Source:Network News; Winter97, Vol. 17 Issue 1, p17, 2p, 1 Black and White Photograph
Hogan Yancey, a Presbyterian minister and long-time prophetic voice on behalf of peace and justice, died on February 23, 1996. in Nashville, Tennessee. This sermon was delivered at his memorial service in Second Presbyterian Church of Nashville, by the pastor, the Rev. Steve Hancock. It is offered here in honor of Hogan, and as a timely reflection on the entwining, so easily forgotten, of resurrection and justice.
May this give new meanings to your preparations for Easter!
Many of you know the name of E. B. White. He wrote Charlotte's Web. He wrote a lot of other things, too; mostly essays, and near the end of his life he wrote an essay about his wife, just a few years after she died. She herself was a brilliant woman; an editor for the New Yorker magazine. But when her husband recalled her in this essay, he recalled most of all her love for her garden.
Every, year she would carefully plan; pore over seed catalogs, write out a diagram of what goes where and when it's all planted. And in time she grew old and even became an invalid; she was so sick and weak she could hardly get out, but when the day came that was scheduled to plant a given seed or bulb, she was outside, no matter the weather or her weakness.
This is the last paragraph he wrote about her:
Armed with a diagram and clipboard, Catherine would get into a shabby old raincoat, much too long for her, and put on a little round wool hat and proceed to the director's chair placed at the edge of the plot. There she would sit, hour after hour, with the wind and the weather, while Henry Allen produced dozens of paperpackages of new bulbs, and a basket full of old ones, ready for the intricate interment. There was something comical, yet touching, in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion. The small, hunched-over figure; her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be another spring; oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand; sitting there with her chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.
It's just a picture of a woman at her garden, but as I think about Hogan Yancey and his life and his commitments, this picture has the power of a parable for me. The last extensive time I was able to spend with Hogan before his stroke was on January 15, the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Hogan had just returned the day before from a conference on Bonhoeffer in South Africa. He'd been on a plane for sixteen hours. But come Monday morning, he was at Pleasant Green Baptist Church with me and many of you ready to march and witness to the dream Dr. King articulated for us.
I don't mean to over-play the metaphor, but this is my lasting image of Hogan. It was a long walk that day from Pleasant Green to the rally on the Tennessee State University campus and all the way back to the car. Hogan was worn out from the South Africa trip. His limp that day was worse than usual, but I was more worried about his heart than his limp. I knew about his arrhythmia; I had visited him in the hospital; I had literally carried him in my arms one day out of a presbytery meeting in Franklin when he could not walk. His hearing, of course, was not very good and his mind wasn't as sharp as it used to he. But on this day, no matter his age or his infirmities, no matter all the reminders of mortality and decay and death and precious things painfully passing away, this 74-year-old man stood tall and straight, his eyes facing forward. They were fixed on something that will outlast, out live, out grow, out shine everything that we see passing away. He strides forward, calmly plotting the resurrection.
Hogan and I had a lot of time to talk that day. We talked about Bonhoeffer, South Africa, the church. We talked about Weezie and Satchel. And we talked about the resurrection.
I had very few conversations with Hogan in the four and a half years I knew him that did not include the resurrection one way or another. Hogan could even work it in when we were discussing our shared love for Kentucky basketball. Back in 1992, Kentucky was playing Duke in the final of the East Region of the NCAA tournament. The winner would advance to the Final Four. Duke was ranked # 1, but Kentucky played them close the first half. I was watching the game at home and at halftime the phone rang. It was Hogan. "We're doing pretty good," he says. "We're going to come back and win this game." Duke stretched out their lead early in the second half, but Kentucky made a furious comeback, and with ten seconds left Kentucky has the ball, down by one point, and calls time-out. The phone rings. It's Hogan. "We're going to take it down and score," he says. "We're going to beat the #1 team in the country."
Sure enough, Kentucky throws it in, Sean Woods drives down the middle, flips a hook off the glass and it goes in. Kentucky's up by one. Only two seconds left. Duke calls time out. The phone rings. It's Hogan. "We're going to the Final Four," he says. "We're going to the Final Four."
But then Duke throws the ball the length of the court. Christian Laettner catches it, turns and shoots all in one motion. It goes in and time expires. Duke wins. The phone doesn't ring.
About a year ago I was introducing Hogan to a group of people to whom he'd been invited to speak. And as I was introducing him I told that story. And when I sat down and he got up, the first thing he said was, "I was hoping this time Laettner's shot wouldn't go in and Kentucky would win." Hogan believed in resurrection.
Not long ago he had business cards printed up. He said everyone he knew was becoming a consultant, so he would too. So he had cards printed that simply said, "Hogan L. Yancey. Consultant on Resurrection."
Of course, Hogan's not the only one to believe in the resurrection. But for many Christians, the resurrection message is truncated, reduced to not much more than hope of personal survival based on murky myths from the past. For Hogan, it meant so much more.
I think he would love this description of the resurrection by John Jasper. John Jasper was a slave in the American south in the 19th century. But he was a powerful preacher too and though he never wrote his words down some of them were remembered and passed on. I think Hogan would have loved some words John Jasper said one day at the funeral of a friend. He posed a little conversation with death, and it went like this:
"Death! Death! Show me your banners. I heard you got a mighty banner down there. Show your banners!"
But he has death answer: "Ain't got no banners. Had banners. But King Jesus passed through here and tore all my banners down. Made me open my gates and let all his children pass from here to glory."
Hogan would love that. "Death ain't got no banners. Had banners. But King Jesus passed through here and tore the banners down."
And now Hogan's died, and I'm going to die and you're going to die and everyone and everything we cherish will die. But death cannot keep what King Jesus holds in his hands. For now, death is what is passing away. The tomb is just a runnel now. The great out-lasting love of Christ and all he holds will live and shine for always and always.
This resurrection news was the central reality of Hogan's life. And what it meant for him is this: Power here as we have always measured it is not real power at all. Weapons, money, manipulation, force, control; none of these constitute power. They carried their banners for a while. But they do not last. Compassion, and justice, and mercy, and the love of God; these will last. The way of Jesus, God's Messiah, it will last.
Hogan didn't win many of this world's power games; he often lost. But whether he was carrying a replica of Romero's casket through the streets of Nashville, or working to close the School of the Americas, or marching for civil rights, or standing in solidarity with the poor in Central America, Hogan knew where the power was. He had seen it on a hill where three crosses stood. And he had felt it on Easter morning when the earth shook and the stone rolled away.
So Hogan could laugh at military parades, political parades; certainly at preacher parades. He could pour out his power for the weak, the hungry, the poor, the oppressed. Doing justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with his God.
At last year's Clergy and Laity Concerned Banquet, Hogan was presented the Ecumenical Service Award. It was the last award in a rather lengthy program, and when it was presented, Hogan simply stood and said, "I don't deserve this award, but I accept it. I don't deserve the gospel of Jesus Christ either, but I accept that too." And he sat down.
The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. didn't deserve the ministry of Hogan Yancey. The city of Nashville didn't deserve Hogan either. He was one of God's great gifts to us all. And because of Hogan's life and witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this world is a little closer to God's vision of peace with justice for all people.
Thanks be to God for the gift of resurrection.
Thanks be to God for Hogan Yancey.