4 Easter 12
“I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Bread. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate.” These are some of the “I am” sayings of Jesus. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says.
We have no idea however how bone jarring these expressions were in Jesus' time. Jesus was using the sacred words “I am” to describe himself – the very name of God revealed to the the Hebrews through Moses at the Burning Bush. These words (I am) were so sacred to them that they would not even speak them, not even pronounce them. The Hebrew name of “Yahweh” never passed their lips.
So when Jesus called himself “I am” their very bones were jarred. Consider this exchange from John
Chapter 8. Jesus is speaking to the Jewish leaders:
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.”
We have no real equivalent today. For me, sometimes when I hear the Spanish name “Jesus” (Heysus) spoken I am bit shaken. This is the name of Jesus. It is a perfectly good Spanish name and parents who name their child “Jesus” do that child great honor. But still, to me, it is sometimes hard to hear this name used.
The closest equivalent to the Jewish experience in my own experience comes from the movies. I don't know if you are a fan of the Coen brothers. Some people find them harsh and even somewhat violent. They are prolific and have written and produced many memorable films: Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man among others. One of my favorites and quite a cult film is the 1998 The Big Libowski. It stars Jeff Bridges as an LA slacker who writes 42 cent checks at the super market and is an avid bowler. Bridges' friends played by John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, characters you would recognize, fill out his bowling team.
Their arch bowling rival is played by John Turturro, a marvelous actor who was brilliant opposite Ralph Fiennes in Quiz Show, one of his many credits. Turturro plays Jesus Quintana, an arrogant swell who refers to himself as “The Jesus” using the English pronunciation rather than the Spanish. In his monologue about how he will crush Libowski and his friends in the bowling finale, the juxtaposition of how he uses his name, “The Jesus,” his arrogant air and the triviality of the whole situation were bone jarring to me. Similar, I suspect, to how the Jews of Jesus' day reacted when he spoke about himself as “I am.”
The point is that when Jesus calls himself “I am” it is a moment of great significance and meaning. I am the Good Shepherd.
Yesterday, at our Vestry retreat, some one said, “Its all about eating.” No one disagreed. And the Good Shepherd is about how we are fed by Jesus. He takes us to the best pastures. He leads us beside still waters.
As his sheep, we have no idea how to find good pasture, the best pastures, the pastures we really need to nourish our lives in the best way. This what the Good Shepherd provides for us. We don't know where the good water, the cool, pure, refreshing water we long for, is. Jesus takes us to this place to refresh and renew us, to give us the very means of our survival. We can pray to be lead to these places of refreshment by Jesus.
Jesus refers several times to the food we need for our souls. When tempted by the devil, he replies, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4.4). And when he was speaking to the woman at the well, his disciples said to him, “Master, you must be hungry.” Jesus replies, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” (John 4.32)
Where do we find this food, this food that our soul needs? Some find it in nature. Some find in art and in music. And these are good things for these things reflect the goodness of God. But if you want to find the really good stuff, the stuff that deeply satisfies you, you must follow the Good Shepherd. You must follow him to the fields where he wants to lead you.
Chances are he will lead you to his Holy Word. He said this is better than bread. Chances are he will lead into a life of evangelism, of sharing his joy and his truth like the food he nourished himself with in helping the Woman at the Well. This is where the Good Shepherd leads us.
During the Easter season, we focus on Jesus' resurrection and the new life we have sharing in that resurrection. We put a magnifying glass on Easter Sunday and the resurrection. This is good but sometimes we forget about the days leading up to Easter, the days on which he instituted the Last Supper and Good Friday. These things too are part of the Easter mysteries.
Its all about food. And here each week, he feeds us in his Holy Eucharist. These are the fields he leads us to, to these fields right here.
And this is where our faith is put to the test. How absolutely absurd it is that the very God of the universe, the Word who was present at the creation, without whom nothing was created, would be present to us in the form of bread and wine in Holy Eucharist.
Yet as St. Francis says, “We should take no scandal in the Eucharist. If the Lord could humble himself to come to us as a little babe in Bethlehem, he can also humble himself to come to us as bread and wine.”
As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen... I believe whatever the Son of God hath told: what the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.”
And the Good Shepherd humbles himself to be our food for only one reason. This is the reason: that he can be in communion with you. This is why he did all this. For you and only for you.
This is how much he loves you. So when you approach the Communion Table today and the minister says, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” “The Blood of Christ, the cup of Salvation,” let your “Amen” be Amen, So Be It.
Here are green pastures; here is living water. And as we say “Amen” to the words “The Body of Christ” here you recognize yourself as well. You are the Body of Christ, his Church. The Body is fed by the Body. Your “Amen” signifies that you recognize yourself in this bread. Amen. Yes, I too am the Body of Christ; I share the very life of God.
This is food that very few know about. But you do. Thanks to the Good Shepherd. Amen.