Sunday 15 May 2011

Easter 3 and Easter 4 2011

Body positive! (Luke 24v36-4)

The story for Easter 3 is the road to Emmaus after the ressurection. As the disciples are being told by Cleopas about the Jesus's appearance to them on the road to Emmaus, He appears before them. They were scared as the women had been, because they thought they were seeing a ghost. So he shows them his hands and his side to prove he is real. Then he ate a piece of fish again to prove he is real. He has a real body!

The problem is the body! First there is “no body”. The women at the tomb were grieving for the body which they thought had been taken. The missing body is the beginning of the end.

Then there is a somebody but he is not easily recognized as Jesus. Not by Mary, not by Cleopas, not by Thomas and not by the disciples.

But the body is of importance central to the tale. This is not any body it is the body!

This story is not about some ethereal resurrection, the Spirit going to God. It is about the whole person being resurrected. God is concerned about the whole of us, bodies as well. Lets think about this for a moment.

If God resurrected Jesus’ body then he will resurrect ours! How do you regard your body? Do you love it enough to take it with you to eternal life? Think about it. Do you love your body at all or regard it as baggage? We are encouraged to be spiritual, to pray  but also to present our bodies to God (Rom.12). Our bodies are not only a gift from God but to be used by God. But most of us hate our bodies. Try loving each part of your body, it could change your life!  

The story for Easter is the Good Shepherd (John 10). Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This story has loads of asociated images;
Shepherd-Have you met one? I have an image of a weather beaten man with a sheepdog on the Welsh hills. Or David sitting on a Palestinian hill or  Brokeback Mountain with those beautiful scene of the hills and the shepherds on horseback. Shepherd care for their sheep and protect them from wolves. When I was little my favourite book was about sooty the sheepdog who fought off the bad wolf who came to harass the sheep and even stole one. Powerful imagery. Enough to drive you into the church?
The sheep gate is less clear to me. But my grandma had a picture of sheep in her bedroom and when I stayed over she told me to count sheep. The sheep were enclosed in a field by a gate. So the gate also protected the sheep and controlled who came in and who came out.
The shepherds voice. Sheep and sheep dog are trained to respond to the shepherds voice. A shout a word means everything-from the shepherd. There is the story of the man who gets lost in the mountains in a snow storm. He hears the voice of  a well known mountain guide who tells him to jump. It’s a drop and he cant see what is at the bottom but he trusts the voice. He jumps as is saved.
Sheep have a bad press. “Like sheep”! “Dressed like mutton”…but also “like a lamb” for trusting passivity. Sheep are lost without a leader, a shepherd. They will die without a good shepherd.
Gates. Some powerful gates for me are the gates to the nunnery on Iona, which are latticed and latched and creak in the dark, dark nights on the island. Or the sheep gate on Holy Island which was a metal gate that lets only one person through and is too complex for the sheep in the field to fathom. There are other gates. The gates to Winson Green prison, the gates to the church heavy and old with a loud clunk when it shuts. Gates control space and are boundaries to activity. Gate keepers are important people like lock keepers.
Probably the most powerful image of Jesus is as the good shepherd with the lost sheep on his shoulders. Jesus the good shepherd has come to seek and save the lost sheep. But of course the most well known biblical text is the “Lords my Shepherd” Ps 23. So it’s a very powerful image of God too.
Shepherd themselves need to eat sleep and rest because they are potentially on call to rescue lost sheep and they need to be alert and wise to wolves in sheeps clothing.
Who in your life has been a good shepherd to you? Some time ago Ian died suddenly. He had been a senior paramedic at WMAS -and he cared about people-loads of people. He was a good shepherd.
One Anglican Bishop practiced his sermons by preaching to his sheep when he was first ordained. They listened to his voice, which they recognized. They stayed near to him knowing that they were safe there.
In our time there are many voices competing for our attention. With economic recession there will be even more (Hitler, Moseley, Xenophobia). We may lose the voice of the good shepherd and go astray from time to time and fall into danger, perhaps following a voice that sounds strong and smart and seductive, but different. We may follow a path that leads us away from Christ. Whose voice do we follow? What gate do we enter by? What gate do we lead others through? 
Jesus does not respond to demands, even for simple answers to question. He invites us to draw our conclusions on the basis of his actions. Those who believe in Jesus and belong to his sheep are safe; no one will be able to snatch them from him. Eternal life is theirs. Jesus' sheep include those who are not already in the fold. (controversial!)     



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