Jesus responds to questions about his identity with the remarkable claim that he and the Father are one. Those who understand this are his sheep; they hear his voice, follow, and will never be snatched from his hand.
22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”
As I read these texts, all I see is new life, all over—Peter calls on God to raise Tabitha, Jesus promises to give his sheep eternal life, the faithful are brought through what Revelation calls “the ordeal,” and will have food, drink, and shelter from the heat—God will lead them to water. It is Easter, and Jesus is risen indeed!
Revelation is not usually my “go to” preaching text, but as I looked at the passages for this week, especially in light of what is happening in this season in the world all around us, I found myself really drawn to these words. There is so much promise here, and such a profound hope woven into this ancient vision. And what is particularly captivating to me is the nature of the promises.
This is not a promise of great wealth, or strength, or power, and it is not speaking specifically to those who HAVE great wealth and strength and power. It is speaking life and hope to those who have been through “the ordeal.”
Have you been hungry? Have you been thirsty? Have you had to comfort your children when you didn’t have enough to feed them?
Have you been imprisoned, or enslaved, trapped in a system designed to control you and keep you and “your people” in their place?
Have you been ill, your body impacted by a disease that is managed and treated but not cured, and been judged as weak and broken? Have you been financially devastated by medical costs because the treatment or cure you need is too expensive to afford in a health care system that doesn’t always seem to care about those who are ill and poor at the same time?
Have you been without a place to call home, exiled, perhaps even cast away from your own family? Have people told you that you do not have value, are outside the realm of God’s love?
Have you been told that your very existence is illegal, or that you and everyone like you are a threat to society? Have you been told that you don’t have a right to seek a better life in a new place, but must resign yourself to staying in a place of violence, deep chronic poverty, environmental devastation, or other horrors that make just staying alive almost impossible?
Have you been through the ordeal?
This word is for you! Among people, lines are drawn, borders established, norms and expectations set, and some are in and others are out. With God, revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the lines are erased, borders eliminated, and norms and expectations ignored.
Multitudes come from all corners of the Earth. Language, tribe, nation, do not prevent anyone from coming before God. There are no barriers or restrictions. No minimum or maximum income, no work requirement, no fees, no judgement based on religion, no baseline of success that must be met. You will not find yourself excluded because others have found you unworthy. In fact, those who have been through the ordeal are particularly invited.
Jesus himself went through the ordeal. He was challenged, interrogated, tortured and put to death because he stood, with every fiber of his being, against the power of the systems that tried to write him off and cast him out. Who better to invite us in and lead us through, than the one who walked through the ordeal, and came out alive? Jesus, John tells us, is the Good Shepherd, one who does not ever abandon the sheep, no matter what happens. We can trust Jesus to guide us not just when things are clear and easy, but when they are at their most challenging, complicated, and even painful. The shepherd is with us for the long haul.
“For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is the promise of God revealed in Jesus, the promise made to all those who have been through the ordeal. Whatever you have been through, whatever ordeal you have faced, this promise is for you.
Are you hungry? Come, and eat. Are you thirsty, drink! Does your body carry pain, illness, scars? Come, and find whatever will bring you and your body rest, care, and healing. Are you alone, abandoned, rejected? You are welcome, valued, and loved—come and be embraced by the God who will not ever cast you out.
Easter reveals hope that comes only after Good Friday, only after death, only on the other side of the ordeal. We read texts like these and know that in Christ, death will never be the end of the story, and that resurrection, healing, life, and hope come when we challenge injustice with faith. When we face the systems that marginalize, stand up against the powers and protocols that judge and oppress, name injustice, and reach our hands across the artificial lines that divide us, we are acting in the faith that God’s vision and promise for us, all of us, is an end to the ordeal.
It can be hard to believe this, can’t it, when the ordeal persists? When the challenges, the pain, the rejection, the failures, continue? Jesus invites us is to join him, to reach out for his hand. Reach out your hand for another who is walking through the ordeal, and is too tired to move. Ask someone to lift you up and carry you when you don’t have the energy to even stand anymore. And know that we may not see it yet, but we are coming closer with every step to the day when the ordeal will end, justice and the love of God will prevail, and John’s vision will come to pass. Thanks be to God!