On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Robert Harry, Again
Baptismally, he was Robert Harry, and, always, Robert to his wife Meta, the mother of his daughters. To his colleagues and students, he was always Bob. For me, his advisee and sometime house painting employee, he was either Doctor Smith or Doc. A native of Springfield MA, he had served a parish in Oklahoma before completing his doctorate in New Testament and, then, becoming a professor at the now defunct Concordia College in Bronxville NY. Our Pastor Hoyer had Doc at Bronxville for biblical exegesis classes and recommended him highly to his father, George, who was Dean of the Chapel at Concordia Seminary and a professor of liturgics and preaching. Doc received a call to be a New Testament professor and taught at Concordia until February 1974 and then at Christ Seminary (Seminex) until it closed in 1983. He taught at Pacific Lutheran Seminary in Berkeley CA until his death from cancer in March 2006.
Doc was the first professor that I met on my visit to the seminary in June 1976. I had just returned from a three-week backpacking and youth hostel adventure in Germany and Austria. We connected right away, and when I returned for Hebrew week in late August, I asked him to be my advisor. When he learned in January 1978 that I had worked as a house painter, especially during my time off from seminary, he hired me to work for him on Saturdays and an occasional weekday afternoon. Doc would buy old two- or four-family flats in rundown neighborhoods, gut the buildings, replumb, rewire, remove the damaged plaster and lathing, and put up new drywall. When he saw that he could count on my doing quality work, and, that I actually cleaned up my tools before leaving at the end of the day, he didn’t hire any other painters until I left seminary. These properties funded college educations for his daughters.
In my fourth year after vicarage, a group of us lobbied for Doc to teach a course on the Gospel of John. It was listed as a course in the seminary catalog, but it had not been offered in a while. We needed ten students for the class to make, and we cobbled together both grad and undergrad students to reach the magic number. We covered the entire Gospel in one semester, and it was one of the most fascinating classes I took at seminary. Doc was, I contend, one of the most underrated professors at the sem. Almost effortlessly, he could quote how each major John commentary treated the chapter we were discussing.
In addition to his teaching load, Doc served as Dean of Community Life (Dean of Students), worked on professional articles and commentaries, and managed to pay for two daughters’ college education by his rehab projects. Meanwhile, his youngest daughter was in high school and the apple of his eye. He was the original multi-tasker, and one of the finest men I have ever known. He was never an aloof academic.
Doc conducted my exit interview, recommended me for ordination, and, then, preached at my ordination. After I was serving in a parish, he asked me on a couple of occasions to contribute to the Preaching Helps supplement of Currents in Theology and Mission, the professional journal of the seminary, even after most of the professors went to Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1983. When I received my Doctorate of Ministry in Preaching from LSTC in June 2001, Doc asked me, again, to write for Preaching Helps.
Doc authored a Concordia Commentary on Acts, later Augsburg Commentaries on Matthew and Hebrews, then a fascinating treatment of Revelation using woodcuts from the time of the Reformation. Of all his commentaries, I wore out his paperback commentary on the Resurrection of Jesus in the Four Gospels. He brilliantly showed how each Evangelist told the story of the Resurrection of the Crucified Son of God and Savior and made the hope of the resurrection of our own bodies even more precious. I look forward to seeing Doc and all my dear ones once again in the resurrection and rejoicing with them that sin, death, and evil are no more for Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Oh, what everlasting joy will be ours!
Dear Father, thank you for Robert Harry, faithful witness to your Son’s saving death and glorious resurrection and the many ways he encouraged so many students in faith and life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you set aside pennies each day during Lent, please write a check to your congregation for $11.28 and designate it for Unsung Saints 2022. If you set aside nickels, write a check for $56.40. If you set aside dimes, write a check for $112.80. Your gifts will go directly to the Ukrainian people for relief.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.