holy cross sermon for the fourth sunday of easter, year a, may 11, 2014

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In today’s Gospel reading the Lord speaks of the special relationship that obtains between him and us, of how we BELONG to him: “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice,” (John 10.3-4).

Its interesting to note how this is fulfilled at Jesus’ resurrection, when he encounters Mary Magdalene in the garden and she does not recognize him until “he calls his own sheep by name…” – Jesus said to her, “Mary,” and she recognized him. When Jesus had “brought out all his own,” by his descent to the dead and the “harrowing of hell,” he “goes before them,” first to Galilee, where his disciples see him and he speaks with them, and then he goes before them into heaven itself. Jesus said to Mary, “go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,” (John 20.17).

“…the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice…”

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, as those who belong to him, is to listen to his voice, and to follow him. The question becomes: how does he speak to us? After all, he has ascended into heaven, and obviously he does not speak to us the way he spoke to the first disciples, face to face. I think this difficulty lies behind the risen Lord’s admonition to St. Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” (John 20.29). Jesus was talking about us: those who live on this temporal side of his Ascension, who have not had the opportunity to know him face to face, as the first disciples did, but who yet believe. Jesus says that we are blessed, and I think part of the reason that we are blessed in having not seen and yet having believed, is that our belief is proportionately difficult.

We have to really engage in the practice of listening in order to hear Jesus speak. Yet he does speaks to us. And he speaks in many different ways. The most well-know, and the most easily misunderstood way that Jesus speaks to us, is in the heart. I say that it is easily misunderstood because its easy to confuse other elements of the cacophony normally inside us for the voice of the Lord. We can easily mistake some emotion or inner impulse for the voice of the Lord, especially when it harmonizes with something that we want. This is an especial danger for “religious” people.

In part because of this tendency to mistake what is in fact irrelevant “noise” inside of us for the voice of the Lord, its important that we learn to “hear” and to “know” (John 10) the Lord’s voice in its more unmistakable forms. Jesus speaks to his sheep now, for example, in the words of Scripture, and especially in the Gospels, which are the record of his actual words and deeds, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and written down so that generations of disciples, like us, who have never seen the Lord face to face, might know him and have a relationship with him nevertheless.

The risen Lord also speaks to us through the teaching and the LITURGY of the Church, which is the Lord’s Bride, according to Scripture (cf. Ephesians 5). Indeed the Church is the primary place where the Gospel is proclaimed, and where it is heard.

Lately I have been reading Dom Prosper Gueranger – a 19th century French monk who wrote prolifically on the liturgy and Christian mysticism. About the Lord speaking to us in the liturgy, he says:

“It was the Holy Ghost who guided the four Evangelists; their Gospel, which is our light and life, is one of the fruits of the glorious Pentecost. Let us prepare for hearing the words of our risen Lamb: it is he himself that is about to speak to us, as he did to his disciples, when he appeared to them during the days between his Resurrection and Ascension. ….You will stand during the Gospel, as though you were waiting the orders of your Lord… Let your heart be ready and obedient. ‘While my beloved was speaking,’ says the Spouse in the [Song of Songs], ‘my soul melted within me.’ If you have not such love as this, have at least the humble submission of Samuel, and say: ‘Speak, Lord! thy servant heareth.’” (“The Liturgical Year,” vol. VII, pp. 50-51)

When we allow the teaching and the liturgy of the Church to form us, to prepare our hearts and minds through our careful attention to them and participation in them, then we are in a better position to hear the Lord speaking within us – to discern his voice amid all the interior noise. Doing so is the work of Christian meditation – the careful and PRAYERFUL reading and study of Scripture on our own.

We cannot follow Jesus to heaven if he cannot recognize his voice. And we cannot recognize his voice without having our hearts and minds formed by listening to the careful words of our holy Mother, the Church. Only thus will we be prepared to meet the Lord when the final cry goes out, “Alleluia! Behold the Bridegroom!”

Until that happy day, “let us offer ourselves to God as often as we see the bread and the wine presented to him in the holy Sacrifice; and let us glorify him, who, by assuming our human nature, has made us ‘partakers of the divine nature,’” (Dom Gueranger, p. 53).

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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