A funny thing happened to a pastor friend of mine. His congregation was baptizing a family in a river that ran not far from the Hispanic church that he served. As the newly baptized members came out of the water he handed them their baptismal certificates. Afterward, in true Latino fashion, they celebrated a fiesta.
Good shepherd Sunday! The imagery in the readings is beautiful and triumphant, a fitting trumpeting of Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil. The foreboding passion sayings are past, the betrayals have been left behind. Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his flock, the sheep of his pasture. Jesus has proven his love for us by giving his life for us, and we show our love for Jesus by listening to his voice and no other.
Whoever tied Easter to the spring equinox made a very good decision. For those who are so inclined, there is no better time for feeling alive, as the whole world wakes from winter and makes new birth look easy. Clumps of green grass erupt from the flat tan lawn. Bluebirds appear on the clothesline. There are so many redbuds in the woods that a pink haze seems to waft through the trees.
"Easter is a terrific story,” says Tony Hendra, an actor, satirist and author of the wonderful book Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Life. So it is, and so we rediscover each year as we turn to the familiar narratives. The Gospels’ accounts are themselves modest, however. Curiously missing is any note of celebration.
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Dark. First light. Dawn. A few minutes of extraordinary encounter. This scene at the tomb of Jesus bestows a supreme gift upon the beloved of God. Time and place and character unfold and then reveal a threshold through which the hearer of the word may enter. Here, as in an icon, you experience Mary’s transformation from desolation to animation, from inertia to action.
Hey you! Don’t even think of parking that sermon near this playground! Take your Doubting-Thomas-Mobile to some other lot. Don’t even wait here with your motor running. OK—maybe it sounds like I don’t have a life. But Bible people are real to me. And my relationships with them change as I mature, just as you come to appreciate relatives at family reunions.
George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, said that in order to form community, people must be engaged in a “demanding common task.” In his case the task was to rebuild the accommodation areas of Iona Abbey. The group that he led included people with considerable formal education, as well as people with little education. These men and women formed community out of purpose and in difficult conditions; they shared what they had and learned from each other. They built with stone and with their lives, even though they could not know what the results of their work would be.
How do you say goodbye? It depends, I suppose, on the relationship—what it has grown to and what it will become. For Jesus, preparing to leave the close society of his disciples seems to have been a long process. Almost from the beginning he gently, or sometimes in exasperation, explained that the course his life was following would lead to profound changes in their lives. So he began saying goodbye early.
Medieval mapmakers, with their limited knowledge of distant lands and uncharted seas, sometimes depicted dragons on the far edges of their maps. Hic sunt dracones (“Here be dragons!”), they warned. Dragons do not appear on our modern maps. But bodies on the rail lines of Madrid and the streets of Fallujah leave no doubt that Something Ferocious stalks the edges of our political and religious maps. Nationalism, tribalism, empire and religion mutate in draconian forms, and we sometimes fail to recognize the beastly genes in our own DNA.
"A virus breached the campus computer network last week and the entire system crashed. Repair has been difficult, but I bring a word of hope.” The director of information technology at the college where I was about to lecture on eschatology added, “This has been frustrating for everyone. Files have been corrupted and programs do not run properly. Please be patient. Some files have been restored. . . . Any day now we will be back to full operation.”