(Fourth Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Mary McCue
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When I told a friend, I was preaching on the text of the Good Shepherd, her reaction was, “Don’t we all need one these days?” I think my friend was right. We all need a good shepherd these days. Someone to help us find the right way – to guide us, with his voice, to safe places. Someone we know, who knows us. Someone who is with us in all weathers, in tough places and always brings us home.
The image also evokes the Old Testament. Moses was a shepherd. So was King David.
It’s a, timeless beautiful image – a good shepherd that cares for his sheep, even to the point of laying down his life for them. And it’s inclusive; he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold that he must bring in also. There will be one flock, one shepherd.
And the flock, and we, have a good shepherd these days – Jesus Christ.
In this section of John’s Gospel, we learn much more about Jesus Christ and his mission on earth, because he tells us much more directly. We all remember earlier Gospels. Jesus asked his followers and his beneficiaries to keep his deeds and words secret. He performs his work indirectly, through healing, through teaching, through preaching, through traveling through the countryside to meet them. By this point in John’s Gospel, he has already been transformed water into wine, been a good shepherd to the Samaritan woman, cured the royal official’s son, and healed the paralytic by the Bethzatha pool. Plenty of signs!
Now, Jesus begins to be more direct. He begins using the phrase, “I am.” He is telling the disciples – and us – what he is and what his mission is about. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the World.” “I am the gate for the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the light.” “I am the way and the truth.” “I am the true vine.” Consider those beautiful images: bread of life – the way of the truth – light of the world.
Those seven references in John’s Gospel are simple, direct, in language everyone can understand. Jesus is not only showing his disciples and the people who he is through his works. He is telling them directly. His, “I am” also echoes the Old Testament of Yahweh, who says, “I am that I am.” And his allusion to the vine is one found in the Old Testament as well. Jesus is bridging the teachings of the law into the teachings of the spirit.
This section of the Gospel, called the Book of Signs by scholars, is about Jesus giving us more direct insight into his mission on earth. Scholars say that John’s Gospel is focused on the individual’s relationship to God, rather than on Jesus’ works. His “I ams” certainly focus on the individual’s relationship to God, by describing who he is to them – and to us. As the words oftoday’s Collect say, Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calleth each by name and follow where he doth lead.
(Third Sunday of Sunday of Easter)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Easter week, I spent three days in Washington,
the other, the original Washington, founded in 1776,
the first city in America named after General George Washington.
North Carolina, along the Pamlico River.
While there: a stroll through the large cemetery of Saint Peter’s parish.
Azaleas abloom abounding.
Lime green lawn.
Towering oak trees planted in 1877.
Outstanding old graves.
Indeed, not a grave after 1890, following the town ordinance
forbidding further burials for fear of water contamination.
Film director Cecil DeMille is buried in the church crypt.
One particular grave caught my eye:
Hattie Frizzle, died October 16, 1881, at age 4.
The inscription is most unusual, perhaps perplexing to some:
Pa, don’t hold me back.
It is all tangled up and I can’t undo it.
For me, it speaks to being caught up in the mystery of the Resurrection.
Pa, don’t hold me back.
It is all tangled up and I can’t undo it.
We continue to celebrate the Risen Lord.
It’s still Easter!
We celebrate the Risen Lord every day, of course, but ‘tis the special season.
We continue to let ourselves be caught up in the mystery of the Resurrection.
God become human is victorious over death,
which means that nothing can hinder God
from communicating His love to me (us): not my exhaustion or exclusion,
my loneliness or locality, my depression or depletion.
I know that I sound like a broken record, but what more is there?
Divine love has the last word
and we are invited to experience it and to be transformed by it.
Jesus reigns and is, therefore, present in all that may feel like death,
in all that feels like it is dying in us.
The mystery of the Resurrection
is our mystery, our reality—if we so desire.
It is, of course, mysterious, mystery-ous.
It was for these disciples. Hence, startled and terrified,
they thought that they were seeing a ghost. (v. 37)
This incident follows Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples
on the road to Emmaus, downcast and disbelieving.
That encounter reveals that
Jesus comes to us when everything seems to be unraveling and isolating.
Those two disciples then rush to the others (our passage today)
and, as they are sharing, voila, Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom (+407), Bishop of Antioch (now in southern Turkey),
Doctor of the Church, says, “He that was so much desired comes,
and is revealed to them that were seeking and expecting Him”.
Jesus responds to the deep desires of our heart.
“Peace be with you”, Jesus says, and the
He invites them “touch me” (v. 39)
A powerful invitation,
which should speak to us deprived of so much touch in the age of COVID.
Jesus is always inviting us to real intimacy in love.
Their believing is gradual.
They do not initially recognize Jesus.
Why? Perhaps because, with Jesus, there is more than meets the eye.
Just like us, the Apostles need faith truly to recognize Jesus.
Perhaps, they’re not making good use of the gift of faith.
Consequently, the newness of Jesus’ body post-Resurrection
to their eyes strangely veils who He is.
Jesus goes further in the reality of real encounter.
He had no need to eat—as says Saint Bede, the 8th century English monk
(after whom, BTW, a metro station is named in Jarrow, England!)
Yet, Jesus asks, Have you anything here to eat?
St. Cyril (+444), contemporary of St. John Chrysostom,
Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt, not Virginia), also Doctor of the Church, says
The Lord had shown His disciples His hands and His feet, that He might certify to them that the same body which had suffered rose again.
But to confirm them still more, He asked for something to eat.
Jesus is merciful with us in our difficulties in believing.
So merciful is He, that He makes us, like He did these disciples,
witnesses of His resurrection, instruments of the victory of divine love.
For this truly to be possible, however, He sends upon us,
as we read in the verse just after this passage,
the promise of the Father, i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Our inner journey is scarcely different than that of these disciples.
There is more than meets the eye,
and sometimes we do not make good use of the gift of faith.
We sometimes conclude that, because we do not see the Risen Lord and
because some things do feel like they are dying in us, Jesus is far.
Jesus is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
He comes to us, downcast or disbelieving, unraveling or isolated.
And He sends upon us the Holy Spirit.
Touch the Risen Lord now, in faith and in hope, and receive afresh.
All we must do is want it. It is that simple.