Ten wheeler tractor trailer trucks rumble past construction, wedged between coupes blaring music and SUV’s crammed with soccer balls and lacrosse sticks. There is a magic in condo decks lined with geraniums, parking lots burgeoning with eager customers, and the crisp cut scent of newly mowed grass defining all of it. Devices are everywhere: strapped to the arms of runners, dangling from walkers’ ears, resting in palms and pockets. Still, every deeply drawn breath brings a glimpse of the richness of life and all that matters. Here, in this 21st century, comes the story of the Good Shepherd.

I have gathered eggs from chicken coops, milked cows in a barn, and watched over lambs in a pen. The first were surprisingly warm and smooth, the second moist and messy, the third completely unexpected. Easily simplified in cartoons, the sheep were gentle and unintentional, responsive to food and restful in the heat. It was the first time I realized what the story of the Good Shepherd was actually about. Because, after all, what it means to be a Shepherd is now hidden in quaint Christmas cards and the crescendo of carols. To be a Shepherd is to be the caretaker, the conscientious and thoughtful one who genuinely cares and bravely shoulders what it means to care. Ther are no limits to that, and it is all about relationship, responsibility and service.

The Gospel bursts with that reality and that sense of purpose. It is about Jesus, the Shepherd, the radical nature of what it means to be committed to another. And it is about shepherding one another even as we are shepherded. It is about learning to do good and actively taking responsibility for one another. It is just as empowering as it is comforting. Most of all, it is engaging fully with life and with one another. Those connections, in a culture rapidly evolving in terms of norm and practice, are more important than ever.

To be a Shepherd today is far from the static images of robes and staffs and lambs wandering over a rocky terrain. Instead, this is about a God who is consistently journeying with us and does not abandon or betray us. Instead, the Shepherd still seeks each of us out with a modest and earnest fidelity. That realization leads to the responsibility of doing the same for others.

Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.

In a world exploding with spring and suffering from the unprecedented turbulence of the 21st century, the Shepherd still stands, still speaks. Time to listen. Time to speak. Time to remember that we are, at once, sheep and shepherd. Most of all, like the shepherd and the sheep, we belong to each other.

We belong

Her soft voice was unexpected, the call unanticipated. Gratitude flooded our space: there was that indefinable familiarity, picking up where we left off, conversing as if we had seen each other yesterday. She confided about her work, and I about mine. She described a recent fall and confinement to a wheelchair, what that is like for an 88 year old cloistered nun to navigate through monastery halls. We agreed that aging changes things significantly. Significantly. We talked about politics and God and the waves of social change. Finally, in that lyrical and loving tone, she said, “When will we realize that we belong to each other?” It was neither cryptic nor cynical and her tone carried a certainty that day would somehow arrive. We paused. And then we went on dallying with what it means to be aging and wondering what lies ahead. But the words “We belong to each other” wandered through heart and soul and simply stayed. When I opened the Third Sunday of Easter readings, I began to understand why.

“We belong to each other” implies so much about the ways we live and believe. And the readings speak directly to that. The first two define the gentle countenance of an accepting God; there is a distinction between the act of sin itself and the acceptance offered the sinner. It is the idea that being human means trying over and over again, constantly discovering and re-discovering, making mistakes and wrong turns and adjusting as much as possible. Being able to recalibrate, encourage, grow all rests on the striving for goodness, for doing the right thing. It does not preclude the existence of evil or the rejection of goodness; it simply suggests that the focus is on the relationships between God and each person. Possibilities are born in that space, that connection and that sense of belief. It is love without condition, and it is more than a one way street.

The Gospel harbors an even greater wonder. It describes one of those moments when Jesus appears to the disciples. They are sharing the story of Emmaus, when he comes to them and they fail to recognize him until the breaking of the bread. And somehow, He arrives again, offers “Peace be with you.” He connects with them, addresses this new situation, and offers more. He explains what they had heard so often before: this time, they could really listen, grow in understanding. It is the very sense that understanding is incremental, a time-oriented processing. Everything about that reasonates with our very human condition. Jesus is giving them the opportunity to learn, to belong to each other and to Him. He is clarifying and creating a truth that runs deep and rich. The words offer each of us that same chance to learn more, to be more, to believe in possibilities unimagined. There is a finitude to it.

Even in a secular society shored up by science, challenging all its traditional sturctures and re-organizing all its insitutions, there is a simplicity to be embraced. The Gospel of this Third Week of Easter initmates the truth that we do belong to each other. We may not always realize it, live like it, or enjoy it, but the truth of it cannot be denied.


April 11, 2021. Second Sunday of Easter. Spring’s bravest bulbs welcoming the warmth. Rising vaccination rates and rising COVID cases. Life and death cycling endlessly in our linear lives. New learnings emerging with every day. Losses and miracles linger together in memory’s landscape; goodness and hope resist, persist, untarnished by bursts of violence, self-centered greed, and cruel stigmas. And so the octave of Easter pries open the best of who we can be right next to the raw truths of who we are, opening the door to the promised tomorrow. From the very beginning, the readings of the day glow with transformative love.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind…” are the opening words of the First Reading. So brief, so simple, so powerful. Community. BELIEVERS. One heart. One mind. There is an alluring power in the cadence of the words, and a tone confiding a fullness of joy, the kind of love that welcomes, heals and binds; the kind of love that is judgment free and freely given. There is a vivid life here that spills into the Second Reading from the First Letter of John. Believers trust that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God; that common denominator is the foundation for visibly choosing goodness, choosing to love, to follow the commandments. The joy of believing in the resurrrection, of knowing within. the love of God, is the Easter invitation re-issued and shows the very best of human beings embracing goodness and hope, being changed by love.

But this Sunday offers far more in the words of the Gospel. There is the fear of Apostles locked within the Upper Room, a fear dissipated by “Peace be with you…” and the missioning to create the community itself. But juxtaposed with this liberating sense of promise and hope is the reality fo who we are: skeptics and doubters, all embodied in the outspoken Thomas. Thomas is more than a doubter, and his uncertainty was not necessarily mistrust of his peers. Instead, there is a wonderful way in which Thomas is personally invited and personally embraces the reality of the resurrected Jesus, His appearance. That invitation goes to all humanity. Death is transformed into the life of love: the experience of Jesus generates connections to Him and to one another. It all occurs within the shadow of the grief of the cross.

In a time of such wild transitions and change, the simplicity of Scripture speaks across the centuries. The dignity of the readings is anchored to the reality of human needs and hopes and purpose. Unadorned by images, lyrics, illustrations, words capture rich realities with the tender perspective of persons who carried a truth greater than themselves and dared to share it, to allow it to be spread to new believers and then to new generations. Taking the time for each word to find its home in heart is what Thomas experienced first hand. And now, in a world gripped by 21st century sensibilities and issues, enraptured by the concepts of scientific data and well-being, buried in a cacophony of media, the stories, the words, speak again. In the midst of doubt and questioning, hearing and listening opens the door to transformative love. There is no doubt, then, why this Sunday is designated Divine Mercy Sunday.

Changed, not Ended

A few days ago, a colleague did not arrive at work. His absence caused the usual consternation, rush to arrange coverage and inevitable irritability. Then came the unexpected: he had passed away in his home, in his sleep, in the night. In daylight, we grappled with that truth and the incredible change his passing represented. I wondered for a moment at the grace of it for him, and then the struggles ahead for those who knew and loved him, for the survivors. Two camps of thought clamored for attention among his colleagues: how to take care of ourselves in the shock, and how to move forward with the least disruption. The first garnered lots of textbook responses, and the second focused purposefully on process and goals. There was no mention of the person, no time to think about the meaning of his life and its entanglements with ours. It was really all about us. That makes the response almost the antithesis of an Easter moment, and the Gospel calls to so much more than that. The Gospel is all about daring to be involved, daring to love and to believe Love bears all things.

In John chapter 20, Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb of Jesus. Her act of love becomes a mission to inform others. The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was missing. She sought help.

So she ran and went to Simon Peter 
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, 
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter 
and arrived at the tomb first; 
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, 
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, 
and the cloth that had covered his head, 
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in, 
the one who had arrived at the tomb first, 
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture 
that he had to rise from the dead.

Death is the common denominator to all our lives, but we fail to grasp the breadth of its scope or the depth of its impact. In grief, they were bewildered. The possibilty of Resurrection could not be entertained. And so, of curse, they did not understand. Truthfuly, neither do we. Even after decades of experiences and lifetimes of study, we are always only beginning to understand elements of the story and how it interfaces with our lives. Allowing oursleves the freedom to grow, to learn, to know the finitude and limitations of humanity enables us to continue. Each of us grasps at different elements to find anchors for life and for meaning; the other readings point towards that. There is Peter’s gradual discovery and understanding of Jesus’ life and mission, and his own embrace of the mantle of leadership. But that shift is actually an invitation to all of us to allow for the importance of something we cannot see, hear or touch, but can believe. Then the second reading shows how life is changed by belief, how this kind of commitment changes who we are and what we are about. Even in our lack of understanding, we can be touched by and drawn to belief.

Picture Mary again, pausing at the opening of the tomb, and the belief and love that brought her to that moment. There to grieve and mourn, she was not yet aware that her relationship with Jesus was changed, not ended. She ran to those who also loved Him, and they were able to be bewildered together. Belief means trusting in the power of love and relationship, in the intimacy of personal commitment and choice, within the broader context of community. It means remembering the stories, treasuring the lessons, discovering the depths. Just as Mary crept towards that crypt, just as Peter and the other disciple came forward, belief builds real and genuine connections among people, draws people closer to one another so they can interact together.

The Easter Gospel is a reminder that our stories matter so much more than we realize. Sharing the stories is a reminder life is never really all about us. It is always about other, always about reaching out and sharing, searching and caring together. It is always about coming to understand that there is so much we do not understand. And that is okay. There is a God who has already shown each of us how very much we matter to Him in the story of the cross. And a God who shows how very much he is still with us in the love which births the Eucharist. Daring to trust that means there is so much more to life than we can ask or imagine.

Rest in peace, Blake. Enjoy perpetual light!