Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
Just before Holy Week, I had an extremely unnerving experience that is worth sharing as we begin this 4th week of Easter. The pastor of a rural parish in our Diocese asked if I would preside at his liturgies while he recuperated from a serious surgery that was scheduled as “urgent” if not “emergency.” I had never been to the parish before and thought it best to pay a short visit to familiarize myself with the worship space.
I asked my Smart phone for directions. Traveling the 30 odd miles to my destination, I didn’t pay all that much attention to where I was, simply following the instructions of the mechanical voice. Almost before I realized it, I was approaching my destination. It was then that my gaze moved from the road to the distant sky. I saw the bell tower of the church I was to visit, and for a brief moment, became totally disoriented. It was a very unnerving feeling. For an instant, I didn’t know where I was. I thought that I had unconsciously driven to the rural parish where I had served for nine years several years ago. A wave of panic washed over me as it occurred to me that I must be losing it!
It was then that I remembered that this church was built from the same architectural plans as the rural parish where I had spent so many wonderful years. It was understandable that my first view of this church would be disorienting. It was the identical spire that had, for so long, signaled that I was “almost home.” With the same brilliant blue sky as the backdrop, I could easily have been approaching my former parish. Entering the church, I continued to be amazed. As I walked through the building, I observed far more similarities than differences.
When I returned a few days later to lead the community in prayer, I was once again overwhelmed by the same eerie experience. This time, the cause of my uneasiness was not the place, but rather, the people. As I began the liturgy and looked out at the assembly, I kept seeing faces that I thought I recognized. Maybe it was someone’s coat, or hairstyle, or glasses, or height that caused me to think: “Oh! He is visiting here, too.” Or: “She must have family in this neighborhood.” Of course, whatever it was that seemed familiar I had never seen before. A past memory was simply awakened by a shared characteristic encountered within totally familiar circumstances. As the weeks have passed, these false sightings of old friends have stopped. Quite possibly, if someone from my past ministry were to visit this parish, I wouldn’t trust myself enough to call them by name.
Still, the entire unnerving experience has hung with me to the point that it seemed that God was telling me something I had better consider. And so, after a good deal of reflection, and with the help of this Sunday’s Readings, it occurs to me that regardless of the architecture of a church building, the faithful gathered there to worship should look alike.
Just as two church buildings constructed from the same architectural plans evoke a sense of the familiar, those who are guided to the waters of Baptism by the Good Shepherd have defining characteristics in common. Through Baptism, disciples are reborn in the Holy Spirit according to God’s eternal plan; and the plan is that we all look the same because we live the same. The defining characteristic shared by the flock we are gathered into has nothing to do with clothes, hairstyles, or height. Disciples should look alike because we should all reflect the Face of Christ to everyone we see. Our voices should strike a familiar note as we speak in a loving, forgiving, and charitable way. We should even smell the same! We should give off the aroma of holiness, because through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit.
The sad thing is….WE SHOULD BUT WE DON’T. Although through Baptism, we are reborn in the Spirit according to God’s Eternal plan, among the defining characteristics we share is free will. We can choose to live according to God’s Eternal plan or we can pursue our own plans; often going so far as wandering away from the flock. And so, our First Reading emphasizes the need to repent those times when other’s don’t recognize us for who we are called to be… God’s People…the Flock of the Lord.
But we must also pay homage to the image of Christ that our Gospel offers us, because it is the Good News in all of this. The Lord is a Good Shepherd, Who recognizes each of us as both unique and precious in the eyes of our Creator. In spite of our similarities, He calls us by name. Although we mask our identities through poor decisions and bad choices, even going so far as to leave the flock, Christ knows exactly who we are…each and every one of us. And should that arouse an unnerving feeling within anyone, The Good News is that it is the will of the Father that the Good Shepherd not lose what has been given to Him. Even when we stray, He finds us and brings us safely back to the flock.
The Easter message as we near the midpoint of this holy season is that we are God’s People…the Flock of the Lord. And everyone we come in contact with should recognize that in all of us!