Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fourth Easter, 2007

April 29, 2007 4 Easter (C) Acts 9:36-43; Ps. 23; Rev. 7:9-17; John 10: 22-30

Saviour, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need thy tender care; In thy pleasant pastures feed us; for our use thy folds prepare: blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

In the 1940 hymnal of happy memory there was a special section called “Hymns for Children,” and certainly this is one I remember very vividly singing in Sunday School classes long ago—and appropriately stirred up in memory on this Fourth Easter Sunday, traditionally named “Good Shepherd Sunday,” with echoes in the Collect of the Day and with the 23rd Psalm and the reading from the Revelation, with this magnificent vision of the martyrs in their great chorus, their suffering now ended, home at last, “for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And then also this famous passage from Jesus’ Hanukah sermon at the Jerusalem Temple in John 10: "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me."

These Sundays of Eastertide give us what we might call different glimpses of the miracle: what it was for the original witnesses--and what it is and can be for us. The “Good Shepherd” imagery conjures up a sense of the intimacy of connection, a tender sympathy of the heart, as we read perhaps at least in part through the lens of pastoral sentimentality. We remember that in the story of the Garden on Easter morning Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize him until he speaks, says her name, “Mary.” She hears his voice, as he knows her, and as she is known, so she all at once is lifted into the fullness of the miraculous moment, and it is truly Easter for her.

And John’s gospel is rich with this kind of imagery, this theme. The sense of knowing Jesus, being known by him, as a encounter of transformation, a mystical moment of stepping through the threshold and into God’s presence. And then as well the call to discipleship. Not so much about resting in this presence, in this experience of knowing and of being known, but about being lifted up into a new direction, a new energy of life: "I know them, and they follow me." Walking in his footsteps, down the same path.

As we would read this and remember as well from John chapter 14 the words Jesus would speak later to his disciples on the evening of Holy Thursday: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do." That aspect of our Easter identity and vocation reflected in this story from Acts, as Peter prays at the bedside of this young woman, Dorcas, or Tabitha, who has died, and whose body has already been prepared for burial, and with this word, “Tabitha, get up,” the girl opens her eyes, and rises from the bed in a miraculous restoration to life and health. Recalling for us perhaps the story of Jesus and Lazarus, but perhaps even more the stories of Jesus restoring to life the daughter of the Synagogue Official, the servant of the Roman officer. He who believes in me will also do the works that I do. Yet another sign of resurrection reality breaking into this world. Our world.

The point, in any case: that this Easter is not simply to “know something about what happened to Jesus”—the way we know something happened to Julius Caesar or George Washington. But to begin with that knowledge--the empty tomb, his living presence--and then to enter into this incredible process by which that knowledge changes who we are and how we live. We die with him, and are raised into his life. It begins with him, and then moves like ripples pushing out in wider and wider circles until they have reached to the farthest edges of the pond. Bringing us into his presence, reordering our identity, sending us out as expressions of his life and his love.

For some that happens all at once. Mary in the Garden. Paul on the Road to Damascus. For others, like Thomas, it takes a little time, a process of reflection and questioning, testing, discerning. Not a process of “one size fits all.” Bill Countryman, who was one of my New Testament professors in seminary, wrote a book a few years ago in which he talked about John’s Gospel as what he called a “mystagogical text.” Essentially: a curriculum on the sacraments, not concerning abstract doctrine but lived experience, leading the reader deeper and deeper into the holy poetry of our intimate encounter with the divine presence, the living presence of Jesus, at the heart of the universe, all created reality.

A journey that we all follow at our own pace. Perhaps many different kinds of journeys, toward one destination. The convergence of the natural and the supernatural, the two flowing together to form the new river that flows through the middle of the Heavenly Jerusalem. As we move through the waters of baptism not just once but continuously. As we consume him at the Holy Table and are consumed by him. “That he may dwell in us, and we in him.” In the end, it’s all about Easter. The Queen of Feasts, North Star, guiding light and final destination. All for us. My sheep hear my voice.

The poet Gerard Manly Hopkins wanted to make the noun a verb, praying “Easter in me, Lord.” Something that he does, in us and for us, and something then that we find that we are able to do as well. To “Easter.” Identity and vocation, being and action. Who we are and how we live.

It is an amazing process, going on in new and different ways today, this morning, and at every morning of our lives, for each one of us. A kind of creative overflowing of this energy of his new life, in us and through us and out into the world—out those doors on Hampton Street and into the world. Bringing forth life. From death to life. Easter. Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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