SERMON: Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 22 April 2018


John chapter 10 from which this morning’s gospel comes, is an exploration of the significance of Christ and his ministry, using the well known image of a shepherd.

‘I am the good shepherd’

we heard Christ say.

With this image of a shepherd Saint John is able to reflect on key aspects of the Easter faith:

Christ calls us to follow him
He knows each of us by name
He is willing to lay down his life for us
His desire is that there is one flock, one shepherd

In the earlier gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus has used the image of a shepherd in a number of ways.

One use was to defend himself against those who disagreed with his ministry. To them Jesus responds by telling the parable of the lost sheep and of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after the one that is lost, defending the fact that he eats with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ – the lost.

Here too in John’s gospel the context is confrontational!

Just previously Jesus has healed a man born blind which is followed by a long argument with the Pharisees that ends on a sour note about which one of them is really blind!?

Then after this reflection about the good shepherd, John says in his gospel that those who disagree take up stones again to stone Jesus for blasphemy.

So both in the earlier three gospels and now in John’s gospel, the context for this teaching about the shepherd and the sheep is one of acrimony and argument!

The question at stake, there in the earlier gospels but made quite explicit by John, is about the identity of Jesus – who does he think he is? This is the contentious issue in every one of the four gospels, and each writer handles this differently!

John uses the enigmatic phrase ‘I am’ to express his understanding of who Jesus is, shaped by the Easter faith. Little in the other gospels quite prepares us for this bold approach of Saint John.

He alone has Jesus say:

I am the bread of life.

I am the light of the world.

I am the water of life.

I am the vine.

I am the resurrection and the life.

And this morning:

I am the good shepherd.

‘I am.’ It’s a mysterious phrase with echoes in the Old Testament, most notably in the story of Moses.

For the early Church the person of Moses was viewed not so much as a lawgiver but as a great mystic – the person who conversed with God face to face as a friend.

Commentators loved the fact that at the end of receiving the 10 commandments, the people are recorded as standing at a distance, while Moses draws near to the ‘thick darkness’ where God is (Exodus 20.21)!

Perhaps the most significant encounter between Moses and God is at the burning bush. There, Moses removes his sandals, finding himself on holy ground. And when Moses asks God for his name, God replies:

‘I am who I am.’

God is not an object like other objects, a being among other beings, a person as other persons. Moses is told:

“Thus you shall say to the Israelites,

‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3.14)

It is extraordinary!

And John’s extensive use in his gospel of this phrase ‘I am’ carries something of this significance – Christ is the ‘I am’, the divine presence from whom Moses hid his face.

This is the deepest truth about who Jesus is. This is the perspective from which John writes his gospel. This is the Easter faith that we share.

Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!