Well, we’re coming into the fourth week of Easter in the Western Christian calendar, the beginning of May, and seven weeks since we last gathered in our churches as the people of God.
We still can’t gather, and we choose not to gather, because we don’t want to create a danger zone for people who are vulnerable. That is the opposite of what we seek to be – at our best, we are safe place for all, a place where our gathering brings health and life, not undue risk.
So, we’re staying at home for a while longer.
Your diocesan leaders and team are working away co-ordinating spiritual, physical, and financial helps for congregations, and a plan for “meeting together again” that will be linked to the phased approach that the government of Ontario has sketched out. So, we are sketching it out too, and giving detail to several potential options.
However, it looks like we’re not ready to wade into those waters yet, in Ontario.
Turning to the scripture for the fourth Sunday after Easter, and reading around in the gospel of John a bit, I find myself hesitating… to wade into the depth of these waters and, especially, into this messy metaphor about the shepherd, the sheep, the gate, the sheepfold, thieves breaking on, and all that! What is this doing here in the middle of Easter resurrection appearances?
It makes me feel a bit better that it’s not all that clear to the disciples of Jesus either, who hear it and basically say, “wha…?” None of it is as straight forward as it seems, especially if you start to read what scholars write about it.
One thing that does stand out is when Jesus speaks of sheep hearing the voice of the shepherd and recognizing it – he emphasizes that the sheep KNOW the voice of THEIR shepherd. A shepherd, any old shepherd, is not necessary a good, safe person. Even a lamb will know which voice to trust, which voice to follow, which voices to run away from, which shepherds give life in abundance, and which do not.
And they know this by their voice.
If we go back to the beginning of it all, it was the VOICE of God that brought all things into being. God spoke, and creation followed. Let there be light, and there was light. A word is a powerful thing. It does something. God speaks, and things, and people come into being. Jesus speaks and people are healed, Jesus speaks and raging waters are clamed. This is a voice to know.
One time when I was a much younger priest we were doing a “children’s focus” – a time near the beginning of the liturgy when children would gather before going to Sunday school or The Children’s Liturgy of the Word. I must have been rattling on about the voice of God, or something like that, because one little guy, about 7 or 8 years old, I guess, a person who was really good at “wondering” about things, came out of a little daydream and looking me straight in the eye, said, I have a question.
“What does the voice of God SOUND like?”
What a great question.
Have you heard it? We’ve all “heard” it, in one way or another, and we hear it regularly, and sometimes we know it, sometimes we recognize it, but not always.
I’ve never had one of those, “Todd, Todd,” moments when God speaks audibly to me in good southwestern Ontario English, in terms I fully recognize and understand. But there has been a fairly steady stream of recognizable communication – and communion – that has allowed me to sense what God is speaking into my life and into our life together.
It always has to be tested against what we hear and see when we read the scriptures, that’s first. And then it can be prayerfully tested alongside what other Christians, through the centuries, have heard and said about their encounters with God. Does it fit with that? Does that SOUND like what Jesus would say? And over time, you can anticipate the things that God would say, based on what God HAS said, and you can also expect so to be surprised by the things that God will say. It’s a relationship in which, over time, can develop to the point that sometimes things are said and understood without words, and you begin to complete one another’s sentences – accurately, lovingly, in a way that many voices become one voice.
The resurrection appearances, the stories of the risen Jesus coming alongside his people, in their fear and their grief, coming into their rooms of hiding, standing up for them in the danger of their newfound freedom — all reveal what Easter life is like. And the importance of learning to know this voice. Sometimes we hear it, sometimes we don’t. But it will always, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep coming to us, reaching out to us, whispering and singing the new creation into our ears.
May this presence, this voice, and all the guidance and comfort and healing that goes with it, be yours this coming week.