Return to story
e-mail author (email@example.com)
This will require a fragment of
autobiography. One of my
grandfathers was an orthodox rabbi. My father rebelled into
agnosticism. And he gave me a good but very nonstandard Jewish
education based on storytelling rather than on synagogue attendance.
In 1961 I went to Kenyon College, an Episcopal-affiliated school
where I majored in mathematics but several of my friends were
pre-divinity students. They occasionally asked me for "the Jewish
viewpoint" on an issue, and I often didn't know. So, being
conscientious, I went to the library to find out.
The college librarian shortly passed
me on to the librarian at
Bexley Hall, Kenyon's divinity school, which has since moved to
Rochester, New York. And the librarian there introduced me to the
Rev. Richard Henshaw, the Professor of Old Testament, who guided me
in Jewish reading and invited me to sit in his classes for prospective
Episcopal priests. He spent a lot of class time explicating the Hebrew
texts and their use in the church. It was a small school, with close
relationships. My girlfriend stayed in the spare bedroom at Richard
and Marjorie Henshaw's home when she came to visit, and our
discussions went to many topics beyond those in the class.
Rev. Henshaw's students sometimes
teasingly called him
"Rabbi Henshaw". Maybe they were right. I emerged from college as a
reasonably traditional Jew, regarding being an active synagogue
member as a normal thing to do. But I developed a lifelong interest
in relations between Judaism and Christianity. So I've usually also
attended one church or another, and often teach Sunday School.
One church I've been active in
during recent years is Balmoral
Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, where until his recent
retirement the pastor was Rev. G. William Jones. Bill Jones was and
is one of the great storytellers and teachers of storytelling - look
for any chance you get to listen to him - and he has been one of my
important teachers and a big influence on how I tell my stories.
But a few years ago, one of his
(usually excellent) sermons
didn't work for me. It was on a Palm Sunday, and both his sermon and
one of the hymns seemed to me to miss the point. I told him
"The sermon, and the hymn, sound
as if you think that
'Hosanna' means 'Hallelujah'. It doesn't. Hallelujah means 'Praise
the Lord.' Hosanna means 'Save us'. An important question for me on
Palm Sunday is: when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and people cried Hosanna,
in what sense did they want to be saved? Why did they think Jesus
could do it?"
I'm not a theologian, and my sense
of Palm Sunday may not be
the conventional one. The word Hosanna occurs in the Psalms, such
as Psalm 118. It is repeated in the Passover Seder (dinner) ritual
and may well have been used at The Last Supper. And the Episcopal
liturgy is careful in the distinction, suggesting that "Hallelujah"
not be used during Lent.
I'm not often as critical
of a sermon as I was of that one.
And, since Bill Jones' sermons were usually excellent, I forgot about
it. But about a year later, he phoned me to make sure I'd be in church
the following Sunday morning. "Why?", I asked. He wouldn't say, he
just needed to be sure I'd be there. And so of course I was.
His sermon began, "After
thirty years of preaching on the same
text, it is sometimes hard to think of something new to say. But last
year one of you did me a favor by telling me that I'd actually done it
wrong. Edward Ordman said I was misinterpreting an important Hebrew
word. I went and looked it up, and you know what? He was right. So
this year I get to give a whole new sermon."
I've taught a lot more
mathematics and computer science,
since I graduated from Kenyon in 1964, than theology. But teaching is
teaching, and it is a great pleasure to see one's teaching passed on.
And I get a very warm feeling when I think of these two important
teachers of mine, and of Palm Sunday.
Note: I'm aware that this is rather nonstandard theology, and the ideas
here are mine; no claim that either Bill Jones or Richard Henshaw
agree with them.
Return to story index