Good Shepherd Sunday

Easter 4B (RCL)

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

More of Peter’s nasty preaching in Acts. Not at all sure why we’re reading this.

In the other two readings, lots of mention of “laying down one’s life for” one another. In Divinity School, we were puzzled by the Greek expression, which translates literally, “place one’s soul over” one another. The preposition “hyper” can me above, on account of, for — a whole range of meanings. We called our preceptor over, and asked him what the expression meant. He wasn’t aware that we were reading scripture — we just asked him what “tithein ten psyche hyper” meant. He said it was an expression taken from Greek military poetry. Soldiers were encouraged to have “friends” in the army, lovers, whose backs they would watch carefully. They were said to place their souls in the care of their friends, sometimes accompanied by an actual exchage of swords. So, I translate it now as “entrust one’s life to” one another.

Jesus entrusted his life to us, the flock of sheep in his care. That’s a pretty up-side-down image, and then expects us to do the same for one another. And ultimately, for the purpose of bringing other sheep not of this fold into the one flock. Learning to see the world from another’s perspective requires a kind of love that entrusts self into the care of the other, stepping out of our perspective can be fearful. The various flocks cannot coexist without this willingness to entrust ourselves to the other’s point of view.

Eating broiled fish

Easter 3B (RCL)
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36-48

O.k., so one drawback of the RCL is no option for the Acts of the Apostles during Easter. I know we are supposed to read the Acts to learn of the infant church in the light of the resurrection, but could Peter preach any more inflammatory sermon? “You killed Jesus!” he thunders. Oh, I know you did it in ignorance, but that hardly softens the blow. Of course, by the time Luke is writing, all that’s left of Judaism (at least in the headlines) would have been the violent hold-outs. Perhaps Luke is trying to tell his Greek readers, “We Christians are not those kind of Jews.” Still, what a legacy.

So, what to make of the other readings? The passage from Luke’s Gospel follows (literarily) on the heels of the story of the road to Emmaus. In this reading again, Jesus opens the eyes of the faithful to understand the scriptures about the messiah, and then eats with them. There are many parallels here to John’s appearance stories: Peace be with you; see/touch my hands and feet; even the fish lines up with the barbeque on the beach in John. These must have been messages the new community needed to hear.

The bread of Emmaus and the fish of this appearance remind me of bread and fish in the wilderness — perhaps an early christian eucharist associated with the resurrection rather than the passion. Bread and fish, according to Jewish literature of the time, was to be the messianic meal at the end time. God would destroy Leviathan, the sea monster, and feed it to his people. Also, no sacrifice involved (no blood). Jesus’ community is already eating that meal.

Troubling, however, is that resurrected bodies eat. I don’t think we usually include that in our picture of “heaven.” Bodies are loci for relationships. So what gets resurrected is the whole set of relationships I carry in my body. Food, of course, is perhaps the densest signifier of relationship there is — it connects us to the earth, the sun (all food is ultimately sunshine, water and dirt), with the economies that bring it to our tables, to the hands that prepared it and to the gathering that eats it. It structures our whole universe. All that gets resurrected!

John’s letter tells us that now, we are God’s children, but what we will be, we don’t know. What we do know is that when he is revealed, we will be like God, because we will see God like God is. We will see God reflected in bodies, in food, in the connections that entangle us with the whole cosmos, and all of it will be transformed. How poor is the belief of the immortality of the soul in comparison to resurrected bodies that eat broiled fish.

Hearing, seeing, touching.

Easter 2B (RCL)
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1 — 2:2
John 20:19-31

I think that the first version of John’s Gospel ended after the appearance to Mary Magdalene. Jesus had ascended to his Father and our Father, his God and our God — what was left to say? We knew that the way was now open to God through the tomb, into the Holy of holies, and the garden had been restored.

But, then things changed. John’s community got itself thrown out of the synagogue, and closed in on itself. Jesus had to show up to authorize a change in the life of the community. In each of the string of appearances after the first end of the Gospel, Jesus authorizes some shift in the community. In today’s reading, we learn of two shifts.

First, the community had closed in on itself out of fear, after being thrown out of the synagogue. The doors were locked. Jesus shows up and says “peace.” Then he breathes holy breath on them and tells them that the sins of any they forgive are forgiven, and the sins of any they retain are retained. Time to move on — quit blaming the folks who threw you out and get on with life.

Thomas, however, wasn’t there. John’s community was tempted to veer into gnosticism. Jesus hadn’t really suffered, only appeared to. If that were true, then none of us need to suffer when asked to sacrifice to the Emperor. Just cross your fingers behind your back, burn a little incense, and know that it doesn’t count. Thomas doesn’t doubt. He refuses to believe, without seeing the wounds. Any community of christians, he is saying, that doesn’t have wounds is not the Body of Christ. Only when I see the wounds. When he sees them, he calls Jesus “Dominus et Deus”, just what the emperor was insisting on being called, when receiving cult. Thomas is saying, not Caesar, but Christ. You can’t cross your fingers behind your back. This costs something.

In the first letter of John, the author tells us he is proclaiming to us things that we have seen and heard and handled. Our faith is not strictly a mental attitude, not an opinion we have, but a way of living in the real world. And again, it’s about forgiveness of sin. If we say we have no sin, we’re fooling ourselves. Living in the real world means we are going to wound the Body of Christ. Putting gas in our cars, drinking coffee farmed on land stolen from peasants, eating bananas grown on plantations bought below market value from Central American nations, eating strawberries harvested by underpaid migrant workers, the list could go on. If we say we have no sin, we’re fooling ourselves. But, that’s no excuse for giving up in despair; we have an advocate with the Father, who propitiates not just our sins, but the sins of the whole cosmos (others sins against us?). The Body of Christ is tangible, real and present. How are we living in it? Are we looking for it? Listening to it? Touching it? Strawberries are sweet, and we should enjoy them. But they are sweeter when we see and touch the Body of Christ, and see its wounds transformed, revealing our God to us.