The following are excerpts from Ralph Smith’s two final homilies. Dr. Smith was Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel for ten years (1984-1994), a pastor, teacher and hymn writer. This November, twenty years after his death, the Wartburg Seminary community is actively remembering Ralph Smith and the important and lasting impact he has had on this community.
Homily Wartburg Chapel, Oct 26, 1994 [Text: Luke l0:38-42]
Hold Him Close, Hold Him Lightly
“My good friend in graduate school and liturgical study, Paul Nelson, may be dying. My daughter had a baby three weeks ago and made me a grandfather a bit earlier in my life than I expected. These two seemingly unrelated incidents prompted my remembering words spoken to me years ago during a health issue of my own, ‘Ralph, you need to understand that we do not have all the time in the world’. . .
We do not have, you or I, all the time in the world. Neither did Mary nor Martha, nor even Jesus. . . Yet no matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .
to write that letter of thanks,
to take that meal to an ill friend,
to clean up the environment,
to finish those few important projects
to tell spouse, children, parents, friends that we love them, and show it,
No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .
to spend a quiet moment with someone dear to us,
to sing a song,
to pray a prayer,
to gaze at the glowing embers of a fire,
to see the sun rise and set,
to listen to the cry of someone in need,
to ask for strength and courage to face an uncertain future.
No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . . we so often live as though we do. Now that could be the most oppressive and debilitating word I could possibly speak to you today . . .
Ah, but you see, in Luke’s and our post-resurrection perspective it is already too late . . . and it is never too late.
We do not have all the time in the world, but we do have time.
When I lamented not knowing how to react to my grandson, Norma Everist wisely advised me to hold him close and to hold him lightly. It was a liberating word, without sentimentality, and it frees me to do both. To not be distracted . . . one thing is needful . . .
Hold Jesus close, and hold him lightly.
We are invited to love Jesus, but we cannot possess him. Luke understood that… so did Mary… so did Martha… so do you.”
Homily Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 21, Monday morning of Thanksgiving Week. [Text: Luke 15:1-10]
Eucharist Means Thanksgiving
The homily was on the missing sheep and coin, on being lost or found, on cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. After his death four days later, the Bible on his office desk remained open to the Luke text along with his notes for the service. Here is the conclusion to his homily:
“There are only a few days of classes left until the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a week for Thanksgiving, for celebrations; and even in the midst of sorrow of those alone, separated from family and friends there is still thanksgiving for what the missing relationships have meant.
Thanksgiving is the heart of the Christian gathering; eucharist means thanksgiving . . . Paul said in Colossians, ‘Keep you roots deep in Jesus, build your lives on him, become stronger in your faith, and be filled with Thanksgiving.’”