Stories about rolling pastures and green spaces feel odd right now because going out is both a source of aspiration and pain given our current circumstances. Now I'm not talking about simply going out for a walk, we can all do that as long as we observe social distancing, but going out without restrictions, going out in freedom feels elusive. Everyday news comes to us of the varied reopening plans, lockdown protests, and questions about what our new realities will look like. Will it be lived with restrictions for the next year, workplaces forever altered, economies in ruins, all of which is happening as we sputter and falter to rush back to our normal ways of life. So hearing this morning the story of the Good Shepherd, I want nothing more than to roam in the open field of abundant pasture, in safety, protection, and abundance, which is given to us in the gospel story, but sometimes it feels distant. Yet I think we can roam that pasture today, which is the gift of God’s providence to us through scripture, it shows us moments like today that are leading us out into life, a life which is abundant.
Abundance in the midst of a pandemic, with all our restrictions and economic losses feels like a fool's errand, however when we look more deeply at what abundance is, we see a very human desire and need. Abundance is about fulfillment, being fulfilled in our lives, in our work, in our relationships. When we feel like we have enough, abundance and the gratitude of abundance flows easily. Sometimes abundance comes easily, and sometimes we listen to the false prophets of our world that tell us we are only fulfilled with the newest car, bigger house, larger bank balance, latest cosmetic procedure, or higher number of social media followers. This leads us to jump from job to job when we aren't fulfilled anymore, rather than invest the hard personal development work required to succeed. We cheat on our spouses, physically or emotionally, when we aren't fulfilled anymore rather than investing in the hard work of communication, indeed we spend most of our lives trying to fit into our world which is often about looking outside of ourselves for affirmation rather than inside, into our relationship with God and our faith. It is this sense of abundance, which is deeper fulfillment brought to us by faith in Christ, that is the hardest right now given the pandemic restrictions. We want to help the homeless, but can't. We want to support the parish, but are worried about our incomes. We want to see our friends in real life, but can’t. We want to go back to contributing to the wider society, but don't know how. All our normal ways in which we feel fulfilled seem cut off at the moment, so how do we approach the abundance of life Christ gives to us today in the gospel during this season of Easter? We grow in relationship with Christ.
Easter is the unique time in our community where we get to come alive to the knowledge of the truth of just who Jesus was for us while he was with us. All of the new testament was written after the resurrection, having Mark’s gospel as our earliest gospel being an oral tradition for the first years of the church's existence. Christ's ministry and life among us was about showing us, just like today, all the moments and experiences in which he was revealing God’s abundance, God's fulfillment, God’s glory through his life, a life he has called you and I to share. Yet, we didn't believe him, thought he was crazy, or that he was asking too much of us. We got scared, worried for our own self protection, and said one thing and did another, just like the disciples did. So to hear a story today, before the resurrection when he was still alive, gives a moment to pause and connect that experience to our post resurrection experience. The connection point between them both is the powerful invitation to the gate of abundant life, one is as a shepherd which we hear and laugh off as some backdated agrarian ideal which is not connected to our lives today. The other is the gate of the tomb, a gate into abundant life that we can’t laugh off because it's real, because we’ve seen the empty tomb, and we will experience the tomb in our lives. The tomb leads us into a greater relationship with Jesus, as we die to our false sense of self everyday in the world around us, therefore becoming more authentic to who and what we are.
Entering into the gate through the shepherd is more than just following the leader or even getting stuck on the idea of being a sheep. It's not about that, it's about entering into the fullness of who and what you were created to be. Everyone of us has a vocation, a calling, from God in our lives, to be who and what God made us to be. An identity which is so profoundly important in our world right now. And we are uniquely made to be something, which is a reason why we are not the same, even twins are slightly different, in our gifts and abilities which stream God’s glory in our world even more brightly because of what we are able to produce together. Some of us are called to be priests and teachers, others parents and spouses. Some of us to be monastics, others to be single. Some of us to create beauty in this world, others to enjoy beauty. But what unites each of us is the fiery passion which underlines our vocations, that urge, desire, and sense of fulfilment which drew us into this work in the first place. This is what fulfilment, what abundance is, to be full alive with the glory of God, as St. Irenaeus says. The world needs that fire from us as we move back into our new normals after this pandemic, we can’t go back to our lives of quiet resentment, gentle caution, and reserved potential. We are worth more than that!
So maybe, while we remain in isolation while thinking about what normals are worth rushing back to in the midst of this gateway, this relationship we are cultivating into Christ, maybe we get to use this pause to embrace our passionate vocations as the blueprint to our own reopening plan on the other side of this pandemic, a plan which can only be informed by our relationship with Christ. It has been this relationship which has brought us into life, which has formed us, and has kept us safe in the midst of this unknown. It is this relationship which showed us the power of love's redeeming work on the cross and the tomb. It is this relationship that we were born to live, and through our life to show the world the glory of God’s incredible presence among us. In a world full of unknowns, broken relationships, and frayed emotions, Christ is opening the gate and leading us into a deeper relationship of life with him today in our world, a world that needs the presence of Christ even more today. How will you follow Christ through that gate this week, and lead others by your transformative vocations to it as well?