Misericordias Domini, The Second Sunday after Easter
April 15, 2018 AD
Old Testament: Ezekiel 34:11-16
Epistle: 1 Peter 2:21-25
Gospel: John 10:11-16
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” – Saint John 10:27f
On this second Lord’s Day after Easter Day the Church always draws our attention to the risen Lord as the good shepherd. I doubt that there is any image of Christ more precious to the Christian heart than this image of Jesus the good shepherd of us lost and lonely sheep.
The words just read as our text for this sermon are, like the Gospel read just a few moments ago, only a fragment of Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the good shepherd as we find His words in the tenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. It’s of course a firm principle that in order to understand rightly part of Holy Scripture we must pay close attention to the context. And Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the good shepherd immediately follows His healing of a man who had been blind from birth and immediately precedes the raising of His friend Lazarus from the dead. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “This is what’s happening as I restore sight to the blind man and raise Lazarus from the dead.” For in healing the blind man and in calling Lazarus out of the tomb, the good shepherd is seeking his lost and lonely sheep.
There is also this: the man born blind and dead Lazarus are in fact a vivid picture of us all as we in fact are apart from our good shepherd: blind to the wonderful radiance of God’s love, “dead in trespasses and sins,” and doomed to bodily and eternal death. But the good shepherd doesn’t abandon us in our blindness and in our death, He doesn’t leave us lost and wayward sheep to our own devices! He came and He comes seeking us – at the cost of His own life as He said: “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Jesus the good shepherd rescues us His sheep by himself becoming a lamb as the prophet Isaiah said: “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and as a sheep, before its shearers is dumb.” The one true and eternal Shepherd becomes a little lamb – born of the lowly Virgin Mary; dying He destroys death and rising tom the dead opens the way to eternal life for all who hear and follow Him. He has overcome the devouring grave, for as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “the God of peace has [indeed] brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,” the Lord Jesus who says, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
The man who’d been born blind hears the voice of the good shepherd and receives his sight, Jesus’ friend Lazarus – a full four days dead in the tomb! – hears the voice of the good shepherd calling him and comes out of the tomb. The blind man and Lazarus hear the voice of their good shepherd, but those who chose to be Jesus’ enemies don’t. For they see no need for such a shepherd, they’re content to live and manage things as they see fit, and can only see in Jesus a disturbing presence who challenges their beliefs and plans, and threatens their power over the people. And so they do not hear!
As so often happens in Saint John’s Gospel, seemingly insignificant details are fraught with meaning. For example, Saint John tells us that when Judas left the last supper “it was night,” night, not only in the sense that the sun’s light no longer shone but also in the sense that all the powers of darkness were in that moment gathering together to destroy Him who is the radiant brightness of the Father’s face, the true Light of the whole world. Well Saint John tells us that our Lord spoke these words about Himself as the good shepherd during the feast of the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem when – as Saint John writes – “it was winter.” “It was winter” – winter not only in the sense that it was the cold and dreariest of all the year, but also in the sense that the hearts of Jesus’ enemies were wintry: cold to divine love, wandering all unknowingly in a confused and of world, as spiritually dead as the leafless trees and the cold, hard ground.
So how is with you, with me? Are our hearts cold and wintry? Are we blind to the light of love shining from Jesus’ cross and open tomb, therefore “full of [God’s] glory”? Are we like dead men, in the grip of guilt, or bitterness rooted in past hurts, or paralyzed by fear of what the future might hold? Are we just a bit bewildered, like sheep who hear not the familiar voice of their shepherd but the even terrifying voice of a stranger bent on harming them?
If so, there is but one remedy: to listen! To listen to the voice of the good shepherd who came and who comes seeking us as He does again this day in the holy mysteries of His body and blood which tell us with unmistakable clarity that He is indeed our good shepherd who loved us enough to die for us: “My body … given for you…My blood poured out for you… you are mine.” We listen to His voice, calling us from our wayward ways into His way of life and peace. We humbly follow where our shepherd leads until that Day when, by His mercy, we take our place among that great multitude which no man can number, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, the heavenly flock of the good shepherd, of whom Saint John exiled on Patmos writes: “They shall hunger no more neither thirst any more, the sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat. For the LAMB in the midst of the throne will be their SHEPHERD, and He will guide them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
Amen. The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.