Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2021 – Acts 4:5-12; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer via Zoom

Today Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd and that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The good shepherd is different from the hired hand, he explains, because when the hired hand sees a wolf coming, he runs away. The good shepherd not only stays with the sheep, he lays down his life for them.

If it wasn’t clear before, it should be by now that this is no ordinary shepherd. In fact, “good” is probably an understatement.

I’ve never known any full-time shepherds. It’s not as common of a profession in 21st Century Tennessee as it was in 1st Century Palestine. But I imagine even back then that you’d have been hard pressed to meet one who was willing to die for his sheep.

Therein lies the point. Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. An ordinary shepherd would probably, like the hired hand, have run away. Or perhaps an ordinary shepherd would have sacrificed a weakling in order to protect the pride of the flock, or defend only a particular sheep that, despite his better judgement, he had named.

But the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd doesn’t risk his life only for the sake of a sheep that he’s especially fond of. The Good Shepherd neither fights off the beast nor scapegoats a lamb. Instead, the Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life to save the entire flock.

A sacrifice of that magnitude is based on a lot more than affinity or fondness. It requires nothing less than the Love of the One from who all love comes. That Love—God’s capital-L Love—is precisely the Love of the Good Shepherd who says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

This is the Love of the God who knows humanity and divinity inside and out. This is the Love of the Shepherd who knows what it’s like to be a sheep, and a sheep who knows what it’s like to be nabbed by a wolf.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the living, breathing, flesh-and-bone manifestation of a Love so divine, so profound, so perfect that even after 2,000 years here we are still gathered together to celebrate it. But let us be clear. We do not only celebrate this Love because it led the Shepherd to lay down his life for us. We celebrate it chiefly because by laying down his life he took it back up again.

This is the paradoxical promise at the center of our faith: in dying Jesus was raised to new life.

We share in that same death and that same resurrection. When we renew our baptism each year during the Great Vigil of Easter, we are reminded that when we pass through the waters, we are buried with Christ by a baptism into his death so that we might be raised with him to new life.

By virtue of our baptism then, we share in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s important, not because it is some sort of “fire insurance” that saves us from burning for eternity, but because it has real-life implications for how we live our lives now.

In this post-resurrection world, we embody the risen life of Jesus. Here. Now. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Always.

So not only are we inheritors of Love strong enough to bring back to life that which was three days dead, but we are called to proclaim it. Take Peter for example. In our lesson from Acts this morning we find him in the custody of the authorities after healing a man in the name of Jesus.

Peter says, “let it be known to all of you . . . that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”

These words comprise one of the first sermons ever, in which Peter is testifying to the promise of the power of Jesus whom God raised from the dead. Because Jesus has new life, says Peter, so does this man have new life. Because Jesus has new life, so do each of you have new life. Here. Now.

Peter also says something that a lot of 21st Century Christians have trouble with. He says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Some hear it as exclusive. And indeed, it is hard for us not to when for generations we have heard Christians whose primary means of invitation to the faith is something akin to, “Believe or be damned to the fiery pits of hell!”

But I don’t think Peter’s message is meant to be exclusive. He is merely expressing his sincere belief that by raising Jesus Christ from the dead God acted once on behalf of all humanity for all time. As a result, no human person or entity can claim to have exclusive access to the power of God.

Yes, the claim comes from an unashamedly Christian perspective. It places Jesus’ resurrection as the hinge-point of salvation history. But, at its core, it also means that no person can with authority say, “Unless you believe like I do, you’re damned for all time.” That is not, nor has it ever been, the central message of Christianity.

The keys to death and hell have already been to Jesus given. And he has unlocked the door and thrown the devil out. Been there. Done that. Already taken care of.

God became human, the Shepherd like the sheep, even to the extent of death. By dying he destroyed death and by raising him to new life again, God has brought us all into free and lasting life in the presence of our redeemer. We are now united with God in resurrection life.

That means it’s never not Easter.

That means we are at present filled with the true Love of God.

That means eternal life begins at the font, not the grave.

Peter is simply inviting us to live like that’s the case. Do you hear the difference? The focus of Peter’s sermon is not what the resurrection is going to for us when we die. The focus of Peter’s sermon is what the resurrection means for us now, as we live.

Jesus’ resurrection changed Peter’s life. And by the power of the Spirit and in the name of the God who made it possible, Peter wants you to know that it can change yours, too. Here. Now.

How exactly?

Well, there are far too many examples to name here. But one that seems especially fitting for today comes from our reading from the first letter of John. It is this: if you happen to find yourself with all the goods of the world passing by someone in need, do not refuse to help them.

You just might begin to get the idea. 

Third Sunday of Easter

Third Sunday of Lent – April 26, 2020 – Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; Luke 24:13-35 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer (via Zoom)

In today’s gospel, we hear a familiar story once again. Jesus is made known to his disciples in the breaking of the bread. Some of you may already be thinking about the fact that we can’t do that today. 

But look at verse 27. Jesus also opens the scriptures to them. We can do that. But rather than stick with the gospel, I think we should look more closely at the psalm. 

It’s fitting to turn to the psalm, I think, because it’s the only piece of scripture that we read this morning that was around back then, when these travelers walked the Emmaus road. Remember, the scriptures referred to here are those of the Hebrew Bible, which we call the “Old Testament” today.

Last Tuesday, at our weekly Bible study, we discussed Psalm 116 with Dr. Becky Wright, of School of Theology fame. 

The psalm certainly has an air of Easter sweetness. It is, of course, not ours alone to claim as Christians. As Becky pointed out, it is one of the “Hallel” psalms. “Hallel” refers to a certain set of praise psalms typically recited by Jewish people on holy days, such as the Passover. 

If we listen closely, we’ll hear why: salvation is at work!  

“I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him. The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”

To get a sense of all that this psalm has to offer, we can, and must, go beneath the surface of our Prayer Book’s translation. As Becky shared with us, the phrase “I love the Lord” in the first verse may be better translated as “I am loyal to the Lord.” The concept of loyalty points beyond mere emotion to a deeper truth: God’s steadfast fidelity to us, his people.  

At a time when “cords of death entangled” him, the psalmist not only prays—he also experiences God’s response to his prayer. God’s response is especially evident in verses four through six, which are among those that the lectionary has us omit this morning. 

“Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord watches over the innocent; I was brought very low, and he helped me. Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well.”

This psalm is the song of one who has experienced God’s steadfast faithfulness. It makes me think of another song, “Great is thy faithfulness.” 

“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

I feel a special kinship with this hymn because its familiar tune was written by William Runyan in Baldwin City, KS, where I attended Baker University. 

But it’s more than a familiar tune. My college chaplain once pointed out that he likes this hymn particularly because it assigns the responsibility of faithfulness exactly where it belongs—to God. 

As Christians, we consider ourselves people of faith, and we often measure ourselves based on our ability to keep the faith. But in this hymn, it is God’s faithfulness of which we sing, not our own. 

It is, as we said more commonly in generations past, “meet and right so to do.” God’s faithfulness makes our faithfulness possible. God has told us from the very beginning, “I will do what I promise.” 

We called to mind some of those promises just a few weeks ago when, during the Easter Vigil, we listened to the stories of God’s saving deeds throughout history as we sat by the soft light of our candles. The story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of God’s faithfulness to us. 

It is God who created the universe. It is God who set his bow in the clouds as a sign of his everlasting covenant with his people. It is God who renewed that same covenant with Abraham. It is God who led Israel to freedom from bondage through the Red Sea. 

It is God whose breath restored a valley of dry bones. It is God who calls prophets to forecast his new vision for the world. And it is God whose saving work is revealed in the resurrection of his son Jesus Christ.

Each year at the Vigil, we recount the stories of God’s saving acts throughout history as a means of recalling God’s loyalty—God’s faithfulness—to us, as we prepare to revel in our Easter joy. 

And revel in it we do—even today. Yes, we are physically distant, so we cannot break bread. But we gather anyway, to hear what the Spirit is saying to us through the Acts of the Apostles, the First Letter of Peter, the Gospel according to Luke, and, yes, even the words of Psalm 116. 

As I mentioned, it is somewhat ironic that the Easter spirit is particularly evident in the verses that the lectionary leaves out. Listen to verses seven and eight. “For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.” 

Perhaps there is a lesson for us here, in what is left out. 

We are, after all, a people forced to do without these days. Without hugs and kisses from our grandchildren. Without stopping to chat with a neighbor in the grocery store. Without commencement exercises. Without birthday parties. Without weddings and funerals. 

Without friends popping in for morning coffee, or evening refreshment. Without dinner parties. Without Tea on the Mountain. Without first-Sunday potlucks. Without the breaking of the bread at all. 

Perhaps we should take a moment right now, or this afternoon, or in the coming week, to think about the things that are left out. If we do, I wonder if we might experience what they mean to us in a whole new way. I wonder if we might realize that the grace of God that was present with us then is present with us still. 

I wonder if, when we think on these things, we might, like those early disciples, find our hearts burning within us. If we do, we just might realize that Christ is alive, proof positive that we will never, ever have to go without the faithfulness of God.

Take him by the hand

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (transferred) – July 23, 2019 – John 20:11-18 – St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee

Today’s gospel lesson is the same one that was read at my grandmother’s funeral in April. As all good Episcopalians know, the rite of Christian burial is a service of resurrection. Grandma was a Methodist, but she knew it, too.

What made this lesson all the more poignant was the fact that her funeral took place in Lent, during the week before Holy Week. It was as though we had arrived at Easter a bit early. The arduous passion-tide of Holy Week had been supplanted by a vigil watch over the bed of a dying family matriarch. 

The events of her death and preparation for her funeral were, as all deaths are, a holy time. But it was also an extremely sad time, a time in which the promise of resurrection was desperately needed. 

That’s exactly where we fine Mary Magdalene today. She’s in the still, quiet garden just before dawn, and she’s desperately in need of some hope. Boy does she find it. 

She sees the angels in the tomb and then turns to find the gardener and questions him about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. “Mary!” he responds. Just like that she realizes that he isn’t the gardener at all, but the risen and living Lord.

We’ve all been to the garden before, perhaps in the dark days after the death of a loved one. We, like Mary, desperately needed some shred of hope. Maybe for you it was in the wake of a divorce, a job loss, or an injury. 

As Christians today, when we find ourselves in the garden we can rely on the well-worn promise of resurrection in all its 2000-year-old glory, but for Mary Magdalene it was all just beginning. She was the first one to discover this promise. 

There is a sense in which, even though we already know what awaits us on the other side of Good Friday, we too must discover God’s resurrection power for ourselves. 

My Grandma once told me that during the hardest time in her life, when she, like Mary Magdalene, stood weeping and alone outside of the tomb, “Jesus found me like a friend, took me by the hand, and never let me go.”

Her comment really puts things into perspective. Some Christians go on and on about how they’ve found Jesus, and they’ll ask you if you’ve found him, too. For Grandma it was the other way around: you don’t find Jesus. Jesus has already found you.

Jesus is already beside you. Even in your darkest hour, he’s there. Even when you might not see him very clearly, he’s there. Even when you mistake him for a lawn care professional, he’s there. 

Each of us may discover his presence in our own time, in our own way, but when that moment comes, it’s not that we’ve found Jesus, it’s that we are finally ready to take him by the hand.  

By God’s grace and God’s grace alone you are loved, forgiven, saved, and redeemed. God has been with you from the beginning, and God will never let you go. God even sent Jesus to take on your human nature, to show you how much you matter, and to take you by the hand.

In response to this amazing news, dear friends, you can come to the table again right now, take Jesus by the hand once more, and then go out and introduce him to everyone you meet.

Easter Sunday 2019

Easter Sunday – April 21, 2019 – Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; John 20:1-18 – Trinity, Winchester

Easter is a day on which we typically don’t pay much attention to our scripture readings. Like Christmas, we already know the story. We come wearing bright colors (and maybe dressed a bit nicer than usual) to sing glad hymns and shout “Alleluia!” My job is to remind you to never underestimate the power of scripture, no matter how familiar you may think it is. 

Each of today’s readings gives us a sense of the fullness of the eternal life into which we walk with the Risen Christ, this day and all the days of our lives. 

From the Acts of the Apostles we hear Peter’s brief message of God’s peace in Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that we carry on as witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

From 1 Corinthians we hear Paul working out one of the Church’s first theologies of Jesus’s death and resurrection. “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”

Paul tells us that just as we die daily in our sin, we are also continually raised by virtue of the fact that we have been baptized into the life of Christ, who claims ultimate victory over sin and death.

From the Gospel according to John we hear an account of this very morning involving Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. 

I commend to you each of these readings (and the psalm!) for further study. However, this morning I want to focus on this rich gospel account.

It reads to me almost like a game of human pingpong. Back and forth, back and forth. To and from the tomb. Stay with me here…

Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb. Startled that the stone has been rolled away, she runs away from it. She tells Peter and John, who decide they need to see it for themselves, so they run back toward the tomb. 

They find the tomb empty, as Mary said they would. They see the linen grave clothes lying inside, but there is no body. Then they go, you guessed it, away from the tomb, back to their homes. 

Somewhere in the course of these events (the scripture isn’t clear) Mary makes her way back to the tomb as well. 

All three of these characters have different reactions to what they observe at the tomb. The gospel tells as that, after seeing the grave clothes, John believed Jesus had been raised. That’s remarkable, really. He had no gospel account to clue him in. It was all unfolding right there before his very eyes. 

We’re not quite sure about Peter. Maybe he gets it. Maybe he doesn’t. Perhaps he has some more thinking to do.

Mary, on the other hand, doesn’t get it at all, which is totally understandable. Thinking his body has been carried away, she remains at the tomb to cry and lament the fact that she has lost Jesus, her Lord, for a second time. 

At this point, some of us might be tempted to identify with one of these biblical characters. You know, the sort of thing we do with Mary and Martha when we hear the story of Jesus visiting their home in Bethany. We tend to ask ourselves questions like, which personality is analogous to mine? 

There’s a danger in that, I think. It limits your perspective on the story. In fact, I think we can identify with all three of Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel. 

We are all John. We are all Peter. We are all Mary Magdalene. 

We are John when we see something, and believe it. We are John when all the puzzle pieces finally fall into place. “Oh, I get it now.” We are John when we arrive on Easter morning without one shadow of a doubt that Jesus is risen. 

We are Peter when we are unsure. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to sort this stuff out. I am reminded of a young girl, maybe about four years old, who went to church with her grandmother one Easter morning. Her grandmother explained to her the Easter story, including Jesus’ death on Good Friday. “Then, on Sunday morning,” the grandmother said, “he came back to life!” The little girl glanced up with a look of pure innocence, and said, “Yeah right!”

Finally, we are Mary when our grief overcomes our ability to make sense of eternal life. When someone we love dies, grief often overcomes our senses. We don’t have the ability to perceive what’s right in front of us, even if that something is the presence of God. 

Friends, we are all in different places on our Christian journey at different times, and that’s okay. Even on Easter. Whether you run toward the empty tomb with an open mind, or run away from it in disbelief. Whether you need to take a break and come back later, or if you just need a little more time outside to cry. The good news is, the Risen One is always by your side.

Although you may not always perceive him, he is there waiting to call your name—even when you least expect it—and to give you the confidence you need to run from the tomb one final time proclaiming the living God. 

The Great Vigil of Easter 2019

The Great Vigil of Easter – April 20, 2019 – Luke 24:1-12 – Trinity, Winchester

Maybe you noticed, there are no shortage of readings to preach from this evening. And we only read five of the nine suggested readings and responses. Some Christians go all night long, praying, reading, and fasting until the sun comes up. We won’t be here that long tonight, but there is something to be said for that tradition. 

After all, the longer one sits in the darkness of the vigil the sweeter the triumphant “Alleluias” sound when they finally do arrive. 

Darkness is a powerful thing. 

Christian metaphors of light and darkness often give us the sense that darkness is bad. It often represents the absence of God, but the truth is, darkness was always part of God’s plan. 

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…Then God said, “Let there be light.’” And there was. God separated the light from the dark, and it was good. 

Yes, darkness was always part of God’s plan.

In Abraham’s darkest hour, as he bound his son and raised his knife, God sent an angel to bless him with the light of his countenance. Because you have obeyed my voice “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.”

In their darkest days in the wilderness God sent a pillar of fire to light up the night and protect the Israelites from the Egyptian army. He even parted the dark waters, so that they might pass through to the light of their salvation.  

In the darkness of exile God sent the prophet Ezekiel to tell his chosen people that he would bring them up from their graves and give them the light of new life. 

Surely darkness was always part of God’s plan. 

From Thursday night when we stripped the altar, through Friday evening when we venerated the cross, there has been within these walls and within our hearts a shroud of darkness. 

Still covered in darkness, many of us returned this morning to do the things people do when confronted by death. We busied ourselves by sprucing up the church, as for a funeral, making sure everything was just right. 

Even tonight began in darkness. Our celebration of Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead begins in the quiet shadows of the evening.

Yes, darkness was always part of God’s plan, you see, because if it weren’t for the darkness, we wouldn’t be able to see the light.

Sitting in the darkness tonight we could see signs of light all around us: the glorious splendor of the new fire; the radiant light of the paschal candle, that marvelous and holy flame that focuses our attention on the Risen One; even the Exsultet is a light to our ears, a love song from Mother Church to the triumphant Christ. 

The salvation history narratives, ancient stories of our faith, enlighten our memories, and the faint whiff of fresh lilies enlightens our senses. 

It is in the darkness we see the fullest expression of resurrection light. Nowhere is this more prevalent than through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Tonight as we gathered around the font to renew our baptismal promises, we were sprinkled with the water of abundant life.

Our reading from Romans reminds us that we were baptized into Christ’s death so that we might rise with him to new life. In other words, in order to see the light of resurrection, we have to know the darkness of the death of Jesus. 

From the very beginning God has been telling us, teaching us, showing us that darkness is part of God’s plan. At the dawn of creation. In the wilderness. By the Red Sea. In the valley of dry bones. Even at our baptism. 

As people of faith, we need to recognize that darkness is a part of our journey, but we must never mistake it for our destination. 

That’s reserved for resurrection light. 

It Takes Courage

April 27, 2017 – Thursday in the Second Week of Easter – Acts 5:27-33

Tonight I preached at the seminary’s final Community Eucharist of the semester. To view the sermon click here.

And so it is with today’s reading from The Acts of the Apostles as it has been with many of our readings from Acts since Easter: we join the following program already in progress.

The lectionary people have invited us into a vignette that is but one in a series of events in which the disciples find themselves in deep trouble. They have been performing healing miracles and teaching all over Jerusalem in the name of the Risen Lord Jesus. And here’s the thing: a lot of people are loving it. They’re won over by the hundreds. It’s no secret that Peter and the rest were good at what they were doing, and in tonight’s reading they appear before the council largely for that reason.

At the outset of the passage it says, “When they had brought them [from the Temple where they had been teaching], they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them…” They brought them, they had them stand before the council, and the high priest questioned them—it just sounds like a biblical precedent for our discernment process.

But, it’s more than that. We need to pay attention to what’s happening here—it’s pretty serious stuff. This is the same council that Jesus appeared before. These folks really don’t like the disciples stirring up people’s emotions and disturbing the civil order. No government does.

The council elders say, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

Listen to that: “You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”

It’s blood that the council members don’t want anything to do with, bad blood. “Don’t you go blaming us for his death!” the council elders seem to be saying. [1] Oh the nastiness, animosity, and distrust they feel toward that blood!

For many Christians today that blood is a good thing. It’s like when I see Tom Early in the hallway. “How are you, Tom?” He replies with a crooked smile, pointing his index finger at me, “Washed in the blood of the lamb.” The fountains of hymnody flow with it. It’s the only tonic capable of curing our sinful ways.

But these folks are afraid of that blood (and rightfully so perhaps). They don’t trust what the disciples are doing. “Don’t blame me for what’s happened!” It’s like—don’t put that evil on me!

They’re afraid, and they’re mad at the disciples; mad because they fear being associated with Jesus and his death. Deep down I think they’re scared that what happened to him will happen to them if the disciples keep winning people over. As their fear increases they lash out in anger at the disciples who are the living, breathing symbols of Jesus.

Sound familiar? It’s what we do. It’s our human condition, evidence of our frailty. When we’re afraid, it feels more natural, easier, to lash out in anger than it does to take up courage. When everything is piling up, you’re exhausted just trying to make it to the end, and you open your mail box and find a C- where there should be at least a B+ and you get angry. You might not pass. You take it out on the professor. Then you find out your diocese has released you, you might not have a job. You take it out on your spouse or your bishop. These types of things don’t exactly breed courage, but courage is exactly what it’s going to take to fill Jerusalem with the news of the Risen Christ.

This is the last one of these Thursday night Eucharists for a while, and as we look around the room we’ll the see the faces of those who won’t be here when the next one rolls around. Some of our friends won’t be back. They’re headed out into a world that’s very fearful. They’ll need some courage to fill Jerusalem with the news of the Risen Christ.

Courage is required, or else we’ll get stuck in the cycle of fear, too. When your new neighbor at the rectory says, “Listen preacher, it’s like I told the last guy, we don’t need you nosing around here. Wife’s got cancer and my back is acting up again. I’m out of work. God has nothing to do with us.” It’s too easy to ignore the promise of Easter in times like that and to become a prisoner of fear. We can’t let ourselves do that.

We’ve got to take courage like the disciples do when they say, “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” they say. “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus … exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior … and we are witnesses to these things…”

That kind of courage is a no-brainer to them by this point. They are literal witnesses to the resurrection. They have no reason to fear any civil authority. When they said this council members got so mad they wanted to kill the disciples. But it’s no matter; the disciples have a reason to hope.

They may have no reason to fear death, but for us it’s much harder, don’t you think? Can you go out into Jerusalem and testify to things that enrage people to the point they want to kill you? It takes a lot of courage. Can you do it?

And don’t say, “Well Peter did it and he’s our model so we’ve got to go and do likewise,” because it’s not the same. No, it’s not the same for us, because they actually saw it. They were there when they nailed him up and they were there to hear the news of his resurrection and they were there when he appeared to them, and breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

They were there, but we weren’t. It was easier for them to live into the promise of the resurrection because they witnessed it firsthand and so could obey God without question, right? It’s harder for us, right? It’s harder now that it’s 2017. That was all so long ago. I want to know how we can do it now!

To say today that we must obey God rather than any human authority—it’s laughable! Can you even imagine how much courage that would take?

Where does it come from? Where does our courage come from today?

In a nursing home sits an old woman that I’ve become reacquainted with recently. She’s the sweetest thing, but it’s a terrible place. I bet you’ve been there. It’s damp and cramped. There are fans that circulate air that has long since stopped moving; all they do is mix the smell from the kitchen with the smell of stale bed sheets. She’s so sweet, but I don’t know how she has the courage to go on in there. The staff members are always scowling. They don’t even try to hide it from the visitors anymore. Where does her courage come from? I can hardly even stand to visit.

Before I knock on the door I peek my head around and see her there reading her Bible. It’s the only book she’ll even try to read anymore. I don’t know how she could go on. I sit down and she tells me she’s been thinking about her family. Each night when the nurse puts her in bed she thinks of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she prays for them. How does she go on? The nurse comes in to bring her pills. “Oh, thank you so much, honey. I know you’re busy,” she says. How does she do it? She tells me about her new friend at her table in the dining room. They used to go to church near each other, so they have something to talk about. “She’s a good Christian woman,” she says. As I get up to leave she asks me, “Before you go, do you think we might have a prayer?”

I just don’t know where she gets that courage…


[1] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, editors. The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 208.