Sermon for the Feast of St. Mark/Easter III, 2:00pm Service for the Atlantic Ministry of the Deafadmin | 25 April 2010
“Woman, behold thy Son…then to the disciple, behold thy Mother”
Christ crucified beholds us in his love for the Father. At one point he looks down from the cross. He looks down upon us and bids us look upon one another. It is the third word from the cross: “Woman, behold thy Son; and then, to the disciple, behold thy Mother.” These are, we may say, the words of the Good Shepherd. They are the words of his care for us.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He does not flee like the hireling – the wage slave – in the face of danger. No. The Good Shepherd endures the danger and overcomes it. His endurance means his suffering and death. His victory means his resurrection and life. He lays down his life for the sheep so that his life might live in us. That life is the life of the resurrection. It flows out in his care for us through the Church.
We hear talk all the time about “caring communities”. But I wonder if we know what it really means. We forget, I think, the lessons of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, there can be no true caring without the care of Christ. The crucifixion and the resurrection reconstitute the human community and give it life and meaning.
The only unity of the human community of itself is a unity of hostility. The cross shows us the human community united in its antagonism against the truth and love of God. It is a negative unity. The divisions and contradictions within are united in the hatred of God. But it is a false unity. What is it for? It is only against, against God and so, too, against one another. We have our way with God. We crucify him. But when we are done, exhausted in the futility of our hostility, then there is a new beginning, a divine beginning. The love which endures the cross reconstitutes us in love. Such is the nature of the Good Shepherd. The crucified and risen Christ is the Good Shepherd.
He looks down from the cross. We look up. It expresses, I suppose, a fundamental attitude of faith. It signals our relation to his being Lord. He is raised upon the cross by our hostility. Yet the hostility which seeks to eclipse the lordship of God only serves to manifest the lordship of love all the more completely.
“The Lord is my shepherd” who not only goes “through the valley of the shadow of death” with me as a compassionate companion, but goes “through the valley of the shadow of death” for me as Saviour and God. Moreover, “the valley of the shadow of death” is the place of all our hostilities against God. And yet, there “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” What is that “rod and staff”? It is not, to be sure, the religion of the middle class, the religion of material comfort, complacency and convenience which is always shaping religion in its own image, always requiring that God accomodate himself to us. But no. The “rod and staff” is the cross. The cross shatters all our hostility and reconstitutes us in the conquering love of Christ.
We raise him upon the cross. We lay him down in the grave of death. But he arises from the dead. We make his crucifixion – this is what we do – but we do not make his resurrection – this is God’s doing, the power of love.
We look up to the risen Christ. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” The whole of Eastertide resounds with the notes of rejoicing. We look upon the risen Christ but we cannot forget Christ crucified. The resurrection intensifies the words of the crucified to us. We hear them with greater attention in the light of the resurrection. The words of the crucified live in the power of his resurrection.
We look up to Christ who bids us look upon one another. It is not that we are to take our eyes off Jesus, as it were, or to turn our backs to him – such are merely the continuing follies of our hostilities. No. Rather we are to look upon one another with the eyes of Christ. We are to see Christ in one another. “Woman, behold thy Son…and to the disciple, behold thy Mother.” There is a unity of beholding. It is a beholding in love. Christ beholds us in his love for the Father and he commands that we behold one another in that same love.
This is the love which reconstitutes the human community in all of its moments. It is, no doubt, something which we have to learn again in the face of the contemporary hostilities against the forms of institutional life – the family, the state and the church. It is a positive unity – a unity for God which is born out of the care of God for us. We behold one another in the love of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep.
The resurrection lives in us through patient endurance. There is our forebearing one another in love, our suffering with and for one another in love and all this in the quiet joy of the resurrection. This is altogether beyond what the human community knows of itself.
Christianity is about redemptive suffering, to be sure, but it is also about suffering with joy. Why? Because the care of Christ is our life. He is the Good Shepherd.
“Woman, behold thy Son…and to the disciple, behold thy Mother”
Rev’d David Curry
AMD April 2010