The Rev. Amy Morehous
April 21, 2013
Easter 4, Year C
Church of the Ascension
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep,
and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.
I will seek the lost,
and I will bring back the strayed,
and I will bind up the crippled,
and I will strengthen the weak,
and the fat and the strong I will watch over;
I will feed them in justice.
----- Ezekiel 34:15 -16
“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”
― Madeleine L'Engle, A Ring of Endless Light
This has been a week of darkness and pain for many of us, if we've seen anything in the news. So much suffering. So much pain. I have seen so many pictures that I wish I could unsee. So many people's lives rearranged in an instant. Lives lost. Limbs lost. Homes flattened. Just when we thought the news couldn't get worse, it did.
Even though none of these events happened to us, personally, we still hurt, not only because we are compassionate, but also because we are reminded how much our lives can change in an instant. In the blink of eye, everything we thought we understood can change. We are reminded that we are vulnerable, we are fragile, and so is this world. In weeks like this, it's more obvious than ever that we are indeed on 'this fragile Earth, our island home.'
Today, we hurt for the people in Boston, and the people in West, Texas, and for all the suffering people in this world. And it's hard for us to know what to do with our confusion, and our hurt, and our anger. We are angry with the people who do harm intentionally - people who leave home planning to put others in harm's way.
Into our anger and our hurt, we hear the words of our readings - Christ, the Good Shepherd. Psalm 23. Revelation. The resurrection of Dorcas in Acts. Words that offer balm to our weary souls after a week full of tragedy. In these words, we hear promises. "the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It's a lovely picture, an idyllic one, one many of us find comforting. It is most commonly read at burial services, because we who are mourning yearn so much for it to be true. One day, we proclaim that this will happen for all of God's children, those who have come through the great ordeal.
But what about what sustains us now? What about the very real tears we've seen this week? What about the grief we bear today, in this life? How do we live with things that are unlivable, how do we find hope in times of darkness? For that, we look to Christ.
The Paschal candle is that tall candle to the right of the altar. It represents the resurrection light of Christ here in our midst. It is first kindled every year at the Easter Vigil, when Jesus crosses into his resurrection life, when we go from darkness to glorious light, from death to life. That candle burns now, in Easter. It also burns steadily for every funeral. Visible light in the darkness of our grief. The light does not give us answers, it does not take our grief away, but it remains present with us, it reminds us that darkness does not win, that nothing, not even death, separates us from the love of Christ. We are an Easter people, and we are here to affirm that weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.
From this Paschal light, we light each baptismal candle, to symbolize the light of Christ shining into each of our renewed, baptismal lives. We give this light away freely to others, as a reminder to each new person in Christ that God is with them always, even in the darkest of nights.
Today, we look to that light. We look to the Shepherd, the one who knows us, who loves us, who even calls us by name. Just as Jesus called the little girl by name, and she is raised from the dead, as Jesus calls Lazarus forth from the tomb, Peter does the same, and restores Dorcas to new life. God calls each of our names, calls us to new lives in Christ. God calls to you, and you, and you. And God keeps calling, until we hear, even when things are darkest - especially when things are darkest.
So, how do we answer? How do we answer God's call in Christ? What on earth does God want us to do? God surely does not expect any of us to singlehandedly conquer evil? Part of our grief this week is our feeling of helplessness in the face of pain - we are so small, and evil can seem so large. In the face of that which overwhelms us, what do we have that is only ours to give?
We have love. God's love, working through us, is our most powerful gift. Just as evil and death could not defeat Christ, it also cannot defeat love. The love you have in your heart is not like anyone else's. When times are dark is when we need that love the most. Where was the Good Shepherd this week, when the news was so dark, and times were so tragic?
The Good Shepherd was present in the love of many shepherds. The people who turned and ran toward danger, and pain, so they might help someone else. The people who ran 26.2 miles, and then kept on running right to the hospital to donate blood - so many of them that the hospitals and the Red Cross had to turn people away.
Online, there were pages and pages of people in Boston offering space in their homes for people who were stranded. One person wrote, "I have a spare double bed, and a dog to love on you. It's yours if you need it."
Emergency responders from all over central Texas headed to West, Texas on a moment's notice to help with search and recovery. We saw people all week, ordinary people, who put themselves in harm's way before they even knew it was safe to do so, just on the chance they could help someone else who needed it.
Shepherds, all of them. Doing what they did with a fierce, self-sacrificial love that outshone all the darkness, that looked for no reward, but only sought to help. Light, in the darkness. In your own life, who has been the very light of Christ for you when you most needed it? There are plenty of people wandering in that darkness even now, today. If you are surrounded by darkness now, know that the light of Christ is present for you, always. Even when you cannot see it, know that it will seep through the cracks, to illuminate every dark place.
Perhaps you could be just the light someone else needs. It could be a family member, a friend, a person on your pew, it could be the very next stranger you meet.
Today and every day, the Good Shepherd calls our name, and reminds us that he is with us, always. The Shepherd calls you to answer in love, in a way that only you can. Christ calls on us to take that light out into the world, and shine the light of love into dark places. May God grant each of us the grace to hear that call, the boldness to answer, and the strength to follow wherever Christ may lead us. Now, and always.