Easter 2 Misericordias Domini
May 4, 2014 A+D
St. John 10:11-18
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
According to the readings last week we were to understand ourselves as new-born babes crying out for the sincere milk of the Word. We know that the milk of the Word flows to us in the waters of Baptism, in the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, and in the words of Holy Absolution. Jesus, immediately after His resurrection, that first evening, is the bringer of peace to troubled consciences, to those in fear and despair over their sin. He gives peace—true, enduring peace through the forgiveness of sins.
This week we are to understand Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We are to immediately understand by this word “good” that He lays down His life for the sheep. For all the other qualities of a shepherd, and in particular here, the divine, perfect, and good shepherd, and there are many other qualities listed in Scripture about the king-messiah, shepherd; according to Jesus’ own words in John 10, the highest quality is laying down His life for the sheep.
On this second Sunday after Easter, we are transported back to Holy Week and Good Friday. In this season of Resurrection, and alleluias, and joy, and empty tombs, we are thrown back to His sacrifice—His death on the cross. He cannot be the “good” Shepherd without being the dead shepherd. God could have become man and provided food, and drink, and shelter, and medicine, and protection for you His sheep and still not have been “good.” He would have been nice and nurturing, and given you a comfortable life in this world, but a nice shepherd would not have saved you from your sins. He would have been the pacifying shepherd, or the supportive shepherd, or the generous shepherd. But He would not have been “good” without Good Friday.
For those of us who want to only gaze upon the innocent, non-judgmental face of an idyllic nurturer-shepherd that exists only in uninformed, false sentimentality, then woe to us for we would still be lost in our sins. We would have completely misunderstood our lost condition as sick, dying sheep. Left to our own imaginations, we would have wanted Christ to be like us, only richer and more generous. We did not simply need greener grass or calmer, cleaner water, or better fences. We needed to be reborn. We needed our sinful lives drowned and destroyed in death and we needed to be restored to life again. And that, the Good Shepherd, has done. By His death and resurrection He properly is and is rightly to be called “good.”
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2.24-25).
This is the goodness of the Lord—misericordias domini—that He does not hold you responsible for your sins. He does not count them against you. He requires no explanation, no excuses, no bargains, or empty promises. Repent! He only wants you to acknowledge who you are. You are a sinner. Repent, every one of you, but don’t despair or run away. Repent and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness. That is why the voice of the Good Shepherd is still heard today in churches all over the world. The voice of the Good Shepherd is there so that whenever you are afflicted in your conscience by some sin or vice, you may be free of it. God wants you to be free of your sins, not to punish you for them. This He has already done in His Son. But if you do not wish to be free of them, or if you do not want to seek relief from them or if you don’t think the Bible is true when it calls a particular thing sin, then you will be held responsible for them in the end–however much God wants to take that responsibility away. As we heard last week, there is no forgiveness for the unrepentant. They exclude themselves from the fold.
But here’s how it works in the kingdom of heaven. God gladly and freely pardons you of all your sins. He gladly gives you a free and peaceful conscience, having acknowledged your sins to Him and being forgiven for them. And this He does for you in the Gospel preached to you, today. He has put His own word of pardon into your ears and hearts through the lips of the undershepherds serving here. Our authority is not over earthly matters, but over the consciences of men. We are not the Generals of the Army, we are men under orders from Jesus. We have the command to preach the Goodness of the Lord, to tend to His flock with His Sacraments.
So learn this lesson well. Christ has taken your place in death and punishment and offers His forgiveness freely to you in the Gospel, in the Sacraments, in the Words pronounced on you. You who hear this Word and believe that God has pardoned your sins in the death of Christ and wish to be rid of them have eternal life already now. It makes no difference what kinds of sins you have committed, or how wretched of a creature you may have been in this life, or how much your past sins still war inside you and haunt you; Christ will hear your confession and pronounce forgiveness through His under-shepherds.
Learn from these words how you are to look upon God your Savior. He lays down His life for you so that you may be safe from the wolf. He puts Himself in harm’s way, lets His own blood be shed so that the flesh of His sheep might be spared. Since Jesus is your Shepherd, it thus follows that you are His sheep, his little lambs, whom He has rescued from the jaws of the hungry wolf. Christ calls to you, speaks to you, so that you may remain with Him and not wander off into dangerous territory, so that you may not be cut off from his presence. And where else do you hear this voice of Jesus but in the Christian Church, where His Word is purely taught and His Sacraments correctly administered. This then is what it means to be a Christian, a true follower of Jesus—that you be like little lambs who hear the voice of their shepherd and follow it.
Jesus is not like a hired hand, someone who is just looking out for his resume and does not care about the sheep. He knows each and every one of you by name. He knows all of your fears and weaknesses, your flaws and blemishes. You are his property. He bought you with a price. You are His truly prized and treasured possessions. He gave up all He had just to win you back.
And true to form, your Good Shepherd leads you beside the still waters and gives you what you need to eat for your journey through the valley of the shadow of death–even His very Body and His very Blood. Through this valley of death, while listening to your Shepherd’s voice, you can have a clear conscience, fearing no evil, His rod and His staff comfort you. And now He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies, and fills this blessed chalice with the wine of His mercy, His holy and precious blood. Your cup now runneth over.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
(He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)