Second Sunday after Easter 2021

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

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We remember His triumph over sin and death, and in our faith and joy we discern the eternal life offered unto us in this unique victory from the Cross. For Our Lord is always about His Father’s business, and so His work may be singular, His sacrifice the very expression of solitary desolation, but His purpose is never selfish. What He achieves is valued, but never hoarded, treasured above all things, but never hidden away. This is the mystery of love. She is held most dear, as she is given. She is kept closest to the heart, as she is expressed in word and in deed. Resurrected life then is inextricably bound with love. Indeed, there is no fullness of life without love in action, and there is no fullness of love without life freed from sin. Resurrected life; absolute love; are together like a dam that is forever bursting forth, or chains that are forever snapping apart. There is freedom from the restraint of sin and death, yes, but more so there is the liberty to go about the Father’s business this time without fear, weakness, or hesitation. The water from that burst dam rushes to the soil and grows the Father’s vineyard. The man freed from those old chains takes up his scythe and cuts away the weeds. As we celebrate resurrected life, the victory of love, so we celebrate the greater work that we shall be able to do in and on behalf of Our Father’s Kingdom. For the resurrected life; absolute love; are forever strong, virile, purpose driven, and on the march to redeem the time for the one, living God.

It may seem paradoxical then to remember Our Lord as the Good Shepherd while at the same time commemorating His Resurrection. After all, Easter is all about eternal life, the fullness of our life and love in Christ Jesus, our flesh restored and redeemed in the Spirit so that we may worship the Father, as the Psalm says, “in the beauty of holiness.” On the other hand, the Good Shepherd as recounted in today’s Gospel first says, “I am the Good Shepherd; and know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father,” but then goes on to emphasize that “I lay down my life for the sheep.” He is as bound to His sheep as He is to His Father, which implies that His faithfulness to His sheep is a self-revelation of divine life and love, and yet the singular revelation of His life and love is not virility, nor health, nor cheerfulness, but sacrificial death. It is a conundrum: Christ is Risen from the Cross, and yet the clearest expression that Christ is Risen is Christ on the Cross. Christ has triumphed over death, and yet still retains the stigmata wounds. Christ has broken the chains of everlasting imprisonment, and yet still labors for us. His eternal peace and rest is to work for us, and when we are resurrected into Christ Jesus so will we find our peace and rest in working for God the Father and for one another.

One of the earliest artistic depictions that we have found of Christ Jesus is an image painted onto the ceiling of the Catacombs of Pope Callixtus. This version of Our Lord is a very young, clean-shaven man bearing a calf upon his left shoulder and a bucket of water in his right hand. He resembles the iconic figure of the “moskophoros,” the “bearer of the calf,” a venerated archetype in ancient Greek art that dates back to the sixth century BC. The image of Our Lord has been dated to the second century AD. In referencing a well-known artistic archetype, the painter clearly had no interest then in depicting how Jesus actually looked. Instead, he wanted to express in his artistry a more poignant theological truth – namely, that in Christ Jesus the oft-repeated myth of the “Good Shepherd” became real. The “Good Shepherd” came into the world and protected His sheep by laying down His life for them. This message resonates for all of us, but especially so for those facing persecution; and at the time the painter put that image up onto the ceiling many of his fellow Christians were being martyred at the hands of the Severan dynasty of Emperors in Rome. Another important detail to note is where the image is painted. The “Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for His sheep is painted up on the dome ceiling. Our gaze is heavenward, even above the crypts of the martyred Popes on every side, and so the “Good Shepherd” who dies is also the God Man who lives. In His death for us is the seed of His eternal life and, by extension, our eternal life in Him. In His martyrdom is His triumph over death and, by extension, our triumph over death. In His sorrow on the Cross is His joy in doing the will of His Father, and so in our persecution on His behalf is our joy in doing the will of Our Father in Heaven. For as St. Paul later writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, [and] in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” When we are dead in Christ, then we are alive in Him. When we are dead to sin, then we are alive in faith, in hope, and in charity. When we are dead to the flesh, then we are alive in the Spirit.

The critical lesson here is that the Easter Joy for us is not that we are freed from all pains and sorrows, but that by grace we triumph through them. As the Resurrected Christ still carried His stigmata wounds, so will we in our resurrected bodies carry forward our wounds. As the Resurrected Christ remains the Good Shepherd for His sheep, so will we in our resurrected bodies still labor for Our Father and lift up one another. The Easter Joy is knowing that when we are persecuted for the sake of Our Lord, when we suffer a setback professionally or are hated personally on account of our fidelity to Him, the anguish we may experience then does not mean that God has abandoned us. Our sorrow does not mean that He is distant from us. Our weakness does not indicate that He has removed His grace from us. On the contrary, the Easter Joy is knowing that we are closest to our Good Shepherd, and He is closest to us, just when it seems it cannot get any worse. The Easter Joy is not that the vicious wolves are gone out of our lives, but that the Good Shepherd has replaced the hireling and is never going to abandon us even if and when we stray from Him. Remain steadfast in Him, no matter the costs to us, nor the temptations to pursue an easier path, and we shall find everlasting life and glory, never in ourselves, but in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world.

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

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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