Tag Archives: resurrection

Freed to Love

John 20:19-31
The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone

After the empty tomb; after the encounter with Mary Magdalene in the garden; the followers of Jesus gathered behind locked doors. They were afraid. Afraid without Jesus. Afraid of arrest. Afraid of death. Maybe even afraid of life:  afraid of what Jesus might ask of them if Jesus really were resurrected.

It seems appropriate to note that the disciples physically distanced themselves from the people gathered in Jerusalem. They met the qualification of not meeting in groups bigger than 10. Judas had left after the betrayal. And Thomas. Well Thomas was not there. Perhaps they could not score an InstaCamel or DonkeyPod delivery and he was out foraging. Perhaps he was grieving in his own way. We are not told. All we know is Thomas was not there.

Behind the locked door and beyond the fear, Jesus appears to them.  He gives them his peace. He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. He sends them into the world with work to do. It’s like group CPR.

The resurrection is for the purpose of re-creation after death, and re-creation before death. The resurrection is about the life to come. It is about this life. The resurrection of Jesus leads to the resurrection of his followers – the creation of the Church – so that through the power and ministry of our life together, the people of Jesus might become God’s continuing presence in the world.

“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, and the stage is set . . . the disciples are ready to go . . . it is a new beginning in the great adventure of life in faith . . . except someone is missing. Thomas is not there. Jesus must come back and pick him up.  For no one can be forgotten. No one can be left out. The new life is for the people of Jesus . . . all the people.

Jesus returns when Thomas is present. Jesus displays his wounds. And Thomas believes. “My Lord and my God!” The words of Thomas serve as the basic affirmation of faith for followers of Jesus. And they serve as the basis for every formal affirmation that has followed.

This year, this passage resonates with me in ways it has never done before. Our lives parallel that of the disciples. Life after the execution of Jesus was not OK for first disciples. Life today is not OK for me. I venture it is not OK for you.

We grieve. Death. Dashed dreams. Lost hopes. Unmet expectations fill our individual hearts and our collective consciousness.[i] The other day, a friend responded to my “How are you” text with: “I had a long, ugly cry today.” I replied that one of my favorite songs features Rosey Grier, a gentle giant, former Pro Bowl defensive lineman singing, “It’s Alight to Cry.”[ii] We grieve.

We shelter in place. We pause. Out of a need to protect others and ourselves, we establish and maintain physical distances. We isolate and separate.

We fear. Writing in The Presbyterian Outlook, the Rev. Jill Duffield notes, “Our fear is utterly understandable. The death toll of this virus mounts. The extent of the economic fallout is yet to be determined, but we know it is, and will continue to be, huge. We’ve seen the suffering, the wounds inflicted, the crucifixion completed. No wonder we shelter in place in anxiety, with no sense of when the world will take a turn for the better.”[iii]

The similarities are striking. Psychologically, emotionally, even physically, we share  great deal with the first disciples. That’s where the Good News of this story finds us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The gifts he brought his first followers behind locked doors, he brings to us.

The Rev. Duffield names those gifts. The Holy Spirit to inspire us. Hope in the face of fear. Peace amid chaos. Belief in life no matter how deadly the circumstances.[iv] A ministry and a mission.

And that brings us to Kelly Clarkson. I had to look her up. She won the first season of American Idol in 2002. I did not know that because I have never watched an episode of the show in all the years it has been on the air. Her victory led to a recording contract and launched her career as a singer-songwriter, actress, author, and television personality.[v] You may know more. I have told you everything I know.

Except. My friend So Jung Kim posted the news that Kelly Clarkson released a new song this week. “I Dare You.” She released six versions of the song in six different languages. Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish, German, and English.[vi]

Clarkson says the song is “about love and all its forms, in the face of adversity. Choosing to love instead of fear.”[vii] She believes that message will connect globally at this moment in time.[viii]

In English, the chorus says:

I dare you to love
Oh, I dare you to love
Even if you’re hurt and you can only see the worst
Even if you think it’s not enough
Oh, I dare you to love.[ix]

I believe that when the Risen Christ entered that locked room to meet the ten and then the eleven, he provided his followers what they – what we – need to take that dare.

In their fear, in the chaos, in their anxiety, the Risen Christ gave his followers the gifts they needed to love one another, to love neighbors, to love themselves, as God in Christ loved them. He freed them to love. He equipped them to love.

And he does the same for us.

Christ the Lord is risen today. The Risen Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, provides hope for our fears, peace in chaos, faith in life in deadly circumstances.[x] The Risen Christ does not magically make all our challenges and afflictions go away. Rather the Risen Christ equips us for the living of our days. And frees us to love.

Even when we are not OK. Especially when we are not OK. Jesus reminds us of God’s unending love for us – come what may, God loves us. And by the grace of God, we too can love. This day and every day, we are freed to love. Thanks be to God.

[i] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y52bs0aX6v8

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Clarkson

[vi] https://www.countryliving.com/life/entertainment/a32187398/kelly-clarkson-new-song-i-dare-you-6-languages/

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] https://genius.com/Kelly-clarkson-i-dare-you-lyrics

[x] https://pres-outlook.org/2020/04/2nd-sunday-of-easter-april-19-2020/

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Until we meet again, Ted Hickman

14316837_10209909925482586_6630254089391490747_nOnly 17 short days ago they gathered to bid me farewell. My colleagues and friends from the community of nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations; my friends and colleagues from the Presbytery of New York City.

Ted was there. And after the words were spoken and the time came for people to leave, Ted and I looked at each other across the room.

We smiled. We moved toward one another. And as we had done before, threw open our arms and walked into an embrace, two bears seeking to engulf each other.

He whispered into my ear. Words of thanks. Assurances of prayers. Best wishes for what lay ahead.

I whispered back. Words of thanks. Assurances of prayers. Best wishes for what lay ahead.

As we disengaged, I said my final words. I refused to say goodbye as I left New York. And so I said to Ted, “Until we meet again.”

Only two short hours ago I received the email from the office of the Presbytery of New York City.

“In Memoriam” read the subject line. I had received enough emails with that subject to know what it meant. Someone had died.

I was prepared to learn of a death. I was not prepared to see Ted’s gracious, smiling face. Nor did I expect to read these words:

It is with deep sadness and grief for his family and this presbytery that I tell you that Theodore (Ted) Hickman, the Moderator of our Presbytery of New York City, died last night in his sleep.

Ted was 51.

My initial shock has given way to deep sadness and grief.

I grieve for his family … for Duryea Presbyterian Church where he served as the Commissioned Ruling Elder (pastor) … for his colleagues at NYU-Langone Medical Center … for the Presbytery of New York City … for all who knew and loved this good man.

I grieve for a song and life ended too soon. Too soon.

I grieve for what might have been.

I grieve for myself.

I grieve, knowing that, in life and in death, Ted, and all of us belong to God.

I grieve, knowing that love never ends, even death can never sever the cords of love that bind us together.

I grieve, believing in the resurrection.

I grieve and proclaim “Alleluia.”

I grieve and remember those final words I said:

Until we meet again,
my friend, my brother.
Until we meet again.

Note: the photo of Ted Hickman is the one that appeared in the message from the Presbytery of New York that announced his death. 


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Easter, 2015

The world looks much the same;
horror, hatred, evil still remain.
Yet somehow, somehow all has changed.
Christ is risen!
May we experience and live
the Easter message
today and all days.

5 April 2015
Louisville, Kentucky

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New creation

The facade cracks,
slowly falls away.
The truth,
only the truth,
painful, wrenching truth
Naked, vulnerable,
do we
retreat to old pretenses,
erect new falsehoods,
renew delusions?
Or do we dare
open ourselves to
new creation?

28 August 2014
Cleveland Heights, Ohio



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Rise: 21 May 2014


The sun rises.
and through the trees
we witness.

We rise,
though beset with trouble,
though battered,
though wounded,
we rise again.

Our awareness may falter,
our understanding may be through a thicket dimly
but surely, surely

22 January 2009
General Butler State Park
Carrollton, Kentucky

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Advent 12: Hope

Toasting Cindy

I have resisted including explanations with my posts in the Advent-photo-a-day. This one is different. It calls for some words.

One year ago, December 12, 2012, Cindy Bolbach, moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), died.

In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, I posted an invitation to my friends to pause wherever they were and lift a toast in thanks for the life and witness of Cindy Bolbach at 20:10 that evening. Many people participated. My son Sean joined me at a spot off Times Square where we took this photo.

The hope we celebrated one year ago holds Cindy and all of us still. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

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Missing Clint, giving thanks

I clicked on the Facebook link to the birthdays of my friends. Usually I discover a surprise on the list as I have very few of those days memorized. Heck, I have to stop and think about the birthdays of my family. Often the surprise proves pleasant as it affords me the opportunity to remember someone.

Today’s surprise brought a Communion of Saints moment.

Clint McCoy’s name appeared. Executive for partnerships of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Synod of the Northeast, Clint died suddenly on September 12, 2010 of a massive heart attack. His family has not closed his Facebook account.

A pang of grief pricked my heart. I followed the link to his page and found a number of comments by family members and friends. I remembered conversations and interactions. I smiled. And I gave thanks, grateful to have been Clint’s friend and colleague in ministry. Thanks be to God.

See you along the Trail.


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Purple flowers, Greeley Centennial Village Museum

The 2011 Colorado trek had elements of
sadness mixed with joy.
Our friend Steve died before we arrived,
but we gave thanks with his family and friends
as we witnessed to the Resurrection
and celebrated his life.

Steve lived in Greeley:
some among his friends called him
the Bishop of Greeley.

There in his domain,
we found the
Greeley Centennial Village Museum
and many gardens
and many purple flowers.

These are the first.
Others will follow in weeks to come.

8 July 2011
Greeley Centennial Village Museum
Greeley, CO

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Trumpeting resurrection

The saints of the United Presbyterian Church of Ozone Park invited me to preach this morning. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool day in Queens. Easter lilies graced the front of the sanctuary, trumpeting resurrection. 

As usual my photo fails to do justice – and yet, perhaps under some unperceived artistic inspiration, the photo blurry photo the sense of movement present on that first Easter morning – going to the tomb – returning to get others – going back to tell what they had seen, though not yet understood.


See you along the Trail.

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E is for Ed

From Ghost Ranch’s Facebook page:

We are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of our director of education & program yesterday morning, Ed DeLair. Thank you all, for your kind words and sentiments.

Services will be held Monday, February 6, at 10:30 a.m. at the Agape Center at Ghost Ranch. A gathering for lunch will follow in the dining hall.

Please keep his wife Becky and their four children, Eddie, Tom, Will and Eva in your prayers.

Son Eric, who worked at Ghost Ranch this past summer and knew Ed, shared the news with me via a text. Not wanting to believe, I fired a text of denial back to Eric. After some searching, it became clear that I should not have doubted. And then the news from the ranch itself.

Through tears that clouded my heart, an image emerged: a bright July morning, Ed standing outside the Dining Hall, Kitchen Mesa bursting with sun, steam rising from the coffee cup held in his hand, a big smile on his face.

Ed and I met in Israel. He took part in a travel-study seminar to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories organized by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. The picture shows him with his presbytery team on that trip. That’s pretty much the same smile he had on the July morning in New Mexico. Actually, that’s pretty much the same smile he always had on his face.

Over the years we bumped into each other at various places around the denomination. Most recently, we had several conversations at Ghost Ranch this past July. Clearly Ed was where he wanted to be, where he was supposed to be. And now, for reasons I cannot explain, he is not.

Many words come to mind to describe Ed – you can see a lot of them on his Facebook pageon the Ghost Ranch Facebook page:

Solid (mutual friend Bob Brashear uses that one; it fits)

I grieve for Ed’s family and friends.

I grieve for the Ghost Ranch staff and the extended Ghost Ranch community.

I grieve for all who have been torn by Ed’s death – all who mourn.

I pray that they have already experienced the grace of God sustaining them and the love of family and friends supporting them as they walk this shadowed valley. I pray they continue to do so.

And I give thanks for the life and love and witness of Ed DeLair who lived – lived well and lived fully.

To paraphrase the Presbyterian service of Witness to the Resurrection: “Even in the face of death – death that comes too soon – we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

See you along the Trail.

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