“Easter Bunny now Easter Shepherd?” – Easter 4

John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

So here we are in the Season of Easter. We have been considering the post-resurrection experiences of Jesus and suddenly we are asked to consider Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is such a, “turn left NOW!” intrusion, that some traditions actually call this Sunday, “Shepherd Sunday” just so people will know it going to be different.  Trying always, as St Ignatius of Loyola taught us, to “think with the Church“, I set about wondering what the Good Shepherd could possibly have to do with the Resurrection?

I began musing on the after-tomb experiences the disciples had with Jesus. How he appeared mysteriously and almost magically in locked rooms, on the road, on the beach; always encountering the disciples. I found myself wondering if I were Jesus, if I would really have wanted to go back and hang out with the people who had betrayed, denied and deserted me as a crucified criminal. People who, apart for the women, left me for dead!  I am not sure that being with my fickle followers would have made my “after the bucket” list.  But, that is just me musing of course.  I am sure more forgiving people would do as Jesus did.

Parents probably. Don’t you just love how as parents we never quit on our kids no matter what they do to us? Priests possibly. I am amazed at the abuse the clergy put up with for the love of Jesus.  We may make a list that could include other forgivers like teachers, social workers, nurses, firemen? Lawyers? No NOT lawyers! Shepherds?
Ah! At last I understood why Shepherd Sunday falls right in the middle of the Easter season!

If Jesus wasn’t the Good Shepherd he wouldn’t have hung around to heal, reconcile and commission a community of failures into an ecclesia. He would have headed straight for heaven like so many of his followers these days seem hell bent on doing, if you know what I mean?

Not the Good Shepherd though, the Good Shepherd who has “the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again” picks up loving and caring, cajoling and commissioning just where he left off before they strung him up and left him for dead.

In this respect he reminds me of the Buddhist notion of the Boddhisattva. A Boddhisattva is one who sets about “cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the “six perfections” of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhichitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.(Reference).  A Bodhisattva will keep reincarnating until they have helped every other being attain Nirvana ahead of  them.

It’s kind of like a Shepherd who won’t go home to rest until he knows all the flock have entered into their rest. A shepherd, who even when he is dead tired or just plain dead, gets up and continues seeking and calling until the sheep are all home.
To make this even more profound, our Good Shepherd has more than one flock. He said so. He also said that his work wasn’t done until he had also brought them. All the flocks.

I would like to think the Boddhisattvas will be there helping him too? Perhaps that is all the help there will be for Jesus, given that the Christians are in such a hurry to get themselves to heaven, and damn the rest!

Leave me alone, but please stay the night. Easter-3

Luke 24:13-49
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

“Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” 

A key to this encounter lies with that beautiful invitation which is, I suppose, a primal prayer.
Of course I know that at a basic level this is everyday Middle Eastern hospitality at work, but it does come at a pivotal point in the narrative. Before the invitation to the home, all is grief, disputation and disbelief.

Two disillusioned disciples who have loved and lost now have to attempt to find where they can pick up pieces and possibly resurrect their lives. Their incredulity at the unrecognised companion on the road is symptomatic of their post traumatic stress.  PTSD that condition of numbness where the adrenalin of shock drains away and leaves the mind unable to find any place to re-engage its grip. It is an all too frequent human phenomenon.

Having just experienced shocking news as I write this, there is a narrative numinosity radiating from this too well known passage  inviting me to examine its unfolding for my own healing.

There is in me at times of crisis the instinctive reaction that wants to flee from a confusing context and just get myself home. Like the disciples, I want to get the hell outa Dodge and find something familiar.  Coffee, red wine, or chocolate in some extravagant ratio will usually do the trick.

Like those runaways, I also don’t appreciate people who crash my crisis with their presence.  In those first painful moments, when I would rather be alone, I seldom recognise them for the risen Christs they really are.
Like the returning Emmaus residents I would also rather argue and berate than listen to what the mysterious presence is saying.

Yet despite my shock and wallowing confusion, there comes a moment when my heart rather than my head recognizes that this one who is walking with me has something I need more of.  If I listen to the impulse I also subliminally understand that to allow them to pass me by in this moment would be to miss a mystical moment and worse even, avoid healing.
It is then that my deepest soul wisdom finds this prayer and offers it through the fog of confusion and pain.
“Stay with me Lord, stay with me, for the day is ending and soon it will be night”

Home again with heart and hearth, the familiar begins its fairy work on “knitting up the ravelled sleve of care”. There is nothing I need more than to feel the welcome in the coffee, wine, or ice cream.  Truth be told even a blessed broken piece of bread will do. It is after all, not the symbol as much as the sacramental sharing of my brokeness with this mysterious other, that can break the spell of my grief interrupted sanity and restore my heart’s flame.

In a resurrection flash the presence is gone again but I notice  so too, is my fear and inability to cope. With a warmed heart I am able to return once more to brutal Jerusalem and join the chorus, “The Lord is risen indeed”

I suppose eventually I will learn in all things, not to run for the cover of home, but rather to wait in the place of pain for the power from on high.

“Come out, come out, whoever you are” – Easter 2B

John 20:19-31
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. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

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.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name

If you have read me before you will know I am a helpless digger into etymological meanings. I just can’t help myself.
I have always been amazed by this resurrected Jesus who, when he comes to the disciples, isn’t thwarted by the fearfully locked doors.
Coming to the passage again, I decided to check out the Greek text referring to the locked door.  What I discovered was wonderful.

First I read that the Greek word for closed is “kleiso”.  As I stared at the screen and pronounced the word to myself, it sounded so familiar. “Kleiso”
There they were. The called ones, the disciples of Jesus, suffering post-traumatic stress to be sure, locked away, behind kleisoed doors.  John’s anti-semitic editorialising doesn’t really help either. “For fear of the Jews”, isn’t helpful because it wasn’t “the Jews” that had been the problem, it was the religio-political elite that had. What Borg and Crossan in “The Last Week” call the systems of dominance and oppression. “The Jews” suffered under these systems too.

So here John presents us with a closed room containing a closed communitity. “Kleiso”, closed by their fear.
It reminds me of the modern church.
Fearful of everthing.
Only now it isn’t “the Jews” of  John.   Ironically the modern church is ghettoed by our fears of “Muslims”, and “Gays” and “Abortionist baby killers”.  Closed rooms, closseted disciples, closed minds. It is dreadful what fear will do to disciples.

As I mused, I got to thinking about how gay and lesbian people talk about “coming out“.  Escaping from the closet of fear, and experiencing the freedom of that emergence.
I remembered a book  by Karl Popper I had read at University.  It was titled, “The Open Society” and I mourned that the church seems always to be the opposite, “The Closed Society”, overcome with fear.  Popper in The Open Society, examined the emergence of Democracy from Hellenistic to modern times.

It was then that I realised why “kleiso” the Greek word for closed, had niggled me.  It sounded so like another Greek word that is common in church usage. “Kleiso” is linked etymologically to “Ecclesia”, the Greek word that came to describe the church!

The Ecclesia (literally translated “not closed”) was “The Open Society” of Greek democracy. Not closed, unsealed, outed and free. The ecclesia was one of Greek society’s greatest gifts to the modern world. It was a concept that celebrated freedom from systems of dominance and oppression. How wonderful that the Church mothers and fathers chose Ecclesia- not closed, to describe the community of Jesus’ early followers.  In this upper room encounter it was clear that the tomb busting resurrected saviour was not to be cocooned by fear, and neither were the disciples to be.

That must be why Jesus breathed his life giving spirit-breath onto,(or was it into) them. It is as if he was saying to them “You are not to remain  ‘kleiso’ you are ‘ecclesia’. Come out!”

So I continue to be bemused.

I wonder if the ghettoed suspicious fearful church of 2012 can still feel the resurrection breath on our cheeks.  I have no doubt that the risen Jesus is still breathing on us. He isn’t stopped by closed doors. That isn’t the challenge to ecclesia.  It isn’t the doors as much as it is the closed minds and hearts that keep us in bondage.

“Breathe on us breath of God”