Two Henrys and Jesus by the Rev. Ben Robertson



I strolled in our churchyard quite often this week.  I am continuously amazed at the beautiful work that has been done by the Mississippi Stone Guild, coordinated by Bill Buhner, to clean and restore the headstones and monuments, especially in the more historic sections.  This treasure we are honored to steward is looking better than it has in years – and just in time for the Gardens of Madison County this weekend.

Henry Vick’s monument is looking especially brilliant and I am reminded once again of his tragic death in a duel at Bascomb Course in Mobile, Alabama on May 17, 1859.  His opponent, Mr. James Stith, an old school chum met in New Orleans while making arrangements for his wedding to Helen Johnstone, was supposed to fire his Kentucky Long Rifle into the air, as Henry did, but instead struck Mr. Vick in the head.

While recalling Henry Vick’s duel, I was also reminded of another Henry’s duel, Henry Clay, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator, Secretary of State, and fellow proud son of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  In 1826, Senator John Randolph of Virginia accused his friend Mr. Clay of corruption so egregious that he resembled, “a rotten mackerel in the moonlight … he both shines and stinks.”  A duel was called.  John Dickerson of CBS’s “Face the Nation” recently described Clay and Randolph’s duel thusly, “Never in my judgement has the utter unconditional absurdity and folly of dueling been so perfectly demonstrated as in the case before us.  The two great men loved one another even in the hour of meeting in mortal combat, but in the sudden fusion of political parties and in events that followed they had become alienated and nothing but the magic influence of pistols could induce them to confess their love, either to themselves or to the world.  Clay and Randolph prepared to meet and met in deadly strife, their hearts gushing, bursting even, with tenderous solicitude, each for each other’s safety.”

Love amidst conflict can be difficult to navigate.  In this campaign season, considering current events, and while managing the daily occupations of life, the deep love we have for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ can be twisted into animosity, vitriol, and even hate.  Jesus knew this type of climate only too well.  As his ministry crescendoed in that Holy Week in Jerusalem, Jesus found himself in mortal combat with the religious and political authorities, many of whom he had known and engaged in dialogue for years, and all of whom he loved.  So when engaged in such strife, the dark temptation is to draw a bead on your adversary and let the lead fly.  But, the eternal miracle and lesson of the Cross, is that Jesus did not fall prey to that temptation.  Jesus spoke truth, in love, but never returned violence for violence.  And for his nobility, he died on that terrible Cross.

In this Easter season, and the seasons to come, especially as those who gather at the Chapel of the Cross, may we remember and hold dear Jesus’ response to violence.  We should never be silent and we should always be honest with our brother or sister, but when temperatures rise, be aware of the folly of our temptations.

After Clay and Randolph survived their duel, both deliberately and obviously missing (although one of Clay’s bullets tore a hole in Randolph’s coat!), they met and shook hands.  Randolph said, “You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay.”  Clay replied, “I am glad the debt is no greater.”