Monthly Archives: April 2023

In The Presence of Enemies


Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:1-10

Prayer of the Day O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies…” Psalm 23:5.

The Twenty-Third Psalm is one of the few biblical passages retaining some currency in contemporary American culture. Though most people have some vague concept of what a “Good Samaritan” is, what it means to “burn midnight oil” or why you might call someone or something a “pearl of great price,” few know the parabolic context of these terms anymore. But the psalm remains in the public consciousness as a whole. It is one of the few scriptures to which nearly everyone resonates. For that reason, it was one of my staples for the many funerals I did over the years for people I never knew, who had no connection to my church and whose families had little or no faith background. It forms a point of connection, an opportunity for bringing the comfort of the gospel to people unfamiliar with the language of faith. If they know nothing else about the Bible, the Psalter or the Gospels, they know that the Twenty-Third Psalm is a poem of comfort and consolation.

Nevertheless, its popular appeal should not be taken to mean that it is in any way glib, shallow or simplistic. The comfort afforded by the psalmist is not to be equated with mere safety, security or escape from earthy misery somewhere in the sweet by-and-by. The green pastures and still waters lie along paths leading through dark valleys inhabited by enemies and the threat of death. The way by which the shepherd leads the sheep is not free from evil, but the shepherd’s presence dispels all fear such evils might otherwise inspire. That is the core confession of the psalm: God is the Good Shepherd who is with the sheep no matter were God may lead them.

Those of us urban/suburban folk frequently stumble over the shepherd/sheep imagery. For the majority of us, the closest we have ever gotten to sheep is the petting zoo. In the biblical world, sheep were not cute, cuddly little pets. They were commercial commodities. The good shepherd defends the sheep from wolves because his livelihood depends on their survival. He needs to get them to market. From there they will go to someone’s table. Just as the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, so the sheep will be called upon to lay down their lives for the Shepherd. John’s gospel is clear on that point: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” John 15:20-21. Being Jesus’ sheep and following him as your shepherd is not all sunshine and happiness. To the contrary, it is daily taking up the cross he carries.

It is in this context that I consider the captioned verse about the Shepherd preparing “a table in the sight of my enemies.” However the psalmist may have viewed this verse, disciples of Jesus cannot interpret it apart from Jesus’ command to love our enemies. “If you love those who love you,” says Jesus, “what credit is that to you?” Luke 6:32. Love is easy between neighbors with nothing between them but white picket fences. It is a good deal more difficult across culture war battlelines and harder still across hostile borders behind which there are people who would kill me if they got the chance. But Jesus would have us love even these enemies and do good to them. Luke 6:35

I don’t know about you, but if I have to love my enemies, I would prefer to do it from a distance. I would rather not be in the presence of people who think my transgender friends and family are “mutants,” “freaks” and sexual predators as some public figures have recently done. I don’t want to be in the company of people who throw about racial slurs, make a point of visibly packing their guns and ramble incoherently about elite cabals of Satan worshiping pedophiles. I can feel a degree of compassion for these folks, try to understand them and pray for them, but I do not want them anywhere near my table. I must confess that part of what drew me here to the Outer Cape is the near absence of such people. To be sure, you would probably find a few if you turned over enough rocks, but not in the numbers that allow them to organize marches, disrupt our town meetings or attempt to censor our school libraries. That sort of thing takes place in other communities far away from mine and I like it that way. If absence does not make the heart grow fonder, at least familiarity does not breed contempt.

Love, however, does not reside in a gated community. It is always found in the public square conversing with self righteous religious leaders, harlots, tax collectors and old, cowardly white guys like me who just want to be left in peace. Jesus makes quite clear that his disciples are to be fully in and participating with the world God sent him to save. Following Jesus means going to places where you will not be welcome, speaking truths your audience might not want to hear and engaging with people who do not like you and might even wish you harm. That is dangerous work. It can get you nailed to a cross.

Dangerous as it may be, there has hardly been a time when peaceful engagement with persons we regard as hostile is more urgent. The divisive power of hateful ideologies currently being enacted into law throughout the country, the carnage in Ukraine threatening to spill over into the rest of Europe and the frightening military brinksmanship between the United States and China cry out for the better way of being human Jesus taught us. The world needs a community capable of living peacefully in the presence of enemies-without fences, walls or barbed wire to protect it. To be one of Jesus’ sheep is to be as vulnerable as the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

I can think of no better example of such a life than that of Charles Eugène de Foucauld de Pontbriand (1858-1916), the French priest recently canonized by Pope Francis. After a brief military career and some time spent exploring Morocco, Foucauld joined the Trappist monastic order. He was ordained in 1901, after which he traveled to the Algerian Sahara where he settled with the intent of starting a congregation among the Berber people, an ethnic group indigenous to the Maghreb region of North Africa. He was unsuccessful in this regard. In reflecting on his lack of success with traditional missionary methods, Foucauld adopted a new apostolic approach. His witness consisted not in preaching sermons, but through living a Christlike example. Taking the name, “Brother Charles of Jesus,” Foucauld lived with the Berbers as a humble guest with the chief objective of learning rather than teaching. In order to become more familiar with the Berbers, he studied their language and culture for over twelve years. He collected hundreds of native poems which he translated into French. He censored nothing in the poems, and never changed anything that might not conform to Catholic morality. Foucauld managed to win the love and trust of these people brutally victimized by colonialization and understandably suspicious of him and the church he represented. He also educated his own people on the beauty and sophistication of Berber culture. His life was dedicated to being an ambassador for Jesus Christ, seeking reconciliation and peace.    

Foucauld paid the ultimate price for living in the presence of those who were, in terms of blood, soil and nation, his enemies. His life of peacemaking ended on December 1, 1916, when he was assassinated at his hermitage in the Sahara. One might conclude that Foucauld’s mission was foolhardy and ended in failure. One could say the same about Jesus of Nazareth-except that God raised him from death and raises up the fragile bonds of friendship his disciples manage to build across human divisions in fractured and violent world.   

Here is a poem by Rebecca Seiferle that speaks to the fear we harbor toward our enemies causing us to dehumanize them and driving us to seek their destruction. Yet if one reads between the lines, perhaps the poem also beckons us to consider that there might be an alternative.

Love my Enemies, enemy my love

Oh, we fear our enemy’s mind, the shape

in his thought that resembles the cripple

in our own, for it’s not just his fear

we fear, but his love and his paradise.

We fear he will deprive us of our peace

of mind, and, fearing this, are thus deprived,

so we must go to war, to be free of this

terror, this unremitting fear, that he might

he might, he might. Oh it’s hard to say

what he might do or feel or think.

Except all that we cannot bear of

feeling or thinking—so his might

must be met with might of armor

and of intent—informed by all the hunker

down within the bunker of ourselves.

How does he love? and eat? and drink?

He must be all strategy or some sick lie.

How can reason unlock such a door,

for we bar it too with friends and lovers,

in waking hours, on ordinary days?

Finding the other so senseless and unknown,

we go to war to feel free of the fear

of our own minds, and so come

to ruin in our hearts of ordinary days.

Source: Wild Tongue (c. 2007 by Rebecca Seiferle; pub. by Copper Canyon Press).  Rebecca Seiferle is an American poet, translator, and editor. She taught English and creative writing for a number of years at San Juan College. She has also taught at the Provincetown Fine Arts Center, Key West Literary Seminar, Port Townsend Writer’s Conference, Gemini Ink, and the Stonecoast MFA program. She has been poet-in-residence at Brandeis University. She lives with her family in Tucson, Arizona where she teaches at Southwest University of Visual Arts. You can read more about Rebecca Seiferle and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

Surprised Into Hope


Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

Prayer of the Day: O God, your Son makes himself known to all his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:21.

 “We had hoped.” Perhaps the saddest words imaginable. “We had hoped that this time the pregnancy might finally take.” “We had hoped that perhaps this treatment would be the one to push mom’s cancer into remission.” “We had hoped the counseling might save our marriage.” I suspect that everybody reading this post has lived long enough to see a hope or two dashed. After all, what is life if not a series of events that routinely shatter expectations? Would we want it to be otherwise? What would it be like to live in a world where everything went according to plan? What would be the point of athletic competitions if everyone knew the outcome in advance? Who would bother to watch a movie or read a book without plot twists, suspense and surprises? A world without an element of randomness, unpredictability and surprise would be boring. It would be a world without hope. God loves us too much to place us in such a dry, colorless existence.

The world in which God places us is one where hope can thrive. It is a place where imagination can lead us to new discoveries, life altering innovations in mechanics, medicine and the sciences. Hope enables a people to survive and maintain its dignity under centuries of slavery. Hope allows one to look with unclouded eyes at a world of cruelty, injustice and tyranny and still look forward with joyous expectation to a better world of mercy, justice and freedom. You may have heard it said that, “Where there is life, there is hope.” But the converse is just as true. “Where there is hope, there is life.”

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were close to death. To be sure, they were breathing and their hearts were still pumping blood. But there seemed to be no point to it all. The hope that had been driving them for the last three years had been dashed. Jesus, who these two disciples expected to liberate their oppressed nation from centuries of Roman brutality and oppression, was dead. Worse, he had been betrayed by the leaders of his own people into the hands of their oppressors and tortured to death in the most inhumane and humiliating way possible. The kingdom Jesus promised and on which the disciples had staked their lives never materialized.

I have seen hopelessness like this before. I saw it in the eyes of a teenage girl trapped in the body of a boy who could not make her friends, her parents or her church understand. I saw it the eyes of a mother whose son was sentenced to decades in prison. I have seen it on television, in newspapers and on the internet in the eyes of millions stranded at our southern border, cramped into overcrowded refugee camps and sitting alone in detention centers. I have seen it over the years in the eyes of institutionalized elderly folk nobody but the pastor ever visits. These are people whose hopes have been so thoroughly dashed so many times that they have lost the capacity to hope. They have become convinced that the way things are for them is the way they always will be. This is as good as it gets.

But then the disciples encounter a stranger on the road. We know this stranger was the resurrected Jesus. But the disciples fail to recognize him. They are not alone in this failure of recognition. Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for a gardener. John 20: 11-16.   According to Matthew’s gospel, many of the disciples who encountered the resurrected Christ in Galilee still “doubted,” meaning, I suppose, that they were not sure the man they saw before them really was Jesus. Matthew 28:16-17.  I do not know because I cannot get inside the heads of these disciples, but I suspect their lack of recognition stemmed from a lack of hope. Hope is the engine of expectation. Hope recognizes that there is in every transaction a “God factor” that sometimes brings about surprising and unexpected twists and turns. We might define the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s element of surprise imbedded in the last place you would expect to find it.

A cemetery is not the place you look for a new beginning. But that is where the story of the people called church gets its start. Because our story begins with baptism into Christ’s death where we are “born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God,” we are quite at home in seemingly hopeless circumstances. I Peter 1:23. That is why you find churches like mine reaching out to befriend and affirm transgender teens in states where their very right to exist is denied by statute. It is why you find people of faith at work in refugee camps and on our southern border working to secure rights and sustenance for people who have no home, no country and no rights. It is also why we find ourselves visiting and befriending people institutionalized in long term care facilities, detention centers and prisons. God does God’s best work in the dark. It is there God plants the seed of hope which, once planted, bursts through the frozen earth, stone walls, iron bars, barbed wire and the grave.

It was in the breaking of the bread that the two disciples recognized Jesus. Yet it is obvious that the groundwork was already being laid as he was talking to them on the road and setting their hearts on fire by opening to them the scriptures. I would love to know more about what was discussed on that journey to Emmaus. I expect that Jesus was recounting for those two disciples God’s delight in opening barren wombs with the birth of great leaders, making pathways of escape for slaves trapped between the armies of the Egyptian empire and the sea, bringing streams of water from stone to quench the thirst of a people lost in the wilderness, making kings from shepherds and forming nations of landless, wandering aliens. What greater delight could this God have, what greater surprise could God spring on us than to break open the very grave? To be sure, the world is full of tragedy, but Easter reminds us that God is full of surprises.

This is all good news for a world careening toward global military conflict, threatened by catastrophic ecological disaster, overshadowed by the rise of hateful racist ideologies and plagued by gross economic inequality. The way out of these dilemmas appears to be narrowing and may soon be closed. But hope insists that God still has surprises in store for us. This is not the first time the people of God are finding themselves faced with what appears to be a dead end. The world needs to know that its Creator has not abandoned it. The world needs to know that the Spirit of God is working in, with and under teachers faithfully witnessing to tolerance, acceptance and diversity, NGO workers serving and advocating for refugees, attorneys fighting to protect reproductive rights for women, scientists striving to educate the public and call world leaders to take action on climate change and all persons striving to name and eradicate the idolatries of racism and nationalism. All these people of good will need to hear that their efforts are not futile because, whether they know it or not, their efforts are not theirs alone. Whether they recognize him or not, Jesus is working among and through them. As Saint Paul would remind us, what God begins, God will find a way to finish. Philippians 1:6.    

Here is a poem by Sonia Sanchez that speaks of something like the hope born of an encounter with the resurrected Christ. As an African American poet, she knows something of hope struggling to vanquish despair.

This is Not a Small Voice

This is not a small voice

you hear  this is a large

voice coming out of these cities.

This is the voice of LaTanya.

Kadesha. Shaniqua. This

is the voice of Antoine.

Darryl. Shaquille.

Running over waters

navigating the hallways

of our schools spilling out

on the corners of our cities and

no epitaphs spill out of their river


This is not a small love

you hear       this is a large

love, a passion for kissing learning

on its face.

This is a love that crowns the feet

with hands

that nourishes, conceives, feels the

water sails

mends the children,

folds   them    inside   our    history

where they

toast more than the flesh

where they suck the bones of the


and spit out closed vowels.

This is a love colored with iron

and lace.

This is a love initialed Black


This is not a small voice

you hear.


Source: Wounded in the House of a Friend (c. 1995 by Sonia Sanchez.; pub. by Beacon Press). Sonia Sanchez (born Wilsonia Benita Driver in 1934) is an American poet, writer and professor. She is a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement. Sanchez has written several books of poetry. She has also authored short stories, critical essays, plays and children’s books. She received Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1993. In 2001 she was awarded the Robert Frost Medal for her contributions to American poetry. You can read more about Sonia Sanchez and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Dragged Into Mission Kicking and Screaming


Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm 16

1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” John 20:21.

With these words Jesus sends his disciples out from behind locked doors and the fear imprisoning them there into the world in order to reflect and practice the same Trinitarian love expressed in God’s sending God’s only beloved Son into the world, not to judge, condemn or destroy it, but to redeem it. But one week later, Jesus finds the disciples exactly where they were before-hiding behind locked doors. Thomas was not the only one with doubts. Though the rest of the disciples might have been convinced that Jesus was alive, they were not ready to trust him. Nevertheless, Jesus greets them with the same words: “Peace be with you.” I have to wonder whether he might also have said, “and what part of ‘send’ do you people not understand?”

Sometime later we find the disciples back in Galilee. They are not going forth into the world with the message of forgiveness Jesus had given them. They are fishing-and not for people. The disciples are going back to the life they once knew, the predictable rhythms of their profession and the comfort of the familiar. Once again, Jesus must intervene to get them back on course. John’s gospel ends where the other three gospels begin-with the disciples leaving their boats and their nets and following Jesus. The last words spoken by Jesus to his disciples are “follow me.” See John 21:1-23.  

There has been much scholarly discussion concerning the nature and history of the faith community producing the Gospel of John. Among the most insightful and comprehensive are History & Theology in the Fourth Gospel, Martyn, J. Louis (c. 1979 by the author; pub. by Abington Press); The Community of the Beloved Disciple, Brown, Raymond E. (c. 1979 by the author; pub. by Paulist Press). Numerous commentaries have since contributed additional information and the results of subsequent research. As interesting and informative as all of this discourse surely is, it leaves me with more questions than answers. The one conclusion I come away with is that there is no reliable way of getting behind the scriptural text to reconstruct the New Testament churches. Just as the search for the “historical Jesus” invariably leads to the discovery of exactly the messiah we wanted for Christmas, so efforts to uncover the pristine form of the Jesus movement always reveal more about the seeker than the sought. The question is not whether the New Testament witness is historically accurate (an anachronistic inquiry its writers would not have understood), but whether the New Testament witnesses “got Jesus right.” Are they faithful in their testimony to what Jesus accomplished among us? That is a question that neither historical critical methodology nor any other hermeneutical approach can answer for us. At the end of the day, the Bible engages us on its own terms and in all the glorious messiness of myth, parable, poetry, narrative, preaching and correspondence. There is no “man behind the curtain” to whom we can appeal. So we take Saint John’s unique witness to Jesus as Saint John gives it to us.

Saint John gives us a band of disciples, a church, that is anything but enthusiastic about being sent. This is a church that would much prefer to remain within the confines of its sanctuary. This is a church that fears the world its Lord loves so desperately. This is a church that seeks peace in the comfortable, the familiar and the routine. This is a church that must be dragged kicking and screaming into its mission to the world. That sounds a lot like the churches to which I have belonged for all my life. Perhaps it describes the church in every age. It is a church that, left to itself, would never go outside, never dare to engage a broken world, never attempt anything new, risky or controversial.

But here is the thing. The church is not left to itself. Jesus just won’t leave us alone. He continues to break into the locked rooms where we try to hide. He continues to breathe into us his discomforting Holy Spirit. Jesus is forever interrupting our established routines and pushing us out into the world God loves so fiercely. In the end, the disciples are not so much “sent” as they are “led.” As noted above, John’s story ends with Jesus and his disciples walking away to…well, we do not know where they are headed next. Maybe that is how it is supposed to be. The Good Shepherd leads the sheep, sometimes by going before them, sometimes prodding them from behind and often going after them when they have lost their way and bringing them back.

God knows that there are plenty of reasons to be afraid. There are plenty of reasons for wanting to hunker in the bunker. There plenty of excuses for not sticking your neck out. Moreover, who of us does not wish we could just go back to fishing? Who of us does not wish we could go back to a time before anybody ever heard of Covid-19, before the eighty year peace in Europe was shattered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before the murder of George Floyd reminded us how deeply our nation is infected with systemic racism; before the price of eggs and gas went through the roof? Yet in the midst of all this, Jesus comes to us and says, “Peace! As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.” Being sent into the world is a frightening prospect, particularly as we have no idea where in the world we are going. But we will not be going alone. Jesus goes ahead, drives us from behind and walks beside us. So we will get there-wherever “there” turns out to be. And the best part is, once we finally get going, we discover how joyful the journey can be.

Here is a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorely about running for the sheer joy of it. I think such joy might approximate that of the disciples as they leave their nets and boats to follow Jesus to-who knows where?

The Song of the Ungirt Runners

We swing ungirded hips,

And lightened are our eyes,

The rain is on our lips,

We do not run for prize.

We know not whom we trust

Nor whitherward we fare,

But we run because we must

    Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas

Are troubled as by storm.

The tempest strips the trees

And does not leave them warm.

Does the tearing tempest pause?

Do the tree-tops ask it why?

So we run without a cause

    ‘Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,

We do not run for prize.

But the storm the water whips

And the wave howls to the skies.

The winds arise and strike it

And scatter it like sand,

And we run because we like it

    Through the broad bright land.

Source: Poetry Foundation. Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895 –1915) was a British Army officer and Scottish war poet who fought in the First World War. He was killed in action during the Battle of Loos in October 1915. Sorley was born in Powis House Aberdeen, Scotland. He attended King’s College School, Cambridge and Marlborough College. Sorley spent a little more than six months in Germany. However, when Germany declared war on Russia, he was detained briefly, released and expelled from the country. Upon returning to England, Sorley immediately volunteered for military service. He arrived on the Western Front in Boulogne, France in May of 1915. Sorley was killed in action during the final offensive of the Battle of Loos. In addition to his poetry, Sorley loved cross-country running. Running was an evident theme in many of his poems, including the above. You can read more about Charles Hamilton Sorely and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

Believing is Seeing


Acts 10:34-43

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Colossians 3:1-4

Matthew 28:1-10

Prayer of the Day: O God, you gave your only Son to suffer death on the cross for our redemption, and by his glorious resurrection you delivered us from the power of death. Make us die every day to sin, that we may live with him forever in the joy of the resurrection, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” Matthew 28:1.

Why were the women going to see the tomb on the first day of the week? Matthew says nothing about their motivation. It is tempting to interpolate from Mark and Luke who tell us that they were going to anoint the body of Jesus with spices according to custom. But given the fact that, according to Matthew, the tomb of Jesus had been sealed and was under Roman guard, it seems unlikely that the woman would set out on such a hopeless errand. So what were they expecting to “see” at this tomb they could have had no hope of entering?

I cannot get inside the heads of these women, but I wonder whether they had an inkling, a hunch, an irrepressible hope that the Jesus story was not over. I wonder whether there they were driven to the tomb by an inexplicable expectation that God still had more to do with Jesus. Professor Stanley Hauerwas goes so far as to conclude that “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary believe what Jesus has promised, that after three days he will be raised.” Hauerwas, Stanley, Matthew, from the series, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, (c. 2008 by Stanley Hauerwas; pub. by Brazos Press) p. 244. Accordingly, they go to the tomb in order to witness the fulfilment of that promise. They have been chosen to be the first witnesses of the resurrection and charged with directing the disciples to return to Galilee where they, too, will see the risen Jesus. Ibid.

I find Hauerwas persuasive on this point. There is much in Matthew’s gospel to suggest the prominence of the women as witnesses. The genealogy at the opening of the gospel running from Adam to Joseph the husband of Mary includes, contrary to custom and practice, four women. Moreover, the four women mentioned, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, all played pivotal roles in the ancestral line. Finally, after laying out his elaborate genealogical tree, Matthew abruptly chops it down with the words, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way” and proceeds to inform us that Jesus was conceived quite apart from Joseph’s involvement. Matthew 1:18. Once again, the woman is the primary actor. As it was in the gospel’s beginning, so it is at the end.

For the two women, then, faith preceded the appearance of the angel, the empty tomb and their encounter with the resurrected Christ. They believed in the resurrection before there was any basis other than Jesus’ promise. It all goes to show that “seeing” is not necessarily “believing.” We read later on in the same chapter that some of the disciples who returned to Galilee and met the resurrected Christ still “doubted.” Matthew 28:17. The miracle of Easter apparently did not convince everyone who witnessed it in real time. How much less those of us who rely on the testimony of others. Like the women who set out to see the tomb, we proceed on the strength of a promise.  

In our modernist arrogance, we are prone to assume that if only we could get behind the scriptural witness, pry away the theological biases of the biblical witnesses and view the events taking place on Easter Sunday with a cold, objective and empirical eye, then we would know with certainty what “really” happened. If only we had a time machine that could take us back to that first Easter Sunday, then we could believe-or not-on the basis of what we know. But I am not convinced a time machine would resolve our doubts. If an encounter with the resurrected Christ could not do that for the disciples, there is no reason to believe it would help us. Only faith can see mysteries.

By faith I do not mean blind acceptance of assertions that defy undisputed fact. To be sure, it is a fact that human beings are mortal. Everything we know about human physiology runs contrary to the notion that death is reversible. But faith insists that there is more to be known than we are capable of knowing. Faith also understands that the empirical method enabling us to split the atom, walk on the moon and unravel the human g-gnome is not the sole or even primary means of discerning truth. Poets, musicians, dancers and playwrights also testify to truths that are real and worthy of our contemplation. Moreover, let us not forget that the greatest advances in both theory and technology begin not in the lab, but in the imagination. Faith does not insist on certainty about what is. It challenges us to remain open to what might be. The women in our gospel went to the tomb on the first day of the week because they could imagine a love so strong and fierce that neither the Roman Empire, nor its armies nor death itself could contain it. Faith claims that what they imagined, what they sought and what they claim to have found is real.

Faith, says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, is the assurance of things hoped for. Hebrews 11:1. That sounds a little contradictory. We are not accustomed to linking “hope” with “assurance.” But I don’t know how else to make sense of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary setting out that morning to visit the tomb of Jesus. I don’t know how else to make sense of doctors, nurses, pastors and counselors working year after year in refuge camps where life for the people they serve shows no sign of getting better anytime soon. I don’t know how else to make sense of teachers I know working for their students in schools that are chronically underfunded in neighborhoods that are dying for salaries that can barely support them. I don’t know how else to explain the work of hospice caregivers. All of this only makes sense if you can imagine a “new heaves and a new earth” where war gives way to peace; where the divisions between human beings are erased; where the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the poor exalted; where even the reign of death is ended. All of this can be imagined, hoped for and, yes believed. Christ is risen. There are no limits to what might be! Alleluia and Amen.

Here is a poem by Joyce Hernandez that speaking to Jesus’ resurrection which, though it leaves “no scratches on the world” to which we can point, is nonetheless real and visible to the eye of faith.

When Jesus early rose and breathed
The pungent air of new-dug earth,
Passed the stone, and passed the flesh,
Passed the mourners of his death,
(and left them dazed, but following)
He rose with such a limpid flight
As wind or wings could only clutter,
And left no scratches on the world,
No broken twig or parted cloud,
To draw our eyes away from him.

(c. 1972 by Joyce Hernandez) Joyce Hernandez is a teacher, nurse and poet living in Yakima, Washington whose publications include The Bone Woman Poems (c. 2009, pub. by Allied Arts and Minuteman Press). She is also, coincidentally, my sister.