4th Sunday of Easter Homily
4th Sunday EASTER 2020
Fr. David Martin
“If you want into the store, then get behind the fenced-in barricade…” came the booming voice from the front, followed by, “remember social distancing… please keep two meters apart…” As I stood there dressed in my rubber gloves and face mask, waiting for further instruction or clearance, I look around at the situation at hand. Here we were lined up like a bunch of sheep waiting to get to the food trough that awaited us on the other side (groceries). Only one way in and one way out. No one talking, people looking forward, while others looking down at their phones. And yet we were all listening… for one voice… for the booming voice to give us the okay to enter the store… the gate. Standing there, I was drawn to today’s readings.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. As his sheep, we are invaluable to the Risen Jesus who calls us by our names. The Risen Jesus is the one who leads us, his gentle voice speaking tenderly to our hearts… to the hearts of his sheepfold. The Risen Jesus, who is ‘our Shepherd, leads to green pastures, by still waters, restores our souls.’ (Ps 23)
For the shepherd, in ancient times sheep were more precious than gold. The shepherd, each night, would bring their sheep into the villages to be housed in a communal sheepfolds for safety. Only the keeper of the sheepfold had the key to the gate, and he would only let known shepherds to enter. In the morning, all the shepherds would call for their sheep, and recognizing their masters’ voice, the sheep would separate themselves and follow their own masters out into the fields to pasture. Sometimes, especially during the warmer months, the shepherd would stay out all night with their sheep. The sheep would be herded into a fenced-in area, but unlike the village sheepfold, out in the fields there were no gates. The shepherd himself lay across the opening in the fence and was the gate.
Today, Jesus, the Good Shepherd also tells us “I am the gate,” for the sheep to enter. What does this mean? What is the function of a gate or door? Gates or doors exist to shut something out and to open up to other things before us. Jesus came to give us life, abundantly. Jesus “is the way, truth and the life.” Jesus is the resurrection and he is always opening for us the gate to new life. At the same time, Jesus is always inviting us to open the gates of our hearts.
Look at those who continue to ‘shepherd’ us. Regardless of our political persuasion, our government leaders at all levels continue to offer us stellar leadership. Each day, they shepherd us, with words of encouragement, giving us up-to-date information and offering us support. Or those ‘shepherds’ who put their own lives on the line each day shepherding us in the medical realm, nurses who wear masks and face shields for 12-hour shifts; or the store clerk checking our groceries or stocking the shelves. Look at parents now working from home shepherding their children in tow. Or those in our parish who have taken on shepherding roles, building up our community with meetings via zoom or phone, or those who continue to make soup for Avenue B in their own homes and those who continue to offer to pray and support… all ways of nurturing the strong faith that already exists among us.
During these epoch times, hopefully, we are asking ourselves, what gate are we invited to close? An old hurt or anger? Perhaps we need to close the door to a rigid way of looking at things? Perhaps we are invited to close the gate of anxiety and worry? And at the same time, what are the new ‘gates’ are we being invited to open? Will we open the ‘gate’ of our hearts to experience life and love in a new way? What about the ‘gate’ of trust, that all will be made well? Or the gate of new opportunities…opportunities to be Christian… to be ‘church’ in a more compassionate way?
Social distancing, isolation, and cautious approach will no doubt continue for a while longer. But this is ‘graced time’, a time for self-reflection, a time for pondering, for praying, and letting go. This is also a time of great hope (see Fr. John Jennings Homily posted). However, to move forward we need to listen to the compassionate (not booming) voice of the Risen Jesus. As people of faith, we need to continue to trust in the Good Shepherd and allow Him to lead us through the ‘Gate of his love’ and to embrace the new opportunities that await each one of us. Amen.