Reflections from President Erwin
April 15, 2022
Dear ULS Community:
I am writing these words in the night of Maundy Thursday, looking to Good Friday, which is when you will receive them. In these concluding days of Holy Week, the church is passing through the valley of the shadow of death. Having just eaten together in a beautiful and meaningful meal and listened to the many ways in which Jesus says farewell to his disciples, we now face the cross. Separated from his terrified friends and family, stripped of agency and dignity, Jesus is mocked, tortured, and driven to the hill where he will die. And we, liturgically and emotionally, follow him there.
In our world there is too much Golgotha: in Ukraine and all around the world people are being brutalized and killed because of human fear, greed, and the lust for power. Even in our own land, the brutality of prejudice makes us both violent and afraid—and often, those feelings are not separated by much. Even in our own more modest lives, we can’t always control what we feel—the pandemic seems to have reduced our empathy and increased our defensiveness and reactivity.
I am praying this year that as the church follows Jesus to the table, into the garden, to the place of judgment and—inevitably—to the place of the skull, we may go deeper into our own humanity and recognize all the feelings and impulses that torment us, so that we can understand better the ways we hurt each other. Good Friday forces us to fix our eyes on an image we should—and do—find distressing. We are ourselves to be pitied if we do not feel pity for Jesus in his suffering, and for our neighbor in their suffering, and understand that all this pain is interconnected. It is also in this pain that we meet God, suffering with us and pointing us toward hope.
At ULS, we are both helping shape and form our students to be leaders of the church and to be communicators of a gospel promise that is both painful and liberating: painful, in that it lays bare the inequities and inadequacies of human systems and structures; liberating in that it shows us that such systems and structures are not ultimate or even permanent, but always changing and—we hope—changing for the better. I think it was Archbishop Tutu who liked to say that Christians are captives to hope, and I believe this to be just as true as the painful realities around us: we Christians hold on to a hope that is beyond the cross and grave, a hope that comes from our origins in our Creator and extends to our life beyond life in the One who made us and calls us children of God.
From all of us at United Lutheran Seminary, and especially from me, your friend and co-worker in the gospel, I wish you safe passage through the valley, courage for the climb ahead, and a brilliant view of the glorious dawn to come.
Yours in the joy of the Resurrection,
Rev. R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair and Professor of Reformation Studies