I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. During the 50 days of Easter, we read the stories about Jesus appearing to his friends, after Jesus has been resurrected. But today we go back. We go back to this story about the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd story follows right after Jesus heals the blind man. On the 4th Sunday of Easter each year, the Good Shepherd story is interjected into the series of stories of Jesus’ appearance after the resurrection. It’s a good story to hear each year at this time, because it is important for us to hear about what it is that God accomplishes in Jesus in the resurrection. And resurrection has everything to do with abundant life, the abundant new life that the blind man receives as he is healed, the abundant life the sheep have as they respond to the shepherd’s voice, and the abundant life that Jesus invites us into.
Jesus stands at the gate and invites. Jesus stands at the gate and says everyone may enter here. Jesus stands at the gate welcoming every one of us as he calls our names. This is what abundant life looks like. Resurrection is about abundant life. We are Easter people, Jesus has and does invite us in, and abundant life is available to us, to everyone, right now, not just at the end of our lives, not just at the end of time, but right now.
The story of Jesus healing the blind man, which immediately precedes this Good Shepherd story, is one of seven miracle stories in John’s gospel. It is a story about the blind man who hears Jesus voice, recognized who Jesus is, and is healed. That story continues as Jesus stands at the gate, calls our names, and invites us in, you, me, and the blind man. Jesus offers love, healing, compassion, and mercy. Jesus offers wholeness to our brokenness. Jesus offers life where there is only death. Jesus offers sight, when all around us there is darkness. Jesus, at the gate, offers entrance into new life. Oh my, what an offer. Are we willing to take Jesus up on the offer? Are we willing to walk through the gate, that is Jesus, and receive the miracle that is resurrection?
The miracle stories prepare us for the miracle of resurrection. Resurrection is a miracle of awareness, aliveness, an awakening. We have stories that help us roll away the stone of our tomb-life. We have stories that remind us that others have suffered as we do, and as those we love. We have stories that reassure us unexpectedly and unpredictably, that on the other side of suffering there is life. We have stories that help us to awaken and live. These are resurrection stories. These are stories about how we recognize Jesus. These are the stories that will set us free.
In the introduction to his book, Celebrating Easter and Spring, Mark Harris says, "If we believe in a creative power that shatters the icy tomb of winter with the life-giving miracle of spring, we have seen a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power that moves tens and then tens of thousands of people to cry out against injustices of society, enabling the downfall of hatred and prejudice, then we have fomented a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power lying within each human breast that enables us to break the bonds of personal pain and know the hope of new tomorrows, then we have experienced a resurrection."
This is what Easter is about; this is why we are Easter people. In the book of Acts, from which we hear this morning, is the story of people who live in the reality of resurrection, who are Easter people, and who formed their lives and community around that reality. Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. The response to resurrection is awe.
I am in awe because of the wonders and signs of resurrection. It is because of resurrection that we are baptized and we devote ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. What is it about resurrection that causes such fervor? Resurrection is a present and future reality. Resurrection, what happened at the first Easter, is about God’s interruption of human history, God has created this amazing new thing. God raises Jesus from death to new life. The promise is that the same will happen to each of us. That is what is meant by the present reality, and the future reality.
It is this reality in which we live and die. It is the promise that on the other side of suffering and pain there is abundant life, life that is unimaginable. It is the promise that in the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of the muck and mess that sometimes just is life, God is with us, God loves us and cares about us. It is when we say, I cannot bear this suffering, that we remember that God's love for us is so great, Jesus bears that suffering for us on the cross.
In this Easter season we live on the side of abundant life. We live in the reality of new creation. The Good News is that death does not have the victory, the Good News is that love Wins. Life finds a way. Baptism, teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers is our response to the gift of abundant life.
So in the resurrection and by the Spirit, the word, the sacraments and prayer, and in those in whom we are called to serve for Jesus’ sake, the absent Jesus is present to us. So in the midst of our pain and suffering, our joy and delight, we say yes to Jesus, we walk through the gate with Jesus, to new and abundant life. We are to be agents of new creation. We pray daily to our Lord, that the Kingdom should come, that God’s will be done. That is about the present reality of word, bread and wine, and prayer and the future reality of the new creation right here on earth.
We need to get to the work that God has given us to do. God's mission is healing and forgiveness of and in the world, and our mission is to bring that good news that God's love wins into the world. God continues to teach us to be compassionate, to listen to others whose opinions and beliefs are different than our own, to listen to each others faith stories, to identify our gifts and talents, to live out our baptismal ministry.
We need to walk through that sheep-gate, and invite others to come with us. We need to recognize the risen Christ in others, we need to serve Christ in all people, Jesus calls us, how will we answer?