The Rev’d Matthew Larsen
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
May 7, 2017
And Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning I would like to use our Gospel passage as a lens through which to read the rest of the Gospel of John, and in particular a few important passages before and after Jesus’s resurrection.
The words translated “gate,” “sheepfold,” and “gatekeeper” in John 10 are more literally “door,” “courtyard of the sheep,” and “doorkeeper.” Being inside or outside the courtyard matters. You can only get in the courtyard through the door and you want to pass through the door and by the doorkeeper with the shepherd.
There is another passage in the Gospel of John where all these words and ideas appear close together. In John 18, at the trial of Jesus, it says
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. The woman who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”
In nearly complete reversal of the ideas laid out in our Gospel reading, Peter does not enter through the door into the courtyard with Jesus. He waits outside the door. Eventually someone other than Jesus, our good shepherd, brings him in another way. The doorkeeper asks Peter if he really is one of Jesus’s disciples, and, at least in that moment, he answers truthfully: I am not.
Peter was scared to enter through the door into the courtyard with Jesus. In fact, without Jesus’s resurrection power, he could not.
But I would like to read another passage through our Gospel reading. In John 20, Mary Magdalene is standing outside the tomb, weeping. When she eventually works up the courage to go inside, she hears Jesus is raised. She realizes she wasn’t standing outside the tomb in the garden, but outside the garden and still inside the tomb. She returns to the garden and sees Jesus but doesn’t know it. She thinks he is the gardener. She asks where Jesus has been taken. It is not until he calls her by name, “Mary,” that she recognizes Jesus.
“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” He calls Mary by name, she recognizes his voice and her name, and he leads her from weeping to joy. Jesus comes that we may have life and have it abundantly, that we may come into the courtyard and find pasture. He calls you by name, “Beloved Child of God.” He leads us from the empty tomb into the garden of resurrection life, and he makes us lay down in the green pasture.
And I would like to read our Gospel passage in light of yet another story in the Gospel of John. Later in John chapter 20,
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
And then just a few verses later, the story continues:
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
The disciples have locked themselves inside the locked doors of the house. The locked doors are their fears and doubts. But despite the closed doors, Jesus enters their fears and offers them peace. “Peace I give to you, my own peace I leave with you.”
The epistle reading says, “By Christ’s wounds we are healed.” I believe that is true both spiritual and theologically, as well as psychologically and emotionally. The resurrected God appears to us with a wounded and scarred body. Something about seeing and touching the broken body of the resurrected Jesus heals our own wounds and fears and doubts. God doesn’t tell us why pain exists in the world, but God does show us that God is no stranger to pain, to injustice fueled by human fear.
Jesus enters into our lives through the locked doors of our fears, worries, pains, insecurities, and wounds. We hear his voice:
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Jesus is the door. Jesus is also the shepherd. Jesus is also the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus calls our name and brings us out of the tomb into the garden. Jesus breaks through the doors of our fears and give us his own peace.
The Lord spreads a table before us today, too. Jesus is the host and the sacrifice. He offers himself so that we may live. Come, see, and touch the wounded and broken body of Christ. And see that it is by his wounds that we are healed.