Sunday, April 21, 2013

4 Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday
April 21, 2013

John 10.22-30

+ This past week of course we have been, collectively, through a true spectrum of emotions with all the events which have unfolded in Boston. It was hard to maneuver them at times.  I couldn’t keep up with it all as times.  And there were moments when letting fear win out, when letting fear reign, was almost too easy.

For me personally this past week was particularly hard. On Friday morning, one of my closest cousins, Jackie, died in Milwaukee. Jackie was only a year younger than me. She was a very successful basketball player in her college days at NDSU and was one of the first members of the family (after me) to get a Master’s Degree in our family. I was particularly close to her and her death has hit me very hard.

In moments in which innocent people die in horrible acts of terrorism and violence, when loved ones die, it is hard in this Easter season to say, with any real enthusiasm, “Alleluia.”

Last Wednesday, at the Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen’s, I mentioned that I had just finished a wonderful book about the great Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.”

If you do not know this song, I highly recommend you listen to it sometime.  It is an incredible song.  The book, called  The Holy and the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light, is a fascinating look at this one song that has taken on so many different interpretations over the last almost fifty years.

I still cannot listen to the Jeff Buckley version of the song to this day, with its one long exhale at the beginning, without crying.

At one point in the book , a Presbyterian pastor, who utilized the song in a service in Canada (Cohen’s home country), said this.

There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even the great King David could only muster the cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonely Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation... The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”
“There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even the great King David could only muster the cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonely Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation... The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”

This past week, many of us have truly experienced the backhanded glory of God.  And doing so, is not easy. In fact, it is hard. But, this backhand glory of God is a reality.

This morning, on this co-called Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd—we also encounter the compassion of our God.  Yes, even in the backhanded glory of God, we also experience the compassion of God.  This encounter with the Good Shepherd makes all the difference in how we go forward, after that “turning point in our salvation.”

This image of the Good Shepherd is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him at that time. They would have understood what a good shepherd was and what a bad shepherd was. The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock. He looked out for them, he watched them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock.  He led the flock to a place to eat.

This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock. Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves. In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd. He is not the co-dependent shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed each one of them. Rather, he guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them to feed themselves. The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there. He protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water

Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there. This past week, with all the events unfolding steadily in Boston, and in our own personal lives, we know there are dangers out there. And frightening dangers, nonetheless.  There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt.

If we follow the Good Shepherd, if we allow ourselves to be led by him, we realize that those pitfalls are difficult, yes, but they don’t defeat us.   Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one. We can still get hurt along the way. Bad things can still happen to us. There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us. There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting to rain down upon us.

But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us.  We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will rescue us.

Most importantly the Good Shepherd knows his flock.

“I know them and they follow me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading.

If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold. This is the kind of relationship we have with Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We are know him because he knows us. He knows us and calls us each by our name.

In Jesus, we don’t have some vague, distant God. We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves. We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock. We have a God who even, in God’s backhanded glory, knows us and loves and cares for us.   All these are important images, vital images to explain the relationship God has with us and we with God.

But the Good Shepherd doesn’t end there. This isn’t just about me as an individual and Jesus.  The image of the Good Shepherd must be taken and applied by anyone. Any of us who follow Jesus are called to be good  shepherds in turn.. We must love and love fully those who around us. We must care for those people who walk this path with us. We must look out for our loved ones and even our enemies, and we must shepherd them in whatever ways we can in our own lives.

Again, this is not easy, especially when it seems we are lost at times, when we are falling into the traps life sets before us, when we feel aimless in that backhanded glory of God, when our alleluias feels cold and lonely.   But, that’s the way God’s backhanded glory works, sometimes. Sometimes, God’s works through our brokenness and helps us to guide others in their brokenness.  Sometimes the best Good Shepherd is the one who has known fully what a lost sheep feels like, who knows the coldness and loneliness of being that lost sheep.

So, on this day in which we celebrate the Shepherd who leads and guides, let us not only be led, but let us also lead.   On this day that we look to the Shepherd who guides, let us be guided and let us guide others.  And let our alleluia on this Good Shepherd Sunday, even if it is a cold and lonely Alleluia, still be an Alleluia nonetheless. Let it be the sound we make, even in the cold and lonely places we sometimes find ourselves in.  And let us, in that place, know that, even there, even there in the backhanded glory of God, we are still experiencing the glory of God.




1 comment:

Stephanie Cassidy said...

Thank you, Jamie. I appreciate you.