4th Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life… (John 10:11-18)

Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday; Jesus “who lays down his life for the sheep.”

A little over one year ago, I witnessed a tragic turn of events in the life of a young, married couple.  They were excitedly awaiting the birth of their child, a baby girl, when everything went suddenly wrong.  The child, almost full-term, died in utero.  I was asked to visit the couple at the hospital where the young mother-to-be had her labor induced and was awaiting the birth to her lifeless child.

Walking into the hospital room, I was at a loss for words.  I felt helpless, inadequate and not up to the task.  What can be said, really, when a couple faces such loss with its unfairness?

Walking into the room, I was surprised to find, not only the mother in bed, but her husband as well.  He was lying next to her; cradling her in his arms; without words.  I was deeply moved by such tenderness and thought to myself:  “This husband is extraordinary.”    To me, it said everything when it comes to the bond and empathy of love.

It comes to mind now, and with fresh meaning, as I ponder today’s gospel:  Jesus speaks of the shepherd who willingly lays down his life for the sheep.   By this teaching he reveals in relational, not doctrinal, language the nature of his love for us.  Jesus takes a common, everyday practice in Palestine.   After the shepherd corralled the sheep for the night, he would lie down at the opening—literally becoming the gate to the sheepfold—and spend the night watch with the sheep; to ward off any danger.

Jesus’ life is forever wedded to our own.  Like a devoted spouse, he’s going nowhere and will remain with us “in good times, and in bad.”   Jesus is at our side to take hold of whatever grief, sadness or loss we are made to face.  It can seem impossibly difficult to believe in such presence at the time: when   nothing’s felt but the downward pull of despair and hope seems lost to us.    At those times God can be seen as an unforgiving silence and seemingly void of mercy. 

Yet, Christ’s presence is there believe it or not and as we learn to breathe again; recognizing the still, quiet face of love beside us.  I’m more convinced of that than ever before, thanks to the wordless witness of this young married couple.  That dark hospital room became a threshold of grace for me; where no words were needed.  My faith was deepened by their communion of empathy; in ways they will never quite know in this life.  For me, they embodied this gospel and as their expectations and hope seemed snatched from them.

Our lives of faith must take on a similar posture if we ever hope to witness to the empathy of Christ’s love in this life.   It will mean recognizing the intimate bond between our fleshly existence and the glorified humanity of the One who lives; Jesus with us until the end of time.  The challenge is to make such love proximate and therefore real.  When that happens it will give birth to the unimagined; to a joy we thought was lost to us for good.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor

April 21/22, 2018

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