Sermon for the Second Sunday After Easteradmin | 8 May 2011
“The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep”
In our social culture today is Mother’s Day but in the culture of the Church it is Good Shepherd Sunday. The Eucharistic gospel which orders our reading and thinking about the Scriptures on The Second Sunday after Easter is the passage from John’s Gospel about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
A familiar image, even too familiar, perhaps, Christ the Good Shepherd is almost a commonplace theme. And yet, we fail to appreciate its radical meaning.
It is not by accident that this Gospel is read in Eastertide, in the season of the Resurrection. That helps us to realize its radical intent. Christ the Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God. Christ the Good Shepherd “giveth his life for the sheep.” The image of Christ the Good Shepherd cannot be understood apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Resurrection is about our freedom from sin and death but only through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Exodus is one of the Old Testament books which belong to our Eastertide thinking. It is about liberation. There is an important parallel between the Exodus and the Resurrection, between the liberation from captivity under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke and the greater liberation from sin and death. In both cases, there is the necessity of learning.
The lessons are not always easy. We are not always ready learners. Today, in the Exodus lesson we confront a certain aspect of ourselves. For an ancient story, what we confront here about ourselves seems positively contemporary. There is always time for whine in Canada, it seems, to use the old cliché!
We are in the wilderness, to be sure, having just been freed from the domination of the Egyptians by God’s mighty act. We have survived the night of the Passover and we have crossed over the Red Sea. All the forces of Pharaoh have been destroyed. We should be glad and full of joy. It is all God’s doing.
What do we do? We murmur. Here The Book of Exodus anticipates the theme of The Book of Numbers which draws out more fully some of the adventures of the Exodus and our attitude. It might better be called the Book of Murmuring. Exodus, however, nails the theological point about our complaints. “Your murmurings are not against us but against the Lord.”
There is a fine Yiddish term which captures this aspect of our humanity. It is kvetching. We are kvetchers, complainers. Nothing is ever good enough. We whine and complain.
The Exodus point is that we do so in the face of God’s provisions for us. On the one hand, the fact of desiring something more can be a good thing. It can make us yearn for God and his heaven, for a greater good than what we can ever find here. On the other hand, there is the sense of entitlement and the sense of being hard done by as if we are always victims who deserve something better here and now. In such a perspective we are dead to our freedom; we are dead to God. We try to make God captive to us rather than trying to find our wills in his will for us.
The Exodus story shows us the divine will to provide for us in the face of our complaining ways. Quails in the evening are given to satisfy our desire for meat; manna in the morning, bread from heaven. These are given as testimony to the glory of God, to the liberating power of God, and to the ultimate sense of God’s will for our good in his providential care for us. In our complaining, we are really complaining about the goodness of God. We are really demanding that God be taken captive to our desires. The Exodus stories are about our learning to be defined by God’s will expressed in the Law. Therein lies our freedom.
The Exodus stories complement the greater lesson of liberty in Christ’s Resurrection. The Christ who bears our sins on the tree overcomes sin and death. His resurrection changes our whole perspective on death and life. We find our life in him.
That is Paul’s point in the reading from 1st Corinthians 15. In ways that are virtually creedal, Paul calls our attention to the centrality of Christ’s resurrection. If he is not risen, then we are most deceived and have no hope; we are betrayers, too, of the witness that has been given to us. Paul rehearses a litany of witnesses to the Resurrection to ground his argument.
But what does this have to with Christ the Good Shepherd? Simply this, Christ’s Resurrection gathers us to the Father in the love of the Son. The arms of the Good Shepherd carry his sheep. We are his sheep, wayward and confused. We are embraced in the arms of the Good Shepherd. But his arms are the arms of the crucified, the arms that embrace the whole messy packet of human sin and complaint. His love reaches out and gathers us to himself in and through the agony of the Cross. We are “returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of [our] souls,” as Peter suggests.
The crucifixion is not forgotten or denied by the Resurrection. We behold his wounds now made glorious; nonetheless, we behold his wounds. We are reminded of the radical nature of God’s care for us. He died and rose again for us. His love is shown to us to shake us out of our kvetching and complaining ways. His love is shown to us so that his love may live in us through the quality of our lives with one another. We are reminded of the one who has gone “through the valley of the shadow of death” for us to “prepare a table before [us]” even in the wilderness of our sins. In every way, Christ is the Good Shepherd.
“The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep”
Fr. David Curry
Easter II, 2011