The rain has cleared and a dome of blue sits gently upon the Bay Area making us believe in spring, the air light with promise.
We are in glorious Eastertide, and the high altar this morning remains covered with white lilies. The sweet Madonna and Child to the left of the pulpit, votives flaming at her feet, rises above a bed of flowers. Floral scents mingle with frankincense as the thurifer leads the procession up the red carpet. Would Heaven be like this?
Far away, on the other side of the world, a volcano erupts through glacier blocks, sending plumes of smoke and fire, filling the sky with glassy ash that slowly blankets Europe. Lightning bolts through the plumes creating infernos from the earth’s depths. It is as though the earth itself is exploding, laughing at man’s claims to control her.
My thoughts this morning wandered, I fear, away from the great Action of the Mass, to these massive acts of the natural world, and to man’s smallness, his creature-ness. We had planned to fly to London soon, but perhaps not so soon.
But even so, the great Action of the Mass continued and I returned to my prayers, to take part in the liturgy, the work of the people. I listened to the Epistle and Gospel, and turned toward the pulpit to hear the words of the sermon.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Gospel for today, Christ says He is the good shepherd who knows his sheep. Our preacher explained that in the East the shepherd leads the sheep, contrary to the West where the shepherd herds the sheep ahead of him. The sheep know their shepherd, else how could they follow, and the shepherd knows his sheep. Indeed, Jesus says, He knows his sheep as He knows his Father, God. It is an intimate knowledge, this shepherd-sheep knowing; it is a knowing full of love and sacrifice.
“Such knowledge is too excellent for me,” the Psalmist says, and again I am stunned by the love of God. For each of us deeply wants to be known, really known, truly loved. How do we respond, find this love? We follow the Shepherd; we enter this miraculous, amazing relationship. We follow in His steps, reading His word, partaking in his Sacraments. We unite with Him in the Eucharist where, in the Consecration of the simple creatures of bread and wine, His words become flesh. The Good Shepherd knows his own; He knows me. The disciples knew the risen Christ when he broke bread with them. Just so, we know Him in the bread of the Eucharist. He abides in us, and we in Him.
The volcano continues to spew from the heart of the earth, through ice into sky, and as the images fill our screens, I am grateful for God’s immense love, that He shepherds us through this world of cataclysmic change, through wars and famine, through unknown futures in time and space. I rejoice that as I journey through this life, I am reminded by the Church to simply follow the steps of our Shepherd, the one who pulls us to Himself, through word and sacrament, through His Body the Church.
Simply follow, and all will be well. Such excellence.