St. Paul’s – Easter 4 – 5/8/2022
In a small group I was leading at Holy Innocents Episcopal school in Atlanta, we were doing an imaginative reflection about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. I asked the group to try and imagine that they were one of those who came to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning – their hearts full of sorrow and pain after the traumatic events they had witnessed and there, in the garden outside the tomb, in the morning light, they meet the risen Christ. What, I asked them, in your imagination, is the question you would most like to ask him, and what would his answer be? There were a variety of questions that people imagined: Is it true? What is your will for me? What will my future be like? How could you forgive those who crucified you?
And then we got to Carol who often asks very practical questions and I asked her:What would you ask the Risen Christ if you saw him in the garden? And she replied I’d ask him- Jesus how are you doing?
And so I asked her: What was Jesus’ reply?
And she answered He said: ‘So far so good.’
I thought there was a great deal of wisdom and authenticity both in the question and in the answer. How are you doing? not that kind of rushed how are you doing? as you brush past someone on the way into the Marfa Post Office without even bothering to stop to listen to the answer. Or the how are you doing? that a member of the clergy may ask on the way to get a cup of coffee without being able to hear or register the answer because there is too much noise in the parish hall. But really: How are you doing? I mean, after all, Jesus has just been through a betrayal, crucifixion and death and now he has risen and come out of the tomb. There is a huge story here that needs both to be told and listened to. I would suggest that there are people in this church today and on line who are carrying pretty massive stories inside themselves.
Perhaps not as dramatic as Christ’s death and resurrection but also stories of countless small deaths, or struggles, or wounds, or fears, and also stories of small glimpses ofresurrection – a hope, a joy, an experience, a relationship – a thread which seems to promise new life. How are you doing? I wonder who you are listening to? I wonder who is listening to you?
In Carol’s imagination Jesus’ answer I also found really interesting – Jesus’ So far so good. I’ve kept on thinking about that. It’s hopeful but not overly optimistic. I mean Jesus has been through the really awful terrible bit. He’s out of the tomb of death. He’s reached the plateau on the other side. You’d think he’d be ecstatic but so far so good also recognizes the story doesn’t end here. True he has risen from the dead but he’s still got a lot of work to do – for example convince people first of all that he has risen indeed, and transform a group of frightened disciples locked in an upper room into apostles who are going to be brave enough to witness to his resurrection to the ends of the earth. He’s got a church to start, who would wish that upon anybody, and a community to build and he hasn’t won over any of his enemies yet. His resurrection gift to his disciples is going to be the gift of peace. An incredible gift. But peace on earth is not an easy mission action plan. Just look to Ukraine and Yemen. Think about it, 2000 years later it’s still a long way off. So far so good is realistic – it acknowledges how far we have come but also the
challenge of the future we cannot face alone. We are going to need each other.
Last week, on Zoom, I met with a group of young people who were single migrants from other countries and had arrived in this country as minors – alone and under the age of 18. One of them was from Sierra Leone. He described to me his experience of being in this country an experience I sadly hear echoed many times: My neighbors do not speak to me. Sometimes a week can pass and I have not really spoken to anyone. I sometimes think that if I were to die no one would ever know. He was not complaining. But to echo the words of Pope Francis in Greece: Before we become statistics we are first and foremost human beings. He himself had chosen to make this dangerous journey to the US and was one of the fortunate ones to have made it. But what he was describing was what it feels like not to be heard and to feel alone. He had become part of another culture in which his story at best was simply ignored and at worst was treated with suspicion. What happens when you are not heard – there is an isolation, an alienation – a loneliness, a tomb.
I remember a time in my life when I was hurting inside. Hurting because as sometimes happens in life relationships which are precious and beautiful can break, or be lost. And it’s like a death. On the outside normality continues and yet inside there can be a whole different story going on and your whole body carries the grief. I remember at that time going to the doctor but the doctor couldn’t really do anything because there wasn’t really a medicine that could be prescribed for the pain deep in your heart. Someone, being helpful, suggested I go to a homoeopathist. I remember going. It wasn’t a ten minute appointment but an hour. He let me talk, tell my story,
untie the knot and the loss that was inside me and what was more he seemed to understand, more than that, he seemed to be completely on my side. I remember at the end of the hour getting up from my seat and making my way towards the door. Wait, the doctor said, I haven’t given you the homeopathic remedy yet. Oh, I said, I don’t need that, I feel better just having talked to you. I did. I felt I had been really heard. Of course it was not an instant solution but it was a beginning.
Think back just for a moment to a time in your life when you felt heard, truly heard, it is a beautiful and healing thing that can unknot your soul. Strangely it is not about words, or solutions, it’s about recognition of our true humanity, our true belonging. The search for the beauty and fullness of that belonging is ultimately a search for God. When you are truly heard it can feel like coming home – coming in from the cold. Coming out of the tomb.
That’s what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. It’s winter on the portico of the Temple. Those who gather around him are asking him questions but not questions because they really want to know the answers but questions so that they can convince themselves of what they already think they know – How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah tell us plainly. Of course they don’t really want to hear. They are not in fact seeking the Messiah. They are seeking to expose an imposter, a pretender, someone to condemn to reinforce their prejudice. But now Jesus gives us an insight into the nature of God. He says: You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. What does that mean? It means they have seen but not really seen, they have heard but not really heard, not heard with the ear of their hearts – they have not recognized, they have not belonged to the story of God in their midst. Rather it is the sheep – these seemingly dumb, humble followers who have heard Christ’s voice. That voice may be difficult to hear at first. You kind of have to turn the volume of your life down before you can really start listening. You have to start
listening to some of the people you have never really fully listened to before. You will have to start recognizing that the shepherd is present in their story too. You have to start making space in prayer and in love at the very center of your life. You have start listening to the still small voice inside you. The voice that perhaps got hurt or crushed, or hidden or bullied into submission. The voice that got crucified. It is there that you will find the voice of the risen one. The good shepherd is there, present all along, present even when you thought he has abandoned you. He is searching for you. And he hears and sees you, and recognizes you in a way that no one else has ever recognized you, and he is calling you by name. In the Gospel accounts the disciples repeatedly fail to recognize the presence of the Risen Christ – outside the tomb, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, early in the morning by the sea of Galilee and yet Christ is more present than ever before calling them – and even the most final of separations or the most bitter of betrayals will not stifle the possibility of
Christ’s reconciliation and abiding presence. The story of the resurrection is the story of recognizing the voice and presence of Christ when they least expected to find him. It is the story of being heard by God at the deepest level of your being.
Last week I was talking to someone who felt he had completely messed up his life. Got things so badly wrong that he believed he could never put things right. And as he spoke to me all I could think of was that shepherd longing for this sheep and realizing, as he told the story of his lostness, how it was also the story of searching and being searched for, and recognizing that no relationship isbeyond God’s mending and nothing is outside the possibility of resurrection. It is outside the tomb, the place where we most fear, in the place of greatest loss – that we lose enough pride, to make space to hear the voice of the one who calls us, and knows us, and shows us through his own wounds his unconditional, never ending love for us.
I wonder how you are doing?
I wonder how the person sitting next to you is doing?
I wonder who is listening.
I wonder if you can hear the voice of the shepherd calling you by name?
So far so good – I wonder where this shepherd will lead you?