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Easter 4 April 22, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
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EASTER 4  Year B
Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; I John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, April 22, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
 
 
 
The Gospels for the
Sundays and weekdays of early Easter
 
tell of appearances
          of the risen Jesus to his disciples,
 
tell how his astonished disciples
came
          to believe his resurrection.
 
At first
through
the physicality
          of his risen body:
 
not
his earthly body
          somehow miraculously resuscitated,
                   brought back from death to earthly life . . .

but a transformed body
          that had gone through death
                   to resurrection life . . .
 
not readily recognizable
          even to those who knew him best . . .
 
insubstantial enough
          to be thought a ghost . . .
 
(a real possibility to the
first-century Mediterranean mind)
 
          appearing in a room
                    without coming through the door,
          at table with two of them
                   breaking a loaf of bread,
                             then almost before
                             he had put down the pieces
                                      vanishing from their sight,
          in Emmaus one moment,
                    Jerusalem the next;
 
but substantial enough
          to be seen, heard, touched,
          to break a loaf of bread,
          to bear the wounds of crucifixion,
          to start a fire and cook breakfast
                    on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,
          to eat a broiled fish.
         

Suddenly recognized
not just as a shadowy presence,
but as Jesus himself . . .
          because of a familiar gesture,
                   a word . . .
         
calling Mary Magdalene by name,     [John 20:1-18]
sharing food with them,
showing Thomas his
          wounded hands and side.      [John 20:19-31]
 
And so they came hesitantly,
gradually,
joyfully,
to believe.
 
 
In these stories
we see
the risen Christ
going about
re-gathering his scattered and demoralized disciples . .
 
          hiding in that room in Jerusalem,
          heading home to Emmaus,
          gone back to their old, fishing lives
                    in Galilee,
 
like the good shepherd
he had said he was
while alive.

The resurrection
firmly established,
the gospels for the latter days
          of Easter
go on to relate
episodes from Jesus’ life
 
episodes now understood
by his followers
in the light of his risen presence,
 
establishing just who
          this risen One is
          in their lives,
          the life of his Church,
          the life of his world.
 
 
Today,
as on every Fourth Sunday of Easter,
we hear part of the Good Shepherd discourse
from John’s Gospel.
 
The focus of this year, Year B:
the difference between
the good shepherd,
who knows, loves and protects the sheep,
          willing even to die in their defense,
 
and a hired hand,
who works for a wage,
          not for love of the sheep,
and desserts them
          at the first sign of danger.
Sheep and their shepherd,
a familiar part of everyday life
in the Palestinian countryside
          of the first century,
         
Sheep and their shepherd,
a familiar image
in the Hebrew scriptures;
 
for a people and their king,
          the true king who cares for
                   the well-being of his people . . .
          the false king, who exploits his people
                   for his own ends . . .
 
 
I went on a Google quest
for images of this Good Shepherd . . .
 
so many there are:
 
the stylized visual language of icons,
marble statues in the classical vein,
rustic folk art wood carvings ,
paintings by the renaissance masters,
pietistic Victorian renderings,
sentimental Norman-Rockwell-type illustrations,
and just plain religious kitsch.
 

All of them,
no matter their style or quality,
have this one thing in common . . .
 
love –
 
the love of the shepherd for the sheep,
the love of the sheep for the shepherd,
and some, the love of the artist
          (who after all,
          is one of the sheep)
                    for the shepherd.
 
And so we see
Jesus strolling in the midst
of the flock
through lush green pastures,
 
Jesus following the flock
as they rumble eagerly toward
a stream of clear, running water
 
Jesus leading the flock
as they walk placidly  
through the gathering dusk to the fold.
 
Jesus, slingshot in hand,
facing a charging lion . . .
 
fending off a snarling wolf
with his staff . . .
 

Jesus by lantern-light,
searching in
the night for a missing sheep . . .
 
Jesus carrying a sheep
back to the flock
on his shoulders . . .
 
Jesus kneeling precariously
at the very edge of a bottomless rocky chasm,
leaning over, reaching down,
at the risk of his life,
toward a desperate sheep
barely clinging to the rock wall
          of a narrow ledge.
 
 
So many representations
and there is love in all of them . . .
 
If you know me a little,
you might think my favorite
would be one of the icons . . .
 
or perhaps a folk art carving
 
but my favorite is actually
one of the more kitschy ones
 
 
 

the one of Jesus
reaching out over the chasm,
so very close to falling
          into nothingness,
just to pull to the rescue
one poor sheep stranded
on a ledge . . .
 
because I have been there,
on that ledge.
 
How did that sheep get there,
I wonder,
silly foolish, frightened, sheep?
 
As I have wondered,
clinging in terror
to the narrow ledge
of
my own fragile existence,
my own despair,
my own fear,
 
how did I get here?
 
Can anything,
anyone,
save me now?
 

I remember one night going to bed
thinking that if nothing changed by morning,
I could not make it through another day . . .
 
only to wake to a new day
no longer on that ledge
 
I knew not why . . .
 
but I did know why –
 
a hand had reached down
even into my sleep,
steadied me,
pulled me up,
brought me
to safety.
 
And I came, again, to believe:
 
The good shepherd,
risen and living . . .
 
who suffered,
and died
and rose
 
present even in and for
my little life.
 
 

In the Acts readings
of these Easter Sundays,
the adventures and exploits
          of the early church,
 
we see the risen Christ,
recognized
over and over again,
through his spirit
          comforting, encouraging,
          startling, shaking up, rescuing
                    his followers,
 
as their situation required . . .
 
transforming hearts and minds
for their own vocation
as good shepherds
in the image of the One
          who was still lovingly
                   shepherding them  . . .
 
 
How strangely those Jesus followers
          behaved
in the world in which they lived,
that world of cruel disregard
for the poor, the weak, the sick, the struggling,
          the ones out on a ledge.
 

In these Fifty Days of Easter,
in the gospels, the Acts of the Apostles,
the Letters to the early churches,
 
we see the earth
shifting and changing
under their feet . . .
 
as they suddenly become
courageous proclaimers
          of the gospel . . .
          the boldness of Peter and John . . .
gatherers of the flock,
healers of the sick,
protectors of the poor,
strengtheners of the weak . . .
          in the power and name of Jesus . . .
 
ready to give of themselves
even to the point
of laying down their lives,
that others might come
          to the knowledge and love of Jesus,
          to the place of healing and wholeness,
          to the place of love.
 
It was this very strange behavior
that made their gospel
so attractive, so compelling.
 
 

May we behave as strangely
in our own cruel time
of disregard . . .
 
that many in our own day might come
          to the knowledge and love of Jesus,
          to the place of healing and wholeness,
          to the place of love.