Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Lamb Is Also the Shepherd

sermon preached at the TV Eucharist, a production of KING-TV
(broadcast every Sunday at 5:00 a.m. on KONG-TV 16 and on Cable channel 6)
by Josh Hosler, Associate for Christian Formation
The Fourth Sunday of Easter/ April 25, 2010
Lectionary readings

Happy Easter! Yes, it is still Easter. Easter is such a great mystery that it cannot be contained in one day. It goes on for fifty days … an entire season that lasts right up through the Day of Pentecost, which falls on May 23 this year.

During this fifty-day season of Easter, our readings in church teach us about the resurrected Christ using the image of a Lamb. Early in the story of our faith, the Hebrews feast on the sacrificial Passover Lamb before being led through the Red Sea to freedom. At the climax of our story, Jesus becomes the Lamb. He sacrifices himself on a cross in order to end, once and for all, the endless system of sacrifice.

And on this, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear from the bizarre, often maligned, frequently misused Revelation to John. I don’t believe that you’ll find within its pages the secrets of how events will unfold in the Middle East or a litmus test for who is on God’s nice list or naughty list. I do believe, though, that it gives us a deep well of rich imagery and an exciting, satisfying ending for our story. It also has many things to teach us.

This particular passage from chapter 7 works well during Easter season because it speaks of resurrection and its implications not only for us, but for everyone in every place and time. At the end of all things, the image of the Lamb returns one more time. The Lamb is seated on a throne, reigning from beyond space and time, and all death is subsumed into a glorious celebration of resurrection.

Now contrast these odd, majestic images with the image Jesus presents us with in today’s Gospel. He is our Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. We hear his voice, and we follow him. He steers us away from dangerous chasms, he protects us from wolves, and he leads us to the good grass and the river. It’s a simple, pastoral image that stands in stark relief against the mind-blowing, cinematic scene from Revelation. Yet there’s a clear connection! Right in the Revelation reading, you’ll find these words: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Lamb is also the Shepherd. The Shepherd became a Lamb, was slaughtered like a lamb, and has come through the great ordeal of death to show us the way. The Lamb who is also the Shepherd knows each one of us by name—not just as a huge, nameless throng of humanity, but also as individuals! And if we trust the Lamb who has gone through death ahead of us, we will arrive at the River of Life.

The Resurrection is a story of victory. Death has been utterly defeated—revealed for the impotent bogeyman it has been all along and put on display for us to mock! But that’s not the end of the story. From here, we can go out and live and practice resurrection. How do we do that?

This week I came across a website called Spirituality and Practice Dot Com. It provides a long list of ways we can practice resurrection in our lives. Here are just ten of them:

• Love God, love your neighbor, and love your new life as marks of the resurrection.

• Enthusiasm is the mark of a life-giver. When you can laugh and sing and relish life, you are practicing resurrection.

• When you regularly pray for others as part of your devotional activities, you are practicing resurrection.

• Whenever you with compassion open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.

• Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you'll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you.

• Every time you forgive someone, another resurrection is in the making.

• Leave the past to God's mercy. Leave the future to God's discretion. Living in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, is a way of affirming your belief in resurrection.

• When you add even a small portion of joy to the lives of those around you, you bring resurrection into your community.

• Welcome changes — big and small — in your experience and signal your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.

• When you stay open to all people and all situations, you affirm your belief that all things can be made new.

Do you see? Resurrection isn’t just something that happened 2000 years ago. It is the blueprint for creation, on both the cosmic level and in our day-to-day lives.

So live and practice the resurrection. When you do, you’ll find that the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd has led you to the River. Are you thirsty? Come drink! Come quench your thirst, at least for now, and then bring others to the River. And don’t just drink from it. Wade in it! Swim in it! Immerse yourself completely in the waters of new life.

The Lord is your shepherd; you have everything you need. You may be walking through Death Valley today, but the fear does not own you. When you feel lost, the Lamb who is the Shepherd is going out ahead of you. When you feel bold, the Lamb who is the Shepherd is right at your back, protecting you from hidden dangers.

There is no scarcity—there is enough for everyone. And not just for you and Jesus, but for the whole flock—for you and you and you and me and Jesus and everyone else who has ever lived. Amen.

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