I didn’t preach today. My family and I were enjoying a weekend respite together — the first time I’ve been away from my Sunday duties since my dad died in December. We had a lovely time, but after the events of the last few days, I couldn’t help but wonder, what I might have said, if today had been a day when I was supposed to preach. I always struggle with preaching, but never so much as when the events of the world around us have washed over us and threatened to drown us in fear and despair. In the liturgical calendar today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The temptation for any preacher is to simply give a sentimental “Shepherd & Sheep” sermon and move on. But that’s never been my style. So here, for better or worse, is a sermon fragment that might have been expanded had I been the preacher assigned for the day. I offer it at the end of this Fourth Sunday of Easter in thanksgiving for all of my sister and brother preachers who struggled mightily this week to bring to their respective communities, a “word from the Lord.”:
During the past week, all of us have watched with dismay and horror as the events have unfolded in Boston. In a visual culture the images of the explosions and their immediate aftermath have been played and replayed. Those images are seared now, into our collective consciousness as a nation. We followed the investigation — and listened as every detail was immediately and breathlessly reported to us. In the midst of the media frenzy sometimes facts were unchecked, leading to multiple story lines, filled with copious discrepancies and inaccuracies. And then, beginning on Thursday evening, the drama took a new and deadly turn — with a shootout in the streets. On Friday, we were treated to the chilling images of Boston and its environs as a a ghost town — while millions of people remained in their homes and off the streets. By Friday evening, with the capture of the second suspect in the bombings, the most violent part of the saga seems to have concluded.
And here we are, gathered as a community, on a Sunday morning in Wauwatosa, hundreds of miles away from the events, and yet, very much affected by all that we’ve seen and heard on our TV’s, our computers, our tablets and our cell phones. What could a Gospel reading about Jesus as “the Good Shepherd” possibly say to us in this moment? How do we talk about trust and love in the midst of tragedy? How do we boldly proclaim the Good News without sounding as if we are out of touch with all of the bad news we’ve witnessed this past week?
To be honest, I don’t have the answers to the questions I’ve just posed. Today is probably not even the day to attempt to give any answers. It’s all too soon and all too much. Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ time, we can’t take too much suspense. We want answers! We want information! We want the security that comes with knowing everything is figured out. Somehow we believe that knowledge will bring us control and that control will bring us safety. And the fact is, the longer we live our lives the more we recognize how little control we have. Jesus doesn’t answer the religious leaders’ questions, instead he issues a few statement, “My sheep hear my voice..I give them eternal life…No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Whatever else we may carry from this place of prayer today as we return into a world scarred by violence and death, we carry the Good News that death does not have the last word; resurrection does. We carry the Good News that human violence cannot kill the Prince of Peace. We carry the Good News that no mad bomber, no mass shooter, no lone gunman has the power to snatch us from the Good Shepherd’s grasp.
The Good Shepherd’s grip is sure. The Good Shepherd’s grip holds us throughout the changes and chances of this life. The Good Shepherd’s grip guides us — even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd’s grip leads us, through the dark times of this life, towards God’s great new day, when death will be no more, neither sorrow nor crying. The Good Shepherd’s grip holds us fast until that day when, gathered around God’s throne, God’s own Self will wipe every tear from every eye.