Staggered Vision. It’s what we get today in the gospel. In order to begin to make sense of what must be one of the most mysterious passages of writing anywhere, I’d like to try and fill in some of the background context. The background context is best known as Holy Saturday, one of my favourite days of the year. We had it yesterday. I think it’s my favourite day of the year because I’m essentially lazy, and it’s the day when God rests. All the readings and psalms are about God resting. And the reason why God rests is because on Good Friday he accomplished everything, he finished creation. He entered into death and made it untoxic. So on Holy Saturday a great quietness is over the earth, because of course, no-one else knows about this yet. It’s the great quietness of creation having been completed, of death no longer being the enemy of the creatures, but something that can be lived through and in, as part of being a creature. It’s death occupied by God. It’s where he fulfils what he says in Isaiah 25, which we get to hear echoes of in today’s gospel. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever. (Is 25:7)
God’s not out to get you. He’s not trying to dragoon you into shape. He wants to enjoy you, to dwell with you. So he’s got many mansions, many dwelling places. He’s going to turn you into those dwelling places. Relax. Don’t be paranoid. And don’t think he’s out to get you. I’m going to show you that, by inhabiting death. You see, whenever in John’s gospel Jesus says: “I must go”; or “Where I am going”, this is Johanine code for: “I am going to death. I am going to inhabit death in such a way that it will be an empty trophy, and you will start to see the love, the generosity, the self-giving that went into making that available, so that you need no longer to be frightened of it. That’s because I’m not here to do a magic trick. I’m not here to wave a magic wand so as to “save” you. I’m here because the Father, the Creator, wants to get through to you to involve you in being part of creation from within. He knows that you’re so frightened of dying that you are refusing to take part. So actually, by my inhabiting death for you, the possibility is going to be opened up for you no longer to be frightened; and because of that, to dare to start to create things, and to do even greater works than the ones I have done, because the Creator will be able to work through you, opening up new things that none of you have been able to imagine yet. Many mansions that we don’t know about.”
I am going to take the readings which are usual for Good Shepherd Sunday, that is to say Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-18, and see how we can allow ourselves to enter into what I have tried to outline as the eucharistic dynamic of our faith. First of all I would like to set out what I take to be the structure of Eucharist, and then see how we can allow these readings to come alive for us.
We end these thoughts on Holy Week where we began: with the central truth that what has taken place in the week that has passed, and what has taken place supremely at the event of the crucifixion is the outworking of the will of God. To the participants and bystanders, no doubt, everything seemed very far from that, just another muddle in a place inflamed with strife. And to the followers of Jesus, the little rag-tag caravan of men and women who found themselves attached to him, it was nothing short of disaster. Yet Isaiah speaks of the putting to death of the Lord’s servant as God’s will – as the outworking of the eternal purpose of God, as no accident but rather the placed where we are to learn to see God’s resolve, undeflected, undefeated, utterly effective. How can this be so? What is this divine resolve which is set before us here, in the affliction and grief of the servant of God?
Baccalaureate Sermon, Duke Divinity School, May 2005.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”
Now, one of the things that we have worked hard to teach you here at Duke Divinity School is the difficult art of
discerning when you can and cannot take the biblical story and apply it straight off to the situation in which you find yourself. This art is called, as you know, “hermeneutics.” Let me give you an illustration.