May 3, 2020; St. Stephen’s, Maple
- ACTS 2:42-47
- PSALM 23
- 1 PETER 2:19-25
- JOHN 10:1-10
- Link to Collect and Readings
It feels strange, even disingenuous, to reflect on Christ the Good Shepherd at a time like this. When we feel locked up in our pens just as the pastures outside are turning fresh and green again. By now, many of us are past tired of screens, masks and gloves, zoom calls and uncertain futures. For some of us, tensions in our homes and families that had been managed are now threatening to boil over. And just as the winter of frost and snow is giving way to the springtime of rain and breeze, and then the summer of sunshine and opportunity, we’re still cooped up inside. Where are these beds of green pastures that David so famously sings about?
We might even chafe at the very notion that we are sheep. Well, chafe at it more than we usually do. Our grownup minds can rationally understand that we’re doing right by staying home and keeping our distance. We can even look at the numbers and see that Ontario’s rate of new cases is slowing down. But we still feel the suffering of fatigue, disappointment, tension, boredom, feel like we’re still imprisoned in our pens. We can’t really see the “credit” or “approval” that St. Peter tells us is coming. While the denials of the viral threat and protests against stay-at-home measures are foolish (let’s not mince words), they nevertheless stumble into a profound truth: we need freedom, we need choice. Our bodies need to move, and to move closer to each other, not further apart. We need a God who calls us to express the full dignity of our agency and creativity, not one who demands that we blindly follow like dumb, smelly sheep, or cogs in a machine.
Our baptismal covenant quotes today’s opening line from Acts, basically word-for-word: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (BAS, p 159) The covenant continues as we commit to lives of repentance, renewal and reconciliation. But the most important part of this isn’t what we do, isn’t our “I will.” God doesn’t just call us and then leave us to scrape by, doesn’t just issue commands and expect us to obey blindly. The heart of these baptismal promises is the assertion that they are only possible “with God’s help.” The heart of the baptismal covenant itself is the revelation of who God is, expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, given to us through water and oil in His own name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We continue in the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship” by being joined to this God, who is rightly named by this Creed.
Our response, our ability to choose life, depends on God’s own promise to continue to guide us in fellowship with Him. The image of “blind sheep” doesn’t really fit, since what matters is that sheep can still hear, can recognize the voice of the Shepherd who leads us to life, can distinguish this voice from false shepherds that will lead us to death. And so it’s up to God, up to Christ the Good Shepherd, to make Himself recognizable to us, teach us to hear His voice. It’s up to Christ the Good Shepherd to teach us an internal sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness, wisdom and foolishness. To form in us the ability to hope, to show compassion, patience and love to our neighbours. Because this recognition of the Shepherd’s voice within ourselves is the only way we can follow with creativity, agency and discernment, with our “selves, souls and bodies.”
Now, God is fully aware that “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” all look very strange right now. He knows that our limits are being pushed, being exceeded, as we try to be a Church without Eucharist, a functioning society without physical presence, a healthy human family threatened by a novel virus. Amidst all this complex uncertainty, the Good Shepherd’s own commitment to our baptismal covenant offers us the comfort and simplicity that we need. He provides the comfort that we need so we can risk our own creativity and agency in this time of distress, the simplicity and clarity that we need for us to know what our baptismal promises entail in this time of uncertainty.
And so, “with God’s help,” we can “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” by finding safe and innovative ways to support each other as we turn to this God, as we show compassion to others and to ourselves, and as we take part in God’s “ministry of reconciliation” with our families and loved ones. And yes, we can “continue in the breaking of bread and in the prayers,” albeit in a very incomplete way. We long to return to Sunday gatherings and Eucharistic worship. Until then, we can continue to pray for the Church and for the world, knowing that billions of Christians are praying with us, knowing that Christ our Good Shepherd hears us, knows us, and remains faithful to us His sheep.
In the name of the God to whom we belong, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.