nathanjhill.com

writing, reflecting, and hoping for a transformed world

an Easter #sermon sunrise meditation

Have you ever noticed that two of the most important moments of the Bible happen in a garden?

In the Book of Genesis, we discover the story of the first humans living in right relationship with their Creator in a garden, a garden which supplies all of their needs – only to have that balanced, just, abundant life shattered and broken when we humans mess everything up.

And then in the Gospel of John, the one God sent who came to heal the brokenness of our lives, to teach another way, and to offer abundance here and now, was arrested who we call Jesus was convicted in a sham trial, tortured, and crucified on a cross. He is laid to rest in a tomb in a garden nearby. His death too seemed to be another instance of we humans messing up something good that God gives us.

On this Easter morning, we are deeply aware of how we can mess things up.

We see in COVID-19 a virus that harms us physically but also exposes the continued brokenness and fragility of our society. We bear witness to the deep veins of racism and inequality in our healthcare and economic systems that especially put our black neighbors at risk. We have learned that some people are worthy of getting tests and resources first while the rest of us have to wait at the back of the line. We have been unable to look away when insults and slurs and violence have been inflicted upon immigrants and people whose grandparents are from another part of God’s planet.

And we have marveled at how the Earth has gasped for a desperate breath when we stop for just a minute – stop driving in circles, stop producing more and more, stop and wait and be silent. Did we realize how our busy-ness poisons the air and harms our precious Creation?

What will it take to break these cycles?

The good news of this Easter morning and the story of both gardens is that they do not end in defeat and loss. Though the first humans must leave the garden, God goes with them and continues to covenant with them to bring wholeness to this blessed Creation.

Though Jesus is crucified, on Easter morning, the garden teems with life as the angel proclaims, He is not here – he has risen!

These are the stories of God – God reaches out again and again to repair that broken relationship and gather us into a new way of living together.

Today, on this beautiful Easter, as the sun rises over our lives, know that God invites you to receive that gift.

We are able to write a new story for our lives, for our society, and for our world.

May we walk with God and write it together.

Christ has risen. He has risen indeed!

Adapted and written for Holy Saturday vigil

One: God, you created Creation and called it good. Enable us to move from silence into action to care for this Earth. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you created humanity and called us good. Challenge us to love each other and see the face of God in the eyes of a stranger, no matter who they are and how you created them. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you give abundantly – enough food for the world to eat and be filled. You give us enough, so transform the way we live that we may share this abundance so that no one is poor. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you come that we might have peace for neighborhoods and for nations. Through love and service, may we mend broken relationships and bend down to bless even those who intend us harm. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: God, you promise that the deepest night gives way to morning. You gather our tears and our hearts into your care and bless us. Renew us in the hope of resurrection. Many: Here I am, Lord. Send me. One: You have heard the good word. Even on this day of silence, God is not silent. God suffers alongside us, and God even now births a New Creation. Let us go to the tomb in expectation for what God is doing in and through us.

Yesterday, I had a first as a pastor – a small family-only graveside funeral without hugs or even handshakes.

It was already a wet and chilly day, so maintaining our physical distance made it feel a little chillier.

The funeral home placed COVID-19 pamphlets on every chair, spaced out evenly in the viewing area.

We fiddled with our smartphones as we waited in silence.

Touch is important in a time of grief. Sure, it’s not the only way to grieve or always appropriate, but there is something about being together as human beings, drawing close to the presence of God and the comforting connection in each other. We are frail creatures. Life can be short. Funerals help us remember that we are not so different from each other.

In those sacred gatherings, when we can be thankful for life, when we consider the complexity of our relationships, when we confront pain and regret, when we are reminded that the people we love (or struggle to love) will not be with us always, we need, often, a little touch.

So, it was difficult as a pastor to offer comforting words and to be present in a time of grief and yet not be able to take the hand of a family member and pass on a little connective warmth on such a chilly day.

Maybe it was difficult because I need that touch as much as others might need it too.

I write a lot.

But I often feel very sensitive about posting those things on the web.

I suppose this is something I need to talk to my therapist about, but seriously, I've written academic papers, religious service material, and lots of reflections. But then, when it is time to share it with the world, I feel very reluctant. Judged or something.

It's a problem. Maybe not as big as other people's problems, but why do I not dare to risk putting my work out there?

Stay tuned.

This #prayer was used at a funeral in 2010, but it could be adapted for other uses.


Almighty God,

Source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Speak to our hearts as we gather this morning to remember, to laugh, and to weep.

May we hear Your word for our lives spoken clearly.

May we be encouraged by the presence of friends and family.

May we know the touch of your grace.

Fill us with the joy and peace that comes from your presence.

We trust in You and Your will, In the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, we pray, Amen.


I wrote this #song in Dallas for a worship service. I'm not sure if I ever performed or led it in worship, though I did record a demo somewhere. Chord chart available on request.

welcome welcome to the table of God

if any one shouldn’t be invited that any one would probably be me But God’s invitation is spread far and wide cause God’s love is deeper than the sea

come on and join this family we all look weird and a little strange but when God sees us, God sees beauty cuz God’s love doesn’t change

here at God’s banquet table we eat the bread, we drink the cup Christ gathers us in for this feast the Holy Spirit sends us out to be transformed to change the world to love, to love, to love, love to be love.

This is a #calltoworship from a recent Celebration Sunday, reminding our church on its 60th anniversary that God was still creating and giving us reason to worship.

One: In the beginning… Many: God created the heavens and the earth One: In the beginning… Men: God created plants, animals, and life. One: In the beginning… Women: God created human beings, young and old. One: In the beginning… Youth & Children: God created families, churches, music, art, and laughter! One: I wonder, is God done creating? Many: No! God is still creating! God still gives life! So let us worship God together!

This is a #calltoworship appropriate for current events along the border as well Elijah's visit to the widow and her son in 1 Kings.

One: Holy God, You are our Mother All: Making a feast out of a little Weeping alongside us Refusing to abandon us One: Holy God, You are a Truth-teller All: Challenging us to keep marching Letting us know when it is time to let go Encouraging us to share the load One: We worship You and offer You praise! All: Praise and honor to You!

Paul gets tired of her shouting – and maybe in a bout of frustration – he calls the demon out of her. And suddenly, the girl is freed. She is freed in such a way that she no longer has value to her bosses, to her slave-masters, who cannot control or rake profits from her. Suddenly, she is not a product to exploit but a fully human being, a full child of God, who cannot be manipulated or abused or used. I am always amazed at the way the New Testament stories remind us that liberation was not really good news for those on top with all the power – but for women, children, low wage laborers, those who were exploited, those who were seen as a means to an end. Salvation was a pathway to freedom in all aspects of life.

Read it over at the UCC website: http://www.uccmd.org/blog.cfm

One day, I'm having exciting conversations about the future, planning, dreaming, listening, and exploring future possibilities.

The next day, I'm planning funerals, shepherding people in their grief, and finding ways to honor lives.

This is really sacred work, but the bounce back and forth can be dizzying and disorienting to say the least. And most days, I go home pretty tired.

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