Good morning, St. Michael’s, and welcome to the Fourth Sunday of Easter!
The English majors among us love prepositions, which are relevant this season: We celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter, not the Third Sunday after Easter, because we want to emphasize the ongoing joy found in the Fifty Days of Easter and its resurrection power in our daily lives. Also—and I know you leapt out of bed this morning to embrace it—we always take the Fourth Sunday of Easter to relish Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd.
Happy Good Shepherd Sunday!
If that’s not enough, we also switch gears to embrace John’s Gospel today and the next few weeks to metabolize his take on shepherding and abundant life. Now you English majors need to settle down and take slow, deep breaths. I’ve already waxed profound on prepositions.
Now, John loads metaphor upon metaphor as no other Scripture writer can do, depicting Jesus today as both Shepherd and Gate in a mere 10 verses. Let’s look at both.
Of course, shepherding appears often in the Old Testament—usually with the shepherd as a wily, untrustworthy character about whom you would scream at your sister if she considered dating one on Match.com. Jesus presumes this when he goes out of his way to disparage the thief and bandit—the bad shepherd—in contrast to his being the Good. Comparing ourselves to sheep can sound like being damned with faint praise. Sheep keep getting lost, can be truly smelly and—let’s admit it—were not the brightest breed on Noah’s Ark.
But Jesus also speaks to our hearts, speaks to our deepest needs for dependency, when he assures us that he knows us by name. Like a good parent and child in a crowded space—remember crowded spaces?—Jesus assures us that we will know his voice and he will know ours, regardless of how lost we might feel in a harrowing moment of time.
I am sure that’s why we all love to sing that beautiful hymn:
The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his,
And he is mine forever.
For some reason that escapes me, the metaphor of Jesus as Shepherd always wins out over Jesus as Gate: we never celebrate Good Gate Sunday. Yet Jesus in John’s Gospel proclaims boldly, “I am the gate.” “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Today, the simple act of going in and out has become frought with danger, lest we breath the wrong virus or touch the wrong surface.
We remain hunkered down in our apartments and wrestle with shelter-in-place fatigue.
A few days ago, I was in a public space when a stranger inadvertently and innocently touched me, which felt both good and lethal in the same moment.
We celebrate Jesus as the Gate, the boundary that protects us from bad forces—perhaps from ourselves, perhaps from thieves and bandits, perhaps from Covid viruses.
We look forward with great anticipation to the day when the gates of our shelter can swing more freely, allowing us effortlessly to go in and out of the sheep pen known as our residence.
If that’s not enough, John concludes our section of today’s Gospel with Jesus’ making a wildly audacious claim for this Covid season: “I [Jesus] come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Wow! I’ll take some of that.
In our new normal, most of us yearn simply for the first half of Jesus’ promise: ‘that they may have life’. We’re surviving day to day and we’ve set the bar low, scrutinizing the slightest ache or pain and counting ourselves lucky if we escape another person’s sneeze or cough.
We pray for those in harm’s way and count ourselves fortunate if our heads hit tonight’s pillow without sustaining a fever. And now Jesus wants us to embrace abundance?
On one wavelength in today’s world, the idea of abundance sounds wildly crazy and utopian. And yet, there it is: abundance.
On the Second Sunday of Easter, Jesus embraced Thomas and beckoned his shell-shocked disciples to cast out fear. Last week, the risen Christ broke bread with his crestfallen disciples and blew their circuits when they connected the dots in his resurrection appearance. Today, Jesus calls us to be equally counter-intuitive and embrace abundance among us. If our health status remains strong, we celebrate another day of living and look forward to our 7:00 PM primal screen as the new bond of affection.
If our health status has taken a downward turn, we take comfort in knowing that Jesus calls us by name and stands with us as we navigate a harrowing world. Cabin-fever stressors aside, we give thanks for companionship in both traditional and Zoom-like ways: to coin a phrase, we get by with a little help from our friends.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus recognizes our vulnerability and our occasionally scraggly nature. He journeys out onto the precipice to snatch us in love and pull us out of harm’s way. As the one who made it through Holy Week, Jesus brings awesome street cred to life’s harrowing days. Whether I go down to the dust in 30 days or 30 years, I trust that Jesus remains the Good Shepherd in this life and the gateway to abundant living on both sides of the grave.
As we enter another week of quarantine and occasionally pass the gate of our homes to the uncertainty of this world, embrace Jesus’ promise of abundant life, even amidst its vulnerability and uncertainty. Maintain social distance for sure, but get outdoors to breath our remarkably fresh air and embrace the beauty of this Spring season. Continue good self-care while serving those inside and outside your household. Continue humming your favorite hymns, even if you must omit “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.”
Continue a resurrection witness that proclaims that new life overcomes the grave and that blessing wins out over the thieves and bandits of this world.
If you have died on a cross, you will never be naïve, but like Jesus, you can always remain hopeful.
As we continue the great 50 days of Easter, let’s embrace the Good Shepherd, taste the abundance of this life, and exude a resurrection vision of life that triumphs over death.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.