Why Are We Afraid ?
(Originally preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2010.)
Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand."
Let us be honest. The world in which we live struggles to believe that life can come from death. Death always looks so powerful, so final, so complete. And the forces that produce death seem so inevitable and so unchangeable.
Let us be honest. There are times when even those of us who have faith, who celebrate our Lord's resurrection, and who affirm his victory over death, can struggle to believe that life comes from death.
The news of death produces within us a feeling of cold dread; the death of one we knew or loved gives rise to experiences of grief-filled depression; the approach of our own death can occasion helpless despair. And in spite of our faith, words of resurrection and hope have a hard time getting through to us. There is this whole build up of experiences that tell us that death wins, that tragedy is the end.
That's what most people feel, and that is what the world believes; that we are finally in the grip of death. We spend our frightened energy trying to stay young and be healthy. We use our money to secure our existence. We work frantically to establish our worth. We are propelled by a fearfulness to avoid death.
Death is to be feared and dreaded; we will do anything to delay it or deny it; we ignore its presence and avoid its mention - and yet we know that in the end it will win. Where is the life and hope in that?
Well, let us think again; for the astounding reality of Christ's resurrection - which we continue to celebrate in this Easter season - subverts our thinking about death.
John's vision in Revelation of the unnumbered multitudes gathered around the heavenly throne in worship, contradicts our attitude to death.
The promise of Jesus "I give them eternal life and they will never perish" challenges our fear of death.
In all this - in the fact of the resurrection, the witness of scripture and the promise of Jesus - death is denied and life is evoked!
The late biblical scholar and Roman Catholic priest, Raymond E Brown, wrote "The finality of death and the uncertainties it creates causes trembling also among those who have spent their lives professing Christ... [but] when confronted with the reality of the grave, all need to hear and proclaim the bold message that Jesus proclaims...'everyone who believes in me shall never die at all'"
And the familiar Psalm 23 voices confidence in the Good Shepherd whose leading "restores my life" in the face hostility, whose protection comforts us in the midst of threat and whose presence takes away fear even in the valley of the shadow of death.
"I fear no evil"!
This is no cry of despair nor lament of grief in the face of death, but a faith-filled affirmation of the hope we have in the Good Shepherd through whose triumph and victory we are released from the tombs of fear and doubt, just as were Simon Peter, and Thomas and the rest of the disciples in the days following his resurrection.
"I fear no evil"!
Jesus said "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand"
This is assurance indeed for us; it is the ground of our hope and the cause for our joy. The one who has conquered death and risen into fullness of life, promises to those who hear his voice and follow him the gift of eternal life.
And this eternal life is not simply a future promise. It is already a present reality for the followers of the Good Shepherd. We already have eternal life and we will not perish - not even in passing through death. This eternal life we posses in Christ and which has been secured through his resurrection, will not be snuffed out by death, and cannot be robbed by death, but will surely be fulfilled in our passing through death to the fullness of that life eternal where, in the words of St Augustine "We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall pray, in the end that has no end".
This is the vision John offers us in Revelation where the multitude of every nation and tribe and people and language are gathered in worship around the throne. And we are told "they will hunger no more, and thirst no more for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7: 16-17).
The Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their Shepherd.
He is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
He is the Good Shepherd who leads his flock, the Risen conquering Son who has gone before us.
He promises we who are his flock, we who have heard his voice, we who follow him, we who have been given to him by His Father, he promises us life eternal, and no-one will snatch us out of his hands no indeed, not even death will snatch us out of his hands!
And that is what we will be remembering and re-enacting and receiving at this table. We come to the Lord's Table and remember an apparent tragedy - the breaking of Christ - and we find here the makings of resurrection. As we receive this bread and wine we are receiving the life of Christ so that resurrection can take place within us.
And whether we feel strong or stumbling, faith-filled or fear-filled, worthy or weak, sure or sinful, Christ will be here, offering his life so that we may be freed from the power of death.
In this bread and wine, God is present. God is here giving us life. Wherever death still threatens us or holds us captive, God is present for us, saying "Little child, arise, take my body, take my blood, and know resurrection and new life."
So let us approach this table and here accept Christ; even no especially if the powers of death and despair seem to be overpowering us at present. We all need to encounter Christ in the midst of our doubts and our dreads.
The life of Christ is about to be put into your hands. Take eat, and know life.
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