Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings are among the most well known in the Bible. Everybody knows this stuff, even people who have never darkened the door of a church. Centuries of pious dust have collected around these passages. Their sparkle has been grown dim and they now feel more at home on a Precious Moments angel figurine or a Hallmark card.
I can imagine the companions of Jesus blank faces staring off into the distance eyes red and sore they didn’t sleep last night and those who did had dreams flooded with memories of the fire of the torches and the anxiety of hearing the boots of soldiers marching to take their friend away.
Easter is about ultimate things. Easter is about life—and death—and the meaning they have. Easter counts for everything: which is why it is so important that you are here this morning.
The Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel once observed that, “death is a test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd.” If, in other words, we live life moving inexorably toward its obliteration in an absolute negation of death, then what we do now, or fail to do, is essentially pointless and irrelevant.
These words—the words by which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the mass—are so familiar to us that we tend to think of them almost as if they were scripted for him. Just as the celebrant will do here tonight, reciting words off a written page, at some unrecognized level we fall into thinking that Jesus too was playing a role, as if he were repeating lines like an actor on a stage.
Feeling abandoned and alone is likely a part of each Christian’s walk. In my own life I have had seasons of silence. Saint Ignatius called those experiences of silence “desolation”, a time when the “soul finds itself apathetic, tepid, sad, and separated as it were from its Creator and Lord.”
Christians tell the truth. Except when they don’t, because it’s not always an easy to do. But the liturgy of Palm Sunday is compels us to tell the truth. The truth about ourselves. The truth about who we think God is.