Easter 4A 2020
How are you going in isolation, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday of the Easter Season? It has been a strange season unlike anything we have experienced before and yet, in a way, we have something in common with the disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the period between resurrection and ascension the disciples lived behind closed doors just as we do at the moment. Then came the time that we read about today, in Acts after the amazing events of Pentecost. Here the disciples, while still living with persecution have been set free from fear.
In the amazing passage from John, commonly referred to as the Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus says, in the Greek that he is the door, rather than the gate. Now, as we can see from this passage and as we know from our lives, doors keep us in, and let others in. They also keep out the threat from outside, but we have to go through them in order to make contact and to forage for food. The door can be seen as a symbol of exclusion- keeping out those we don’t want and at the same time a symbol of inclusion bringing in those who want to be inside. At this moment in time we are living in the space of exclusion willingly, when it comes to Corona Virus, or very unwillingly when it comes to family and friends. There is, in life always a tension between inclusion and exclusion.
As we hear these words of Jesus, it is very important to recognise their context. This is the discourse or teaching passage that follows the story of the man born blind and his healing. The man, blind from birth was excluded by his disability, and then he was excluded because of the legalism of the religious leaders, Jesus seeks him out, having already healed him, and brings him into relationship, the relationship of discipleship. Jesus then teachers his listeners, some of whom are the fishermen, something about being a shepherd who brings his sheep into the fold, that is relationship with him. Jesus is, of course, evoking the Lord, who is the shepherd, who leads us to green pastures and who prepares a table of welcome and abundance for us. Psalm 23 has a lot of resonance for us in this pandemic, doesn’t it? We have, as individuals, a society and a world, been walking through the valley of the shadow of death. We have all been living in a collective moment of fear and the very consoling words telling us about our shepherd who will guide us and lead us, is consoling. Last week I had the privilege of reading this psalm to Robert as he lay dying. He tried to join in with the words. From deep inside him he shared that feeling of security and hope which this touchstone of his faith provided.
And the picture in the 23rd Psalm is one of generosity, it is a banquet in the face of the foes. That is what the relationship with God promises. The man who, though he is blind, hears Jesus’ voice and comes into the abundance of a life where he can see, and follow Jesus. Like him we can follow into the abundance that is God’s grace, God’s abiding love and
generosity to us and for us.
But it isn’t just about coming in, Jesus also says that he will lead us out. We must go out to be fed and to mingle with those around us. And we are longing for that, aren’t we? We are longing to go out to our community and be fed by them and indeed to feed them. Jesus is the door that goes both ways, we are not an enclave who are holed up against the world, but rather the salt and light, to use a different metaphor of Jesus’, who go out. Just at this moment, until the restrictions ease a little more, we can’t physically go out the door but we can still go out in communication with both those we love and those in our community. And every time we do this we are doing it from the safety of the relationship that we have with God. ‘Yea, though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me, thy rod and staff comfort me.’ The promise is not that we don’t have to face things, but rather that when we face things we have God with us, Emmanuel.
The new believers, the new disciples or followers, that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles, certainly had plenty to fear, and yet the picture that we have here is one of joy and again generosity. It is all about their relationship with each other in the context of their relationship with God. And these things that they did together are still the things that give us life and strength even in our very particular situation at this minute. The thing that we cannot do, is spend much time together in the temple for us, the church building. It is true, however, that the temple was in a sense a kind of virtual house of God, and so we when we meet in these virtual spaces or over electronic means we are still meeting as they were. And what did they do, these first sheep of the shepherd Jesus? Well, they devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching and to fellowship that is both listening to God and to each other. They met around the table and they prayed together. They shared what they had and ate with glad and generous hearts. These new disciples were in the midst of fear and persecution and yet the relationship with God, and with each other sustained them.
I pray that as we go through this difficult season we might be sustained. And when this time is over, I pray that we might be found to have grown and flourished, to have deepened our relationship with God and with each other. I pray that when we meet again around God’s table it will be with a renewed sense of ourselves as the sheep of God’s pasture.
And that Jesus words for us might be found to be true. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
My dear friends may God bless you richly.
Vicar Roberta Hamilton