These days it’s about protecting ourselves and one another. Outside the Commissary at Hickam they limit the number of people who can be in the Commissary at one time. So you form a line outside, six feet part, and you wait at the door. Until the person who checks the IDs tells you that you can go in.
There are all types of doors and gates that we encounter. Some gates are to keep people out, others are to keep them in. Some are welcoming and others are formidable obstacles. But I guess it depends on our perspective.
Sometimes gates are a necessary and useful structure, other times simply a decoration. Gated communities welcome the protection that it affords. But for those who are incarcerated, the gated communities of jails and prisons inhibits freedom. The dictionary describes a gate as “a moveable structure that controls entrance and exit.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. And so our readings reflect the traits of those who follow the good shepherd, the familiar 23rd Psalm, and a portion of 1 Peter telling us that though we were like sheep going astray we have reunted to the shepherd who guards our souls.
In the gospel of John there are what are called the “I am” statements of Jesus; I am the bread of Life, I am the light of the world, I am the Good shepherd and so on- 7 in total. And even though in the verses that follow this passage he says, I am the good shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep, in our Gospel reading for today he speaks mostly to being the gate.
There is a distinction here that Jesus makes. He does not say that he is the gatekeeper necessarily, but rather as the gate itself.
Traditionally, this text has often been used as a means of exclusion. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” People have used this passage to create false boundaries that reinforce their own power- labeling as the “thieves and bandits” as anyone who is “unorthodox or just not like us. Whether that means you are conservative or liberal, the “wrong” gender, sexuality, race, doctrine, belief, even liturgy and so on. Add this to another I am statement from John: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life” and the message becomes “Not everyone is going to get saved,” or “Jesus doesn’t love everyone,” is a subliminal text. But underlying it all is a pious concern for being “correct.”
You and I who find ourselves so far away from what it was to be a shepherd in the time of Jesus might think something got lost in translation. But no. In calling himself the gate, Jesus was describing exactly what a shepherd does.
In sheep-folds which was typically a rock wall enclosure of stacked stones with thorny brush on top that provided protection against theves and robbers but it also provided protection against wolves and other animals of prey. There was a break in the wall where there was no actual physical gate, the shepherd would lie himself down in the opening which allowed entry and exit. In this way the shepherd knew who or what came and went or who or what attempted to come and go and so could serve as protector of the sheep.
That Jesus is the gate is the reinforcement that he is the protector. He is the one who knows the sheep and calls them by name and in that same light we hear his voice and follow where he leads. When Jesus says, “I am the gate,” it is his way of inviting us both in and out. Jesus is telling us that he is our way to safety, to entering a restful place where we know we are loved and protected.
But he is also telling us that we will need to go back out through that gate into the world. He calls us out- not in that way that is confrontational, but call us out he does. It is his invitation to leave safety and security and go back out into a world of challenges and stumbling blocks.
And maybe that seems odd to hear that right now, when we are at home for many hours of the day.
Jesus promises that with the Lord as our shepherd, we will “come in and go out and find pasture.” Outside the fold, sheep are under threat from predators. The shepherd’s rod and staff are not only comfort, but protection.
But the biggest risk comes from the sheep themselves – they are apt to wander off, each to its own way. In the Psalm God may lead us to green pastures and besides still waters, but how many times are we constantly scouting for greener pastures thinking what we have isn’t enough? We only have to look at the empty shelves of the grocery store devoid of paper and cleaning products see that we imagine we do not have enough by God’s hand.
The Reading from Acts talks abut those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Yes but there is more- their faith was moved into action. The early Christian community knew what it meant to care for others in need. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to the all as any had need.
In short, this is what the Christian community does, when we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. We follow him. When we do so, we are left with a sense of awe and mystery. And who do we listen to and how do we listen to the voices of the suffering?
Our hearts and minds are always searching for that place of security in the world- as Sheep we need to listen- we need to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. There is a danger that we can be lured into a false notion that all we need is Jesus and patch of green grass to graze- nothing more.
In the eyes of the world, we may seem foolish to follow the voice of Jesus and in his footsteps. My sheep go where I lead- he says. Jesus calls us out of the fold into a world that is crying out with anxiety, isolation, fear and loneliness. Jesus is calling us to listen for and to hear the voices of those who need us most.
And yet we must also listen for danger- There are a thousand competing voices call to us that we should look for escape instead of sacrifice, should seek an easier bliss than the peace of God, should search for our own greener pastures and leave the rest of the flock behind.
The voices say crucified Christ of Good Friday is not the gate that leads to life and hope but is seen as a stumbling block, and looks like foolishness to many. Why would we worship a God who became like us, who died as one of the lambs?
That sounds like a lot to do. But we aren’t alone. The Lord is my Shepherd. He leads us besides still waters, and restores our soul. And even in the valley of shadows, in the doubt and uncertainly of our faith, God is still there. Protecting and guiding- Thy rod and staff are a comfort.
Jesus doesn’t call us to become something different; he calls us to grow into who we truly are.
Good Shepherd doesn’t round up the sheep with a whistle, or herd them with whips and prods and dogs. The Good Shepherd calls the sheep by name.
In the end, our only wisdom is to know our shepherd’s voice. Our one skill as sheep is to listen – to listen from the deep place in which we recognize who we truly are, and whose we truly are. Because the Good Shepherd is the only one who calls us by our own names, our true names, the ones that lie in the very heart of God.
When you think about it, it’s hard to understand how two of Jesus’ disciples would not recognize him. I imagine that they had spent time enough time with him when he was alive to know what he looked like.
But there they are on the road, the morning of the resurrection, and Jesus is walking along slide them. Maybe they are blinded by their grief, by their disappointment in the whole situation. Their hearts heavy with the devastating news about the death of Jesus. Perhaps they have already heard from the women who arrived earlier that morning and reported that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive and yet- still were focused on his death. They had hoped that Jesus would indeed be the one to redeemed the oppressed people of Israel. But Cleopas and his friend, could not understand how Jesus could, in fact, come alive and how the transformation of life Jesus had begun could continue. For them, it was all over, it was time to go home.
But “a funny thing happened to them on the road to Emmaus” to borrow a phrase. And their disappointment turns to wonderment. Not recognizing him in on the road, they invited him to sit and eat, a sign of gracious hospitality that is reminiscient of other messengers who brought good news of God’s work such as when Abraham welcomed the strangers into his tent was told of God promise that he and Sarah would give birth to a child. Is nothing impossible for God?” the question was asked.
And here, at the evening meal, nothing is impossible for God. The stranger takes bread, says the blessing and then breaks it to share and they suddenly began to understand. WE cannot know what wen through their mind that night, whether they recalled the glory of Jesus in his last days; remembering how he shared with them the stories of the prophets along the Emmaus road as he also shared with him the teachings of the prophets in times past.
And as suddenly as their eyes were opened- he is gone. We don’t know if Jesus vanished right before their eyes, but we DO know that they had experienced the resurrected Christ. Having witnessed the events of the life and death of the man from Nazareth and now having witnessed him alive in their very midst, they were forever changed. They were not the same as they once were, they can never simple “go back” to a time before. There is only now and there is only the future.
In these great 50 days of Easter Season, these are the days we are to spend on the road to Emmaus, talking, wondering, moving back through our lives. We are there on the road with Cleopas and his friend. We are there with the disciples at the Last Supper. We are asked to remember and tell the stories about what God has done. Our experiences on Sunday mornings and at other times in worship, for example, help us repeat again and again the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We recall the scriptures and the story of God’s Dream for creation and of the Eternal Word made Flesh in Jesus, our Christ.
And when we hear this story of Jesus being at table with his disciples, we recall that powerful moment at the Last Supper, when he gave his closest followers bread and wine, his body and blood, to provide nourishment and meaning and direction.
The road to Emmaus is a road that is both Word and Sacrament. Of Jesus, nourishing us in our journey through life by opening the scriptures to us and of Jesus, nourishing us around tables at which he gathers us.
Word and Sacrament are both critically important to us as Epsicopalians. And I know many of you who are watching or listening miss Communion. It is a vitally important part of our Church’s expression of faith as well as our own.
The two on the Road or Emmaus wonder in awe after Jesus disappeared- they said, were not our hearts burning while we were traveling and he was talking to us on the road?
And now our hearts are burning at the prospect of being able to worship again in the church with Holy Communion. I promise you that we will again gather here around this table for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. There are active discussions on how we might do this and what that might look like in the near future. We do not know when this will be but it certainly wont be until after mid-May.
But until we are able to feast on the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we will have to settle for feasting on the Word of God. For even before there was the Bread and Wine, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” My point being my brothers and sisters is that the word of God still resonates in our minds and hearts, and enables us to experience the reality of love and grace and the one-ness we have with God and each another. It is that same word of God that comes to us in Acts through Peter’s speech that has hearts repent and turn to God. 1 Peter that reminds us that we “have been born new, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring words of God.” Everything is focused on the love that is God – that is the resurrected Jesus in our presence. “Wasn’t our hearts burning on the road?” they said to each other.
How will you walk with the resurrected Jesus throughout the rest of the week, at work and home, at school and play? Allowing that imperishable seed of love planted inside of us to grow and flourish?
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we can overcome our discouragement, our sense of being lost, and see life re-born. The resurrected Jesus who walks with us and talks with us will show us that the forces of evil and destruction- that this global pandemic- will not prevail against the power of love.
When Cleopas and his companion began to realize that they had experienced the resurrected Jesus, they recognized that their hearts had been burning as he taught them on the road. They responded to their experience by going to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Can we, too, recognize the resurrected Jesus in the experiences of our lives? Will we, too, feel our hearts burning? Or will we miss the opportunity, ignoring it as minor indigestion?
When we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst, we will respond in joy and faith and commitment, as did the two men on the road to Emmaus. We will respond by moving from where we are, renewed by the resurrected Jesus and ready to challenge what Peter in today’s epistle called “a corrupt generation”?
The disciples discovered on the road to Emmaus that Jesus could be, and was, alive again, that God’s work begun in him could go on among his followers. I pray we will become like them. That our hearts, will burn with the desire of the resurrected Jesus. That we will continue to nourish ourselves on the Sacrament of the Word so that when we gather again to break bread, Christ will be no stranger. That the love that continues to burn in us will be a light that others will use to recognize God’s loves.
The gift of Emmaus awaits. Wherever you are on that road, pray that when the Risen Lord comes to you, your eyes may be opened so you can behold him in all his glory; and then, renewed in faith, run to tell others the Good News. Amen.
Right now, we want to touch Jesus.
I know that it’s hard to believe, but it’s only been 5 Sundays since March 15th, the last time we were in this worship space and had Eucharist. You remember what that was like? Of course we do.
The elements of bread and wine are brought forward, we offer them up to God to give thanks and to hear the story of the night before he died he took bread, said the blessing and then gave it to his friends and said, “take eat this is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the cup of wine, and said, Drink this all of you, this is by blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, drink this in remembrance of me.”
Praying the prayer that Jesus taught us, we come forward with the invitation of The gifts of God for the People of God.
And we come forward to hold out our hand and touch the Body of Christ in the form of communion bread.
Prior to the 1970’s Since the 1960s and 70’s the Episcopal Church did much to teach and change its approach to worship. Some of you might remember a time when Morning prayer was the norm. But for most of our lifetimes, and certainly in my formation as a priest, the Eucharist has been a central part of our worship life together. And we have been better for it. In essence each time we gather, we touch Jesus.
But in this time of COVID, that has not been so. Much of the conversations I have been having with other priests has been about the role communion now has in our lives and how much the members of our congregations miss it and is there anything we can do about it. Even though other Protestant traditions do communion in other ways, what makes the Epsicopal Church different from other denominations is our unique understanding of the Eucharist. For now, we can’t touch Jesus.
And neither could Thomas. We heard in the Gospel of John, a story told in near real time as we witness the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday holed up in an upper room in fear. Everyone who is left is there except one. Thomas.
Thomas missed the interaction as they recounted it to him, it sounded fastastic. He could not believe that the Lord had somehow been physically in their presence, even if it was a for a short time.
Thomas makes that infamous statement- unless I am able to touch Jesus, I won’t believe.
Many people, like Thomas, struggle with the continuing presence of Jesus following his resurrection. And May people, like Thomas, are always looking for proof. As Christians, we make bold and rather unusual claims: the leader of our religion was executed, buried, and then came back to life to walk the earth only to be lifted up into heaven on a cloud.
But none of us were there. None of us were in the room with those disciples. None of us touched Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King junior is reported to have said, “take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Jesus appeared again in that small room with the disciples we're gathered to make a point of visiting Thomas. When our hearts are open, we are able to receive the presence of the risen Christ. The Lord God is with us in our darkest moments and in our happiest times.
With the restrictions in place, we are holed up in our rooms. We have the doors locked in fear. We are told not to go out in public- except for the essentials like food or medicine. Even then we wear a mask for fear that either we might be an unwitting carrier and breathe one some one or come in contact with the Coronavirus through someone else.
And we are eager to see and touch Jesus again. Perhaps not exactly like Thomas, but Thomas in many ways through both his desire to believe and his doubt, he speaks for us.
He speaks for us when, in that moment he is able to connect with Jesus, he says “My Lord, and my God!” And Jesus is speaking TO us when he Blesses us and teaches us again about having the faith to believe.
Eventually, all of the 11 do bear witness to the resurrected Christ. And they will go on to tell the
We can bear witness to the living God because of those who saw him. The disciples attested to the resurrected Jesus, first by their confusion at the tomb, and then by providing evidence to the resurrected Christ through his two visits. They were able to tell others about the wounds in his body. Even Thomas could tell the story, because Jesus ensured that his wandering friend had the proof he needed in order to fully believe.
Thomas is told, Blessed are those who believe and have yet not seen. On the one hand this may come as a indictment of Thomas’ doubt, but on the other hand, Jesus wasn’t scolding Thomas. Jesus was affirming Thomas’ will to believe. He was encouraging him ot have faith.
As resurrection people, faith is what guides us. It is more than just a five-letter word. It requires the use of our senses. Faith requires us to hear God and feel the Holy Spirit in our lives. The faith that Jesus tried to inspire in his disciples is the same faith God hopes for us now. And though WE may never ge tot touch Jesus in the way that Thomas did, to know the marks of the naisl in his hands and to feel the scar in his side, we know through faith, tht Jesus rose from the dead.
This is Peter’s great profession in his speech in the Book of Acts. Jesus died and was placed in a tomb. Yes Jesus was no ordinary man, and the tomb was not his final destination. God raised him from the Dead on the third day. He returned to the disciples for them to carry the news not of his death but of his triumphant victory over the grave to the rest of the world.
As we continue to celebrate these great 50 days of Easter, we are encouraged have the kind of faith that guides us to the live the kind of lives that Jesus envisioned and commissioned them to do in making disciples of others.
Faith is a daily, ongoing exercise. It is a risk. Doubts arise. We struggle with God. And hopefully, faith grounded in the goodness of God triumphs — even when we do not have all the answers and life doesn’t make sense. Even when we can’t come to church, or gather with our loved ones, when we can’t make Eucharist. Even when we can’t touch Jesus.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not void of doubt, but requires a daily commitment to developing our spiritual walk despite life’s uncertainties and sometimes cruelties.
Faith doesn’t take away our doubts, but is strengthened by them. And faith doesn’t deliver us from our problems and head aches, but gives us the strength to persevere through them and lead others as well as they navigate around the abyss of nothingness.
May God bless us in our unbelief. May his resurrection power be at work in our lives as we learn to allow our doubts to strengthen our faith.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen- the Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.
It is a joy filled proclamation. It is a proclamation that is rooted in mystery, a proclamation that defies logic. We who are weary with the weight of our present time, we have the audacity to shout words of praise.
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” Given that we put those words away for the season of lent, it now first and foremost on our lips. But would those be the first words we utter if faced with the reality that Mary faced?
In our Gospel, Mary is caught up in her grief. Her first words are not words of praise. She speaks to the man whom she assumes the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Even though Jesus continued to talk about his resurrection among his disciples, Mary is stuck in a feedback loop. She is thinking, where is Jesus? Where is he, where did he go? Did someone take him? In fact she runs to the disciples to tells them, “They have taken the lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.”
She is looking for Jesus, where SHE thinks he should be- in the tomb, and when she doesn’t find him there, she weeps. She misses the angel dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been laid. “Woman,” she is asked, “ why are you weeping?”
She replies, “they have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” This is a long way from a shout of Alleluia!
Mary is caught up in what the rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer describes as “crucifixion vision.”
Crucifixion vision is a way of seeing and perceiving the world that makes us thing that Sin and Death are in charge. Crucifixion vision tricks us into wanting go back into the past, where we long for a “time before.” This vision has us saying I wish we could go back to the good old days when we were younger.
The Crucifixion vision drives deeper the wedge between eh haves and have-nots. It makes us hoard toilet paper, making sure we get ours, ever mind anybody else.
Crucifixion vision assumes that the partisan divide is too great and nothing will ever change in our politics. That the democrats are to blame for our lot in life or that the republicans are to blame for our lot in life; that one is a loser unless one comes in first place regardless of effort.
Death is the end, you can’t take it with you when you die, so you’d better do all you can now to get as much happiness as you can. It has us taking selfies as if to say that it didn’t really happen unless it’s on Instagram or no one would believe you.
I think you begin to see the trend here. This kind of Crucifixion vision is centered on a fictional reality rooted in values that the world tells us we should have.
The values of the world told Mary that Jesus was dead.
His body was placed in the tomb and it should still be there, so if it wasn’t then someone must have taken it. She is paralyzed and stuck. And this doesn’t make Mary weak- rather it makes her human, she speaks the same words we say nearly 2000 years later: Where is the body? where is Jesus?
Can we ever return to a time that was before the COVID Pandemic? Realistically no, no more so than we could return to a time before 9./11 or Pearl Harbor/ or the Overthrow of the Kingdom. Our reality is different. And we still greive the loss of what was.
Like Mary, we are at risk of getting caught in a trap. Like a black hole that warps the fabric of space and time such that nothing can escape it, we look at the bands of cloth in the tomb and we cannot see the angels in front of us. We see only the loss, only what is missing. We cannot see Christ in our midst.
That is until… Mary…. Mary…..
And that’s when it happens: Jesus calls her by name! “Mary!” And when she hears it, she is overcome! She cries out, “Rabbouni! Teacher!”
The Easter moment is one of profound change. She no longer sees that Jesus is “missing’ he is right there. That what he promised at the Last Supper has come to pass!
Mary brings us face to face with the depths of our humanity. Her witness is a mosaic of the human experience—grief and joy; uncertainty and affirmation; depression and determination. This is the true witness of Easter!
Even in the depths of our despair and grief, when things just seem to keep piling up with no end in sight, and even when we just don’t know if we believe it anymore, the God made known to us in Jesus Christ has a way of showing up where we least expect him!
But if we’re not careful, we’ll close the book. And end the story right there. Done deal. Mary recognizes the Resurrected Lord and everyone lives happily ever after. All tied up with the pretty bow like a Hallmark movie.
It is then also distant and historical. It is something that happened way back then to a woman named Mary. It doesn’t happen to us, the resurrection is not happening now.
But it is. We don’t’ say Alleluia Christ WAS risen, we say Christ IS risen.
And Mary? Her role is not done yet. We soon realize that Jesus has a job for her, a mission in fact. He says to her
“…Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” The moment that Mary leaves the garden, the Good News of Easter gets loose and begins to transform the world!
Mary bears witness to the fact that, even in the face of death itself, God will have the last word!
Because of her witness to the resurrection Christ, Mary is known as the Apostle to the Apostles. And she continues to teach us that grief and joy, uncertainty and affirmation, are all inescapable parts of our humanity. She teaches us that our vision can change; that our lives of faith aren’t about success or opportunities for advancement; rather, they are holy mysteries that will surprise, unsettle, and transform us. But most important of all, she teaches us that in the resurrection of our Lord Christ, we know that love, hope, and peace will ultimately prevail!
And so, in this Eastertide, may we proclaim that Christ is risen.
The vision that holds us back from seeing the glory of God revealed in the resurrected Christ must be left behind the bands of cloth that like in the darkness of the tomb.
We are people of light. We worship Christ who is the Light of the World . Alleluia! May we proclaim that the risen Christ is not simply in our homes or wherever it is we are, but here, present in the world around us. May we proclaim it, not simply with our lips, but also with our hands and hearts. And as we live into the joy and promise of Easter, may we go forth into the world, looking for the Resurrected Christ in places we may not expect.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.