•Acts 4: 8-12 • 1 John 3: 1-2 • John 10: 11-18•
Scripture Readings: Fourth Sunday of Easter
Christ is Risen! (Truly he is Risen!) Today we note a dramatic shift of focus in the gospel text. We have moved from apparent Easter narratives to John’s simile of the Good Shepherd. The reason is simple logistics. Because Mark’s gospel provides very little detail about the resurrection, the compilers of our lectionary turned to the fourth gospel to fill in the remaining Sundays of the Easter season. These texts are from the fourth gospel and are disconnected. They direct our attention to Jesus rather than to resurrection or the core of his teaching.
The four evangelists all agree. After Jesus was arrested and executed, his close companions scattered like sheep being chased by a predator. The post-resurrection stories also agree that when the Risen Christ stood among them, his first words were of peace – total forgiveness for their cowardice in his hour of need. John’s simile of the Good Shepherd aptly describes the Risen Christ who awakens us to that Gracious Mystery we name God. It is to that Gracious Mystery I now turn our attention.
Christ is Risen! (Truly he is Risen!) Five hundred years ago no one doubted that God is. No one doubted that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from death. Life was still pretty much that way when I was growing up. We lived in an enchanted world and a culture saturated with the sacred.
Then one day we woke up and discovered there had been a massive shift. Because of advances in science and technology we now live in a disenchanted world – “A Secular Age.” We have imbibed this movement to a disenchanted world almost unconsciously. Even within our Catholic household of faith, religious feasts no longer punctuate the rhythm of the year. Our children no longer know the meaning of Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost.
The result is that because we no longer experience the world as saturated with the sacred, many of us lack clear signposts or reassuring markers that provide meaning for our lives. More and more people feel cut adrift without a compass. All of us have family members or friends who have wandered away from or feel abandoned by the church. Such experience is common to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and all faith traditions. For some, the solution is to turn back the clock. Various fundamentalisms seek to re-create a past that is no longer with us.
With our disenchanted world in mind I invite you to please consider what the simile of “the Good Shepherd” implies about that Gracious Mystery we name God. First be clear about this. Our knowledge of what it is to be “human” is very limited. So our knowledge of “God” is even more limited. All that we know for certain about God is that we do not know God.
Jesus conversed with and related to that Gracious Mystery as “Father.” “The Father knows me.” “The Father loves me.” Ponder that. He is speaking of intimate relationship. What is true of the Risen One is true of us as well. “The Father knows me.” “The Father loves me.”
Jesus used the only language available to him. At its best human language about God is insufficient. For example, the word “person” applies to human beings. We think of God as personal but cannot say “God” is “a person” because God is far more than that. Our best language for “God” is metaphorical. This Gracious Mystery is like a river flowing through a verdant valley. The river knows the valley, brings life to the valley and sustains life. So too God knows and loves you, sustains and draws you into life and a future of unimaginable possibility.
Christ is Risen! (Truly he is Risen!) The unimaginable age and size of the universe is mind-boggling. With the simile of the Good Shepherd, the Risen One affirms that this and every universe that comprises the cosmos is suffused with the power, the intelligence, the love of that Gracious Mystery we name God. If this disenchanted world, this Secular Age awakens in you a hunger for meaning and purpose, then open your heart and mind to this simile. The disenchanted world in which we live is saturated with the sacred – a loving presence beyond our comprehension. We name that presence “God.”