Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Fourth Sunday of Easter C

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation7:9-17; John 10:22-30

The miracles did not stop with the execution of Jesus, they multiplied in the church, Luke wants to convey.  Raymond Brown writes that this message, as illustrated specifically in Peter's raising Tabitha/Dorcas from the dead, is quite obvious and explicit in Luke/Acts.  Brown writes: "Previously we have seen that in the name of Jesus Peter could heal and preach, [Acts 2-5]" Acts now reiterates the parallelism between the accounts of Jesus' miracles in his gospels with stories of the same miracles in the church.  Specifically, Brown notes, "Even more closely the revivification of Tabitha [which] resembles Jesus' action in raising the daughter of Jarius (Luke 8:49-56).  No power has been withheld from the church, not even the power over death itself." (Once and Coming Spirit at Pentecost: Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1994, p. 55)

Likening God to a shepherd in a society dependent on sheep herding is not too surprising.  Still today this most beloved psalm retains its power to convey the Lord's tenderness and protection, even in the "valley of the shadow of death" with such vivid, concrete images.

John the Divine's attention now turns to "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages."  Robed in white and waving palm branches, they join in worship "before the throne and before the Lamb."  Surrounding the throne is a complex hierarchy of figures and creatures engaged in continuous worship.  Who is this vast polyglot group from every corner of the earth who now appear?  They are the ones who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."  Therefore, they have access to the throne and are entitled to the ancient promises (Isaiah 49:10) of God's protection, comfort, and bliss.  "The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd...."

The Jewish tradition of understanding the Lord's relationship to Israel as a shepherd to his flock is distinguished and powerful theme in the Hebrew scriptures.  One of the reasons given that the Israelites were despised by the Egyptians while enslaved is that they were shepherds  (Genesis 46:34), yet the two most important leaders, Moses and David, were shepherds.  Matthew, Luke and John continue and expand this tradition in their gospels to interpret the significance of Christ.  On one Hanukkah, John writes, Jesus is walking in the portico of the Temple when he is confronted by "the Jews" who once again try to get Jesus to answer their question directly: Are you the Messiah?   Jesus responds that he will repeat  what he has said before" My actions speak for themselves.  Those who follow me, he continues, are just like sheep who follow the familiar, trusted voice of their shepherd.  "I give them eternal life and they will never perish."  "...[T]he Father and I are one," therefore, they will, indeed, they cannot be snatched away.

Today's appointed gospel makes a claim that deserves special attention; today's readings make a related claim that brings that claim into the immediate present.

John's narrative includes this chance encounter between Jesus and other devout Jews present at the Temple on Hanukkah.  They point blank ask Jesus if he is the Messiah; Jesus responds but enigmatically:  Look at what I do, see the results and decide for yourselves.  In this response, the burden of proof shifts from Jesus to provide clear, irrefutable, air-tight 'evidence' to his inquisitors to weigh what they hear and see for themselves and make their own personal decision.  Those who have made their decisions are like sheep who trust the voice of their shepherd, Jesus says, implying that for those who do not follow his voice just does not register.  Because "the Father and I are one," Jesus continues, they are mine now and for "eternal life."

John the Divine discovers that in her liturgy, preaching and acts of mercy, the church on earth joins in the never-ending praise of God in heaven.  Luke/Acts make the explicit claim that the trasnformative works of God through Christ are not just similar but the same as those done by Christ!

Paul Ricoeur insisted that as a philosopher he could not validate religious claims but as a philosopher he could not ignore religious claims, especially the grandest claim of the church-- the Resurrection.  Under the influence of the theologian of hope, Jorgen Multmann, Ricoeur understands the power of the Resurrection as "not only a manifestation of the sacred, as was the case with pagan epiphanies..." but far more consequentially for humankind as "an event that opens a new future...."  It even supersedes the incarnation, which makes claims about the divine in the past in contrast to the resurrection which "liberate[s] the preaching of the 'one who comes'."  At the conclusion of the second part of this essay to which he gave the title, Spero ut intelligum,  (I hope in order to understand), Ricoerus offers a list of conclusions.  Because the Resurrection turns our attention to the future and enables genuine hope, it establishes a "new law, the law of superabundance, the superabundance of sense over non-sense."  (Recall that Jesus has already acknowledge that some hear and follow and for others the voice simply does not register.)  At first this "new law" of superabundance and based on hope enabled by the Resurrection can seem "irrational," but it can also bloom into an alternative knowledge or logic.  The implications of this claim, Ricoeur, are universal" "the specific task of theology... is to relate the preaching of hope in all fields of human experience and action-- ethical or political-- to the central preaching of the church, that of the Rsien Lord."  (All citations from Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative and Imagination, pp 207-216)

Every Sunday is Easter.  Every Sunday is the church's God-given privilege to declare and to make real the implications of the the Resurrection-- hope reigns!   This declaration is startling realistic "in all fields of human experience and action-- ethical and political...." as Ricoeur notes.  This is not glib optimism, it is dogged persistence, sometimes against all 'reasonable' odds.  This song may not resonate with all, but it is pitch-perfect echo of worship around the throne of the Lamb and it is music to the ears of those who follow!

Nicholas Lash writes: "...Jesus' resurrection and... Easter hope ... attempts to state that the story of human history is ultimately to be told in terms not of death, but of life, not of chaos but of God's unconquerably effective love."  "It follows that, if the doctrine of the resurrection is [taken to be true], then nothing whatsoever, no circumstance, no suffering, no cracking by chaos of sanity and dignity, no betrayal, no oppression, no collapse of sense, structure or relationship, can justify despair, can justify the admission that, at the end of the day, the darkness has the last word.  Those who know this know, I think, all that it is yet possible for us to know of what 'resurrection. means."  (Theology on the Way to Emmaus, pp 184-185)