Theology Town Hall: Preaching the Empty Tomb to an Empty Room

Dean Laytham’s Introduction:  

Every week a preacher asks her- or himself, “how do I proclaim the good news for this people, gathered in this place, at this time? What is the good news here and now for us?” That perennial question is peculiarly focused this Holy Week, as the now has been exponentially magnified by corona-crisis, as the us has been radically diminished—even dismembered—by social distancing, and the here has been displaced and destabilized by migration to virtual platforms. This Holy Week, preachers bent on proclaiming good news face a particular version of the perennial question, how do you proclaim the empty tomb … to an empty room? 

Three EI faculty shared their answer, each one focusing on one phase of the three-day Easter Triduum.

Dr. Janyce Jorgensen, pastor at Zion Lutheran in York PA, addressed Maundy Thursday, asking how can we “get real” with a service that is so tactile and sensory.  In a year when we will not gather together to take, bless, break and give bread, Jorgensen reminded us (quoting Nowen), that this year Jesus is taking us, blessing us, breaking us, giving us. Here is the full text of her talk, with the Nouwen references:  Jorgensen on Maundy Thursday

Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Chapel, spoke of the “existential texture” of Good Friday in the black church, which finds hope in surprising places–even a condemned man’s cross. He then referenced the ‘glad surprise’ of Easter, as illuminated in this quote from Thurman:

“… if stumbling in the darkness, having lost his or her way, one finds the spot at which they fell is the foot of a stairway that leads from darkness into light.  Such is the glad surprise.  This is what Easter means in the experience of the race.  This is the resurrection!  It is the announcement that life cannot ultimately be conquered by death, that there is no road that is at last swallowed up in an ultimate darkness, that there is strength added when the labors increase, that multiplied, peace matches multiplied trials, that life is bottomed by the glad surprise.” (Howard Thurman – “Resurrection: The Glad Surprise” in Meditations of the Heart)


Dr. Dave Greiser, pastor of North Baltimore Mennonite, reflected on preaching bodily resurrection this Easter, focusing on 1 Corinthians 15. He ended with three tips for how virtual preachers might handle the ’empty room.’ Full text: Greiser – preaching Easter – EI Town Hall 

To view the Town Hall, click here, then forward to about the 3:25 mark for the formal beginning.

Theology Town Hall: Stress and Trauma in a Time of Crisis

Following are notes from Dr. Pat Fosarelli’s presentation, as well as a poem shared by Dr. John Hayes, for the virtual #TheologyTownHall held Wednesday, April 1, 2020. [Join us at noon on Wednesdays for Theology Town Halls led out by different members of the EI community.]

What is stress?

  • Stress is anything that moves us off our equilibrium
  • A stress can be positive if it makes us feel joyful (e.g., getting married) or competent (getting a promotion)
  • A stress is negative when it causes us to feel out of control or unable to cope or the stress is never-ending
  • The current COVID situation fits the description of a major negative stress

What is the body’s response to negative stress?

  • A negative stress is associated with the fight-or-flight “response,” one of the oldest protective mechanisms in the human body
  • Fight-or-flight is supposed to be short-lived, but in chronic stress, it goes on and on
  • That is important because the chemical processes in the body associated with fight-or-flight are harmful if they last too long; these include effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, the immune system, and the way we use glucose in our body
  • Raised heartrate and respiratory rates help to get us away from an immediate danger, as does a higher blood pressure and higher glucose in the bloodstream, but if these effects last too long, they damage the very body they were trying to protect
  • Structures in the brain contribute to this cascade of events, as memories of similar dangers make us more anxious; in addition, the center in our brain that alerts us to dangers (amygdala) often gets “stuck” in the on-position (just like a smoke detector that’s not working well)
  • The result is our bodies and minds are impacted sometimes in a major way
  • Physical responses: the aforementioned reactions, an improperly functioning immune response, worsening of chronic conditions, alterations in sleep and diet, etc.
  • Emotional responses: Fear, irritability, sadness, panic, crying, re-visitation of memories that are negative, etc.
  • Spiritual responses: Greater intimacy with God OR anger at God, doubting of God’s existence or care, inability to pray, etc.


  • Resilience is what is needed
  • Resilience can be learned
  • Steps in building a resilient attitude:
    • know yourself (what are your strengths/weaknesses; what makes you more stressed or worried; what obstacles have you overcome in the past);
    • pay attention to the positives/spend much less time on the negatives (e.g., watch less TV);
    • lean in to the situation, accurately noting your reactions and if they are helpful; 
    • change your reactions to responses (the difference is that a reaction is usually automatic while a response is usually measured and considered);
    • realize that you can’t know or fix everything…and that’s OK;
    • do what you can as positively as you can (don’t dwell on what you can’t do);
    • find something to laugh or smile about…EVERYDAY;
    • connect in positive ways with others;
    • do something that gives you joy or meaning EVERYDAY (such activities evoke the production of endorphins in our bodies, neurotransmitters that counteract many of the effects of fight-or-flight noted above); 
    • lean in to God, lean on God, connecting to God in the way that seems most meaningful and natural to you

As members of the Body of Christ, each one of us is important in the overall health of the Body.

Fear is the Cheapest Room in the House
by Khwaja Hafez Shirazi (q.s.) (1326-1389 CE)

Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

for your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse tomorrow.
We’ll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world-
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.


Theology Town Hall: The Coronavirus and the Book of Revelation:

The following is taken from Dr. Michael Gorman’s presentation for the virtual #TheologyTownHall held Wednesday, March 25, 2020. [Join us at noon on Wednesdays for Theology Town Halls led out by different members of the EI community.]

sign in bookstore window reading please note the post-apocalyptic fiction section has been moved to current affairs

This sign is from a bookstore in Canada. It seems somewhat appropriate for what Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson calls our “long involuntary lent.” (Image source:

For hundreds of years, people who have experienced pestilences have wondered, “Is this or that plague predicted in the book of Revelation?” Once again, some people are understandably asking the same question. One well-known religious group believes that the pale horse of Revelation 6 has been “riding the Earth” since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, “sow[ing] death through plagues and other ills” (The Washington Post, March 20, 2020).

So is this pandemic the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies? I will answer that question with an emphatic “no.”

I do so, not because the current pandemic is insignificant, but because that sort of question  is the wrong question to ask of the book of Revelation. The right sort of question might be one that appears in Revelation itself: “How long?” (Rev 6:10), a phrase we find also in the psalms of lament (e.g., Psalm 6:3).

But Revelation’s images of plagues, other disasters, and beasts are symbols, not depictions or predictions. They are symbols of humanity’s evils, especially the evils that result from the marriage of political and religious powers, and of cosmic evil forces—and, yes, of God’s judgment on those evils. But there is no one-to-one correspondence between, say, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse or one of the bowls of judgment and the current pandemic, or (for that matter) any other pandemic, past, present, or future.

As I and others have argued in many places and ways, in times like this the church’s mission—even according to the book of Revelation–is not to look for biblical predictions and make connections that instill fear. Neither is it to say things like, “If this is the beginning of the end, true Christians will be safe because they will be raptured—whisked away.” (Remember, there is no rapture in the book of Revelation!)

Rather, as always, the church’s mission is to bear faithful witness to Christ the Faithful Witness (Revelation 1:5) and to the eternal gospel (Revelation 14:6); to share in the suffering of the world; to call ourselves and everyone else to turn away from evil and toward Jesus Christ; and to offer faith, love, and hope to all by practicing those three theological virtues.

The situation we are facing is clearly unique and requires unique ways of expressing that faith, love, and hope—but the essential call has not changed one iota. What might the book of Revelation have to say about these three theological virtues?

Faith: In Revelation, faith means faithfulness and endurance and obedience. Since today is, for many Christians, the feast of the Annunciation, we may need to heed the example of Mary (who appears in Revelation 12), who said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We certainly need that sort of faith right now.

Love: Revelation tells us that the church in Ephesus “abandoned the love” it had at first (Revelation 2:4). That is certainly a danger today, as we are in various states of isolation. So what does love look like now? It means social distancing, but also more. It means praying for our EI students and their families who are uniquely affected by this situation, for the sick and vulnerable, for the health providers, for those in leadership—from the EI to the UN. It means making contact with people to be sure they are OK. And it may mean expending financial resources in unexpected ways to assist a family member, friend, or neighbor.

Hope: I especially stress the word hope, because no matter what happens, the book of Revelation is a book of hope: it invites us to anticipate the beautiful new heavens and new earth, the dwelling of God among us in the fullest sense and most complete way. And it invites us also, now, to “come” and to “take” or “receive.” As the book of Revelation comes to a close, it reiterates one of its themes—salvation as the satisfaction of our deepest thirsts—by beckoning us: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take [or, better translated, “receive”] the water of life as a gift” (Revelation 22:17). Hope is a divine gift, and a divine gift to pass on to others.

Today the book of Revelation, its author (John), its main character (Jesus), the Spirit, and the bride (the church) offer that invitation to life—abundant life in Christ, abundant life in the company of God’s people. This is a life of faith, love, and hope.

All of which brings us back to Romans 8, Paul’s great chapter about God’s love and faithfulness, and thus our hope. I again stress the word hope.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Is it God who justifies?! 34Who will condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?! Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are hyper-conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31-39, NRSV, altered)

Paul writes these words for a people and a world that is suffering, but with a promise that sustained the Roman Christians and can sustain us: the certainty of God’s love and the hope of knowing that love in this life and the next. Note how Paul theologizes here: with a series of rhetorical questions. This is the logic and the rhetoric of cruciform resurrection hope grounded in the faithful love of God displayed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

This hope does not mean we will avoid suffering. It does not mean we will escape grief. But one of the distinguishing marks of the church, Paul said, is that we do not grieve as others do,  who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Lament, sadness, and even grief can be a form of witness—of proclaiming the gospel of God’s love. At the same time, our daily lives, even in times of difficulty, can be marked with joy—surely, in Paul’s view (the one who rejoiced from a Roman prison), a fourth member of the trinity of theological virtues.

So in this time of uncertainty, may each of us and all of us be certain of God’s love and bear witness to it in word and deed—even with a hint of profound joy. Amen.

March for Life

Every year the community of St. Mary’s Seminary & University is fully represented at the annual March for Life in Washington DC.  The seminarians and faculty members joined over 100,000 other marches on Friday, January 24th  to pray for an end to abortion and for the protection of the right to life of all people.    

Mass for the Rite of Candidacy

On Monday, November 11, 2019, three seminarians –Scott Kady of the Archdiocese of Baltimore; José Carvajal and Carlos Ardila of the Diocese of Worcester were admitted into Candidacy by the Most Reverend Ronald Gainer, Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg.  Candidacy is a liturgical rite of admission requested by a seminarian of his own Ordinary, which formally acknowledges and enrolls him as a candidate for Sacred Orders.


Alumni Days 2019

Msgr. Lloyd Aiken (SCC 1964 & SMSU 1970) receives  The Robert F. Leavitt, P.S.S. Award for Excellence in Pastoral Leadership at Alumni Day, October 17, 2019.  Msgr. Aiken’s 45+ years of ministry with over 32 as the pastor of Sacred Heart of Glyndon were highlighted as well as his long commitment to vocations both in his parish and as a pastoral supervisor for the Seminary pastoral program.  He was joined by classmates from St. Charles and St. Mary’s for the celebration.  Over 100 alumni from St. Charles and St. Mary’s returned to Roland Park for the celebration on October 16th and 17th.  Fr. Phillip Brown was the presider for the Alumni Day Mass

Click here to see Photos from Alumni Days 2019 

Annual Vianney Cup 2019

On September 28, 2019 the Annual Vianney Cup Soccer Tournament was hosted by St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, with the enthusiastic participation of St. Charles Borromeo (Wynnewood, PA), Mount Saint Mary’s (Emmitsburg, MD), and Theological College (Washington D.C.).