Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Lamb Who Is The Shepherd

(4th Sunday of Easter, C)

The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings speak to this image of Christ, and we are given a special opportunity to pray for our Holy Father, our bishops, and pastors who continue the ministry of Christ the Shepherd among us. In the same way today is also a special day of prayer for vocations. This emphasis on Christ the Good Shepherd fits into a larger movement in our meditation as we go through the Easter season. At the beginning of the Easter season we simply rejoice in the announcement, in the good news that Christ is risen. As we go through the fifty days of Easter, however, we begin to shift our reflection to how this risen Christ is present to us. This movement culminates on the last day of the Easter season when we celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is the abiding Presence of Christ with His Church. Recall the words we heard on Good Friday when St. John’s passion was proclaimed: “bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” (John 19:30) That’s the basic movement of Easter; the Lord’s Passion becomes the means by which His Spirit is handed over to us, and this is what we call the Resurrection.

Today, right in the middle of Easter, we are given the image of Christ the Good Shepherd; He is present among us as the shepherd of our lives. It’s a very beloved and sweet image; those of you on the left side of the church can look up and see him. But when we come to the readings today, we are given images that are much more challenging and stark than any nice picture of Jesus tending his little sheep. In fact, as we hear in the second reading from the book of Revelation, it is Christ who is the Lamb. The inhabitants of heaven stand before the throne of the Lamb who is also their Shepherd. Christ is both; He is Shepherd and Lamb. In this we see an illustration of the contrast or tension which is the spiritual heart of Christianity: A humble, young girl becomes the bearer of the Word of God to the world. A condemned criminal in the midst of brutal execution; this man is the King of the Universe. A little piece of bread becomes the food of eternal life, having all grace and sweetness within it. The slaughtered Lamb is the Shepherd.

This contrast has everything to do with the nature of our salvation in Christ. In heaven we will look upon and worship the Lamb whom we have followed in this life. It is precisely in his being led to the slaughter of his Passion that he becomes our Shepherd, the one whom we are called to follow. Brothers and sisters, it’s obvious to anyone that our faith in Christ does not shield us from the suffering, pain, and bodily breakdown and death we experience in this life. Our salvation does not consist in being magically relieved of these grieving and sufferings. God’s answer to the misery and death we have brought into this world with our sins is not to magically remove them from our lives, but to meet us in them. On the Cross the Lamb of God draws to himself all of who we are at our most miserable, so that we might, in our sufferings, find Christ crucified united to our pain and leading us through it to the new life of resurrection.

This is why he allows his Body to be broken on the Cross and his Blood poured out, so that we might find a way to step into the openings of his wounds with our own sufferings. On the Cross, Jesus makes our suffering his own, and in the Eucharist he gives his broken Body to us as our food. This is the work of the Good Shepherd, who shows us that the way through suffering to new life is by allowing our hearts to break at the sufferings of others, and pouring out our own lives in compassion. By giving his Life for us, the Lamb of God becomes the Good Shepherd, because he leads us into the way of compassion and offers us the salvation of giving ourselves for each other.

1 comment:

4narnia said...

very inspirational homily, Fr. C! Good Shepherd Sunday is an "opportunity to pray for our Holy Father, Bishops and Pastors," as you say - we should always remember to pray for them everyday, as well as pray for all Priests and Religious. i keep all of them (and, especially you, Fr. C, in my daily prayers.) i had the honor of reading at the 5:00 pm Mass yesterday and the second reading is my favorite. we also read part of that reading from Revelation on All Saints Day. i feel that there is a calling to all of us in that reading (no matter what state of life we choose) to embrace the Holy Spirit who comes to us so gently and to do the Will of God in all circumstances. receiving Jesus in the Eucharist frequently or even daily, if we are able, is what will give us the strength to follow in His footsteps. PAX! ~tara t~