Hope is Eternal
4 Easter 2015
April 26, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How did you like that crazy hymn we sang just before the Gospel? I would imagine that most of us didn’t much like it at all. It is so very different from the kind of hymns we’re used to singing, isn’t it? It’s kind of amazing, when you think of it, that this setting even made it into our hymnal—it’s so different, and so modern. It really sticks out like a sore thumb from the sound of the hymns we usually sing, doesn’t it?
I’d like to use our hymn, to kick off our sermon today. I can’t pass up the opportunity.
The words tell us that it’s all about what happened on Easter morning—the Christ, our brother, comes to us, resplendent. And he’s coming to us from the gallows—the cross on which he hung and died. And he offers us life and hope in this world, and the worlds of light that live inside the Trinity in the next.
These wonderful gifts are sung out in a childlike singsong melody. It’s simple enough and the way it repeats it reminds me of playground ditties we’d sing as kids. Simple, joyful. Not complex.
But then we have the complexity come in when we hear the accompaniment that plays behind the singsong, joyful melody. Could you play just the accompaniment for us, Martha? Do you hear how it’s kind of helter-skelter, all over the place? It’s uncertain; it’s off-kilter. It’s a little disturbing, even.
This wacky accompaniment and the melody on top of it made me think about a verse from last week’s gospel. It described how the first disciples felt when Jesus materialized before them—he came right through the walls, apparently—on that first Easter night. It’s from Luke’s account of the Resurrection. Here it is: “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. … While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?” [Luke 24:37, 41]
So here we have lots of reactions all jumbled up in quick succession in these few verses: they were startled and terrified. They felt joy and disbelief. They were wondering and still not sure. I bet they were amazed that he’d ask for a snack at a time like that.
So, I think the sound of our hymn before the gospel captures all this mish-mash of reactions and deep feelings. I think it’s pretty good at putting us off-kilter, like the disciples were, when they first were trying to process the fact of the resurrection and the joyous fact that the world would never be the same again.
And that harsh chord right at the end! I learned from Martha that that’s called a “D 7 Sharp 9” chord and this is probably the only place in the whole hymnal where that chord is used. I guess that’s no big surprise!
I think that’s a great way to insert a musical exclamation point that can speak to the Resurrection. It puts us on a new footing musically, much as Jesus’ resurrection puts us all on a new footing spiritually. Jesus has shown us that hope is eternal, not just within a lifetime. The old ideas of death being final are gone. The promise of more to come breaks in and disturbs our footing.
So that chord seems a good way to draw to a close the stories about Jesus appearing to his disciples on the night of the Resurrection. It makes it final.
And, now, today’s story of the good shepherd carries us backward in the gospel--before Jesus’ death, and it carries us forward spiritually, though, into implications that allow us to live with the comfort that we are never alone and never without Jesus to love us, to guide us, and to find us when we’re lost.
We turn to him for comfort and we become the little lost or harassed lamb hung over his shoulders. We turn to him for forgiveness and we become the annoying goat that he actually loves back into the fold.
Now, since the Protestant Reformation there’s been an emphasis in the Western Church on individual piety—which some have nicknamed “Jesus and me.” I’m the little lamb, or I’m the goat, or I’m from that other fold, and I am always loved. I will be found and brought back by the Good Shepherd.
But there’s another way to see the work of the Good Shepherd and that is to contextualize the image with regard to the entirety of a group—an entire flock. Our parish is a little flock that Jesus loves desperately and calls back to the fold time and again. Our great big Episcopal Church is a flock. And there are many other flocks, even flocks outside what we’d normally think of as Christian boundaries. What of them?
Jesus says he must bring them also, and they will listen to his voice. The tense of the verbs implies to me that he is still doing this work. It seems open-ended.
And how can he say that other flocks outside our own fold will listen to his voice? Perhaps that’s not so hard to understand when we remember from the end of Chapter 10 in John’s gospel that Jesus says “The Father and I are one.” Others who follow God, who have their own differing concepts of the Creator of the universe, are also following Jesus, hearing Jesus, because he and the Father are one. [John 10:30]
Now, there’s some theological food for thought. It gets at the 20th century theologian Karl Rahner’s contention that all others who follow God but not Jesus are actually anonymous Christians—and that’s a very provocative concept. And of course it may feel very condescending to some folks in the other flocks. So it goes.
So where are we here with all these wonderings today? We are on the other side of Easter, after the great miracle and the great promise that we too will know the resurrected life. We still are wondering and grateful. We still are disbelieving yet joyful. Maybe we’re afraid to believe. But we can try.
And we are invited to find great comfort in the Good Shepherd who calls us all by name, who has given his life for us, and who summons us all—each and every one—inside and outside the church—to the great supper of the Lamb.
And that is very good news.