tenth floor of a building whose first three stories were constructed with stolen land and enslaved labor, free land and free labor, for the benefit of anyone who had or used money, then or now. 

Read. You have the subsidized freedom, for four years or more or less, to think. Think things through. Think from the top down and the bottom up. Go where others are trying to think, and think with them. Challenge them. Question them. Press them. See what lasts. I am not afraid of the Gospel. It is the power of salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. As it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith’.  You remember what the bereft mother of a college age daughter said,in Charlottesville six years ago, quietly, said, gently, said truly, Think before you speak.  Think. 

Read.  Spiritual life—walk, listen, read, think—spiritual life true to your own-most self, is the only primary nourishment you will need for the next four years. Or the next forty. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? ‘We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke in the wheel itself’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) 

Our Chapel leadership, Rev. Dr. Chicka, Rev. Dr. Coleman, Dr. Jarrett, Mr. Lee, will invite you:  to Create Space on Tuesday afternoon, and to 5pm Monday Dinner, and to Eucharist and Dinner on Wednesday, and to Choir on Thursday (auditions this week).  You are not alone.  You are not alone. You are not alone. 



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

February 5

February Communion Meditation

By Marsh Chapel

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Matthew 5:13-20

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The text of this sermon is unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience.


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

December 25

A Boston Christmas

By Marsh Chapel

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John 1:1–14

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Merry Christmas!

The text of this sermon is unavailable. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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

May 22


By Marsh Chapel

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

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

May 8

Journeying On

By Marsh Chapel

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

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Let us pray.

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

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

Amen? Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 1

Spring in London

By Marsh Chapel

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John 20:19-31

1. Love Divine

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

2. Deeds That Speak

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

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

3. All Weddings Are Royal

Deeds that speak include weddings, royal and common.

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

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

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

4. Freedland

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

5. Their Finest Hour

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

6. Hell’s Destruction

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

7. Aldersgate Street

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

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

8. Resurrection Changes Us

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

9. Moral Lessons

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

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

10. Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

April 24

In the Garden

By Marsh Chapel


In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

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

In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

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

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

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

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

‘Ah, in two words, not good’.

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

1. Devotion

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

Mary has waited in the garden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later my mother said:

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

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

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

‘You mean Rodger…Maris?’

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

“Yeah. Right.”

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

“You mean Mickey…Mantle?”

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

“Yeah. Right”

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Decision

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

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

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

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

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

So. Why is all this here?

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

These things are written that you may believe…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Resurrection is verbal, vocal.

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


In the garden, resurrection is utterly personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 23

What Changes with Resurrection?

By Marsh Chapel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 17

A Meditation on the Palms and a Meditation on the Passion

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 21:1-11
Matthew 26:14 - 27:66

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 6

Word and Table: Mercy

By Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear Sermon only

Matthew 17:1-9

One Step Up: Global Change

Come Sunday we gather from near and far. Driving an hour from the west, a couple finds close parking and happily enters the nave. Rubbing two eyes awake, an undergraduate slips on a coat and hustles across the street. In Rhode Island a regular listener turns up the volume, and pours coffee. A woman makes her way from the T stop, stepping past a bit of ice and a pool of water. For an hour we are gathered before Word and Table.

Peter and James and John his brother have preceded us. It is comforting to hear and know their names. Ahead of us they have climbed the seven storey mountain, the mountain of change, the mount of Transfiguration. They have been led up, as have we. Lead on O Lord, and lead up. A most beautiful phrase.

These winter weeks have brought news of unpredicted and seismic change, across the Middle East. There is more thin ice around in history and politics than we might have thought. We are a part of these events, in some immeasurable but real ways, well apart from what we might see or hear on the news. We hope for the gift of freedom and for the security of order, and wonder how we can expect both.

One step up, climbing the mountain. Lead up, lead up.

Two Steps Up: Personal Loss

The week carries us here. When we come to hear and see, for voice and light, to Word and Table, we come with our clothes on. This is a good thing. Our experience hangs on our shoulders and covers our backs and guards our steps.

Our losses bring us up. We say, ‘that brought me up short’. Our losses put us on notice, as we climb, as we ascend.

We lost a dear friend, in our sister pulpit across the river, this week. Rev. Gomes pitch perfect humor and personal courage, carried on the waves of his unique voice, we shall truly miss. A late sermon began with a conversation with a Harvard Freshwoman, who said to him, ‘I have been here a month, I expected to meet great people and have great discussions, but I have met no one interesting, no one of great fame, no one of stature, no one who has interested me’, to which he replied, ‘Well, my dear, I mean you have met me, and I am not a celebrity but I am institution’. As my friend remembers his saying at her Williams College baccalaureate, ‘I make my living by the sweat of my jaw’. Yet it is personal courage, in naming his identity as a gay man and a Republican to boot, as ‘A Christian who happens to be gay’, and more so his loving but critical interpretation of our Good Book, which we shall cherish. More: love lasts, and we have known love in our friend. But the loss hurts.

We know the stature of our friends most truly when we must bid them adieux. A second step up, lead up, lead up.

Three Steps Up: Discord and Division

A community, including academic communities, involves difference and division. A dollar can be spent only once. A chair filled by one is not filled by another. Decisions are made about who speaks and who publishes and who influences. Debates with religious overtones and undertones reveal serious disagreements: liberty for Israel and justice for Palestinians are both worthy goals, but not just everyone liberally agrees on how best to get to both places at once. In fact, if our experience right here is any indication, there is a high mountain still to climb. Step by step.

A third step up, lead up, lead up.


Now we pause, in Word at Table. Wherever you are: be there. Here we are. We are in worship. In this hour we step up to the worthy from the worthless. In this hour we step up from entertainment to enchantment. In this hour we step up from distraction to presence. In this hour we step from the quasi to the fully human. Together.

Light and voice, photo and phono. Law and prophets, past and future, Moses and Elijah. The bright cloud and the beloved. This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.


Peter rightly says, ‘it is good that we are here’. But then he misinterprets his own truth. It is good, to be here. But not to be doing here. Here is a place, Word and Table, for being, not for doing. Here we are human beings not human doings. Peter things he brings something to do here. But in the face of wonder, in the fury of awe, what is there to do? Our academic community struggles with history and mystery. Yet here they are, and nothing to do about it. “Good it is we are here”: to listen, to watch, to hear, to observe, to receive, to accept, to take. Sin is not taking what is offered.

Rise and have no fear. But do not stay here.

Down, down, down the mountain we go.

One Step Down: Security for Peace

We are given mercy to share and more than enough in Word and Table. We shall need some extra, and some to share, if the endless contention and intractable difference of the conflicts of this age are to give way to the peace of the age to come.

Matthew has added the sun, the bright clouds, the well pleased and the falling to knees, in order to teach us something about the power of mercy, the power of the beloved. One moment of attempted dialogue across difference offers mercy. One resistance to the tempting use of hateful speech offers mercy. One honest recognition of difference without recourse to violence brings mercy. We try to recall, to imagine what we ourselves would want, and how we would wish to be treated. Do unto others as you would have them to do unto you.

Lasting peace requires both liberty and justice, both security and fairness. We know this from our own experience.

One step down, down the mountain we go.

Two Steps Down: Ode to Friendship

Peter, James and John do not stay on the heights. They come down, step by step, awaiting resurrection as do we.

You know, when we lose close friends, when we lose loved ones, we rely heavily on our faith, our faith that the future will meet us with needed and unforeseeable mercy. Faith is a walk in the dark, said Luther. Loss is a walk in the dark, say we. Climbing down again into life as we know it, we may want to let our experience of loss give us a lift for living.

Keep your friendships in good repair, said Dr Johnston. Friendship requires investment. Invitation. Acceptance. Time. Time wasted. Conversation. Care. Obliged commitment. The long view. As with grandparenthood, every trite thing said about the mercy of friendship is true. A friend in need is a friend indeed. A true friend risks the friendship for the sake of the friend. We may down into age with the hand of a friend or two.

A second step down, down the mountain we go.

Three Steps Down: A Little Discipline

2 Peter remembers our mountain, and that ‘the voice was borne to him by Majestic Glory’.

There is a lingering effect in the community of faith to the experience of mercy. We shall depart as we have gathered: Driving an hour back west, a couple finds happily leaves the nave. Rubbing two eyes awake, an undergraduate again slips
on a coat and hustles back across the street. In Rhode Island a regular listener turns down the volume, and pours more coffee. A woman makes her way to the T stop, stepping past a bit of ice and a pool of water. For an hour we have gathered before Word and Table.

We are transfigured, changed in the presence of mercy, of love.

We are little more able to stand up and walk forward. We are little more inclined to listen, to learn, to love. We are little more inspired to tithe, to pray, to keep faith. We may even be ready for Lent to come, with its call to discipline. We may be willing to keep a green Lent this year.

A green Lent? One opposed to pollution. What are some of the great pollutants of our day? Personal and public debt. Carbon emission. Needless email. So: save your money, park your car, and do not ‘reply all’. Or find your own green Lent variant.

A third step down, down the mountain we go.

Rise up and have no fear.

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