Brother James Michael Dowd, n/OHC
RCL - Easter 4 A - Sunday 13 April 2008
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10: 1-10
In the name of the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
A somewhat young - depending, of course, on your definition - and rather idealistic monk, such as the one speaking to you today - cannot help but notice this mornings’ first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The first Christian communities, St. Luke tells us, devoted themselves to four things: to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Sounds like a few monastic communities I’m familiar with. Seems like an ideal, perhaps even an idealized description, of what the early Christians were all about.
And, it turns out, at least according to several commentaries I have read, this was, in fact, St. Luke’s idealization of what those first Christians were all about. Not that it was all untrue, just that, well, our ideals sometimes have a way of not quite living up to reality. Not unlike a few monastic communities I’m familiar with.
But it is the beginning of verse 43 that has caught my attention and, being too new at this to give up on all my ideals, I’d like to explore with you for just a few minutes, this particular verse. Verse 43 of the second chapter of Acts states that, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”
How did these somewhat clueless disciples of Jesus evolve into men who could produce such wonders and signs? It probably wasn’t until Jesus was raised from the dead that the apostles began to understand some of the very profound things that Jesus had said about himself. It probably wasn’t until after the resurrection that these very ordinary people, people like you and me, began to understand Jesus as the gateway to life. The gateway to an eternal life that was beyond anything they could have imagined up until that point. And so, listening to Jesus describe himself as the Gate, seems especially appropriate for Eastertide.
That concept of Jesus as the gateway - as the gate himself - is really interesting to me. I have always been fascinated by borders of any type: international borders, state boundaries, county lines, even fences around someone’s little plot of land have always made me think. As I am contemplating a particular border, I think about why this particular border was placed exactly in this particular spot. Or I think about why this gate is locked, but that one next to it is not. And on it goes. Borders of all types have fascinated me because I wonder what, if anything, makes the people, or the land, or the culture, different on the other side of any given border.
Originally uploaded by Randy OHC
Originally uploaded by Randy OHC
Many years ago, as I was coming up in the entertainment industry, I had the opportunity, for one day, to work with Buffy Sainte-Marie, the folk singer, artist, and activist. Now, as my brothers could probably guess, I was extremely excited about this job because I love folk music - and Buffy Sainte-Marie is among the best and one of my very favorites. But the most memorable thing about that day was a conversation she and I had about borders. I knew that she was of the Cree Nation and had lived in both Canada and the Unites States as a child, but I could not remember her nationality.
So I asked her if she was Canadian. As soon as the question was formed on my lips I was trying to take it back, but the extrovert in me just kept right on talking. She answered me that she was Cree and that the First Nation and Native American peoples of North America did not recognize the Canadian-U.S. border. Given my longstanding fascination with borders, I had to inquire further. Her response was memorable, if somewhat pointed, when she said: “how would you like it if a foreign government put a gate right through your property which kept you from the people you know and love?”
I have been thinking a lot about that conversation from many years ago in this past week as I have been meditating on our Gospel passage this morning. Borders, gates, are meant to keep people out. Whoever puts up the gate, gets to decide who is let in and who is kept out. There seems to be no other purpose for a gate, that is, until we listen to Jesus describe himself as the Gate. He does not refer to himself at the gatekeeper - no, he describes himself as the Gate itself.
And, at first, I was not connecting to this image. Jesus as an inanimate object just wasn’t ringing true, until I thought about that conversation with Buffy Sainte-Marie. Gates are meant to keep people out, but Jesus the Gate, that might be another story.
Imagine with me for a moment if all the borders, and all the gates, were eliminated from our world. Imagine for just a moment, that the only gate was Jesus the Gate. That entering the Gate, entering Jesus, would, bring us to that heavenly country where, with all [God’s] saints, each of us would enter the everlasting heritage of [God’s] sons and daughters.
We pray for this regularly in our Eucharistic Prayer. But what does it mean to enter Jesus? Well, to me the liturgy itself is entering Jesus. And the way our monastic church is laid out, speaks volumes to me about this concept of entering Jesus. Francis J. Moloney writes about this particular passage and makes the point that the gate of the sheepfold opens in both directions. It allows the sheep to enter the fold when safety is required, and it allows the sheep to enter the pasture to be nourished and fed. And I think our church here illustrates a similar point.
When I look at this church, I see an ambo that holds upon it the Word of God. The Word, of course, is another way that St. John refers to Our Lord. And so when we enter the Word, we enter Jesus. When we cling to God’s Word, when we study it with clarity of mind and purity of heart, when we cherish that holy Word in our very beings, we are safe. There may be trouble, there may be pain, there may be a storm raging outside. But we are safe for we have entered Jesus.
When I look at this church, I also see an altar, which we will all gather around in a few minutes and I see a pasture. We will enter Jesus by feeding on his body and blood. Jesus the Gate will have led us from the safety of his Word, to the nourishment of his very presence in what appears to be bread and wine. When we humbly present ourselves to the Lord, when we approach the altar with all due reverence, when we ask our Lord to satisfy our insatiable appetites with his love, we are fed. There may be hunger, there may be thirst, the land may be ravaged by famine, but we will have found nourishment, for we have entered Jesus.
So, look around this church and see your country. A country with no borders and only Jesus as the Gate of Entry. Look around at your brothers and sisters, and see your fellow citizens. Citizens who, like yourself, are full members of the Body of Christ. In this, our country, we have listened to Jesus call each of us by name as he reveals himself in the Word. In this our country, we will make peace with one another in the pasture, around the altar. In this our country, we live into the liturgy and know that we have come home once again. In this our country, neither race, nor ethnicity, nor gender, nor class, nor sexual orientation, either includes or excludes anyone.
For here, in our country, Jesus prefers to simply call each of us by our own names, claims us as his own, and welcomes us all to his sheepfold and pasture.
So how is it that we have arrived in this our country without papers or passports or port fees? And how is it that we will add to the numbers that are being saved at the Gate named Jesus? Well, we can devote ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching, we can walk with one another in fellowship, we can break bread together, and we can say our prayers. Live this, and just watch the many wonders and signs we will be doing. Live this, and witness to the awe that will come upon each and everyone of us. Live this, and know that we will have life, and have it abundantly.
1. Eucharistic Prayer B, Book of Common Prayer, p. 369
2. Moloney, Francis J., S.D.B. Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of John. The Liturgical Press, 1998,