A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, preached by Nikolaj Christensen at our online service on 3 May 2020
The epidemic we’re living through has brought death, grief, fear, loneliness, financial insecurity, and resentment against those we suspect don’t observe correct social distancing. It is a miserable thing all round. And yet, this is our common reality, which we’re bound to reflect on when we meet together. And God is still here. God is in it with us.
Our reading this morning from the First Letter of Peter assures us that Jesus has gone before us in every possible form of suffering. As we heard in today’s Gospel: the shepherd ‘goes ahead of’ the sheep. Wherever we go, he has been there before. Later on in the chapter Jesus identifies himself as the ‘good shepherd’. But in the first part of his speech, which we have heard today, he stops short of that, so instead let us meditate on what he does say: ‘I am the gate for the sheep’.
A gate or door is designed to separate those who enter from what is outside. In our current lockdown, our gates and front doors have taken on a heightened significance as a barrier against the outside world. And often we end up focusing on what we’re missing out on out there. But think about some of the instances of doors in the Bible.
When Noah and his family self-isolated along with a pair of every animal, it says that it was God himself who closed the door of the ark behind them and shut them in. I wonder what God is wanting to tell us in our lockdown?
When the disciples were hiding behind a locked door on Easter Day, Jesus nonetheless came and met them there.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ‘whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door’ (Matt 6.6). There is something about shutting the door behind you that enables focus. It is there, behind the closed door, in prayer and devotion, that we get to know his voice – and we need to know his voice in order that he can lead us to pasture and to life in abundance.
If you are someone with plenty of time on your hands during the lockdown, perhaps in addition to doing your gardening you will find new ways to cultivate your spiritual life. On the other hand, if you’re anything like our household – two sleep-deprived parents trying to do two full-time jobs while looking after a baby, also full-time – then you might not appreciate another thing you need to accomplish to make the most of the lockdown. I cling to the notion that if I simply desire to let go of my anxieties and pressures, to offer them up to God and shut the door to them, then I have already responded to his voice.
To paraphrase the Prayer Book: ‘Hear the words of comfort our Saviour Christ says to all who truly turn to him: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’
So let us return to him, the ‘shepherd and guardian of our souls’. As the Book of Revelation says: ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me’ (Rev 3.20).