Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
7th May 2017
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A
“I am the door of the sheepfold”. John10.4
Where there are doors, there are also keys and locks; where there are doors there are defended spaces; divided off. Doors may serve as a means of demarcation and of exclusion, and where there are doors there is the possibility of a welcome entering in or a shutting out. Doors of our churches are Easter doors, they should open like the Easter tomb and this openness will invite us into a place where new life is offered and received. The openness of the Easter message is a proclamation of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. Jesus is the door of the sheepfold. He beckons the believer to enter into a new and singular place. At the Ordination of new clergy in the Diocese of London, the Great West Doors of St Paul’s Cathedral are given a rare opening for the candidates to enter in. At the beginning of an enthronement ceremony for a Bishop, the west door of the cathedral is shut against him, and he must raise his shepherd’s crook and hammer it against the this massive door to gain entry…The new bishop must be seen not to be one of the spiritual bandits mentioned in the Gospel, but a spiritual leader for who must express in his ministry of leadership the openness which the open doors represent. The open doors offer in the Christian context fluid lines of entry and exit, in which faith and trust and welcome mix and merge. The One who calls is the same One who also welcomes and receives us in love. God is ever receptive.
For today’s Gospel writer John, Jesus is ‘the door of the sheepfold’. He is both the shepherd and the door. He is the one who both calls us and leads us into the household of faith. The door is the one which leads to the sheepfold and acts as its only conduit. We may have seen a herd of sheep pressed against a sheep door ready for dipping. The door is opened to let one in at a time. The door acts as a control to the means of entry into the fold. And in this simple descriptive way, John’s Gospel, a Gospel for the life of the emerging Church, insists upon Jesus as “The Way, the Truth and the Life”, and it is in Jesus that the way to the Father is secured. Remember that the very early Christian Church practised a Christianity known simply as ’The Way’. One way. Amid a world like ours where there were many completing religions and viewpoints, the insistence on ‘one’ way was a definite mark of the Church’s preaching of the Gospel of Christ. There was one Jesus Christ and one Way.
Most churches like ours have heavy gothic oak doors, which are sadly have so often kept shut. I once read an old book that Elsie Crossland, a former member of our congregation now departed, had left on the table at the back of church. It was written by a former Parish Priest of nearby Mary’s Church Eversholt Street, Father Desmond Morse-Boycott. Father Desmond wrote movingly about life in the London slums of the 1920s from direct experience and decried those churches which were shut against those who needed them the most: the way-farer, the poor and lonely as well as the interested traveller. The care for the churches furniture and properties had surely to be balanced with the Christian Gospel command that the Faith be in all essentials an OPEN faith – open to the outside elements, to the neighbourhood, the society and the world beyond the church walls. How was the Gospel to be proclaimed without Gospel hospitality? At the very least churches like this ours, too little open, might ask ourselves the question “Do we keep our church locked because we have not yet discovered the imagination or the will to keep it open?” “Is the church locked through our prudence or our lack of risk and of get up and go?” The fact remains that our churches remain a vital point of contact with the living God and the real world. Our visitors are a part of our identity as a serving church, and not something added onto it. They are part of us, with their hopes and dreams, their hopes and anxieties, their desire to give thanks, their longing for communion and the receiving of grace, their lighting of a candle or their keeping of silence in such a hallowed space. It is in this sense that Tertullian, an early Christian writer, stated that the Church existed for those outside its membership.
The Gospels for Eastertide are Gospels for and on behalf of the life and witness of God’s Church. The Resurrection is above all else a deliverance from fear and a living for Christ, a listening to the voice of Jesus who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. In the London of 2017 it is going to become more important that our churches can make that 180 degree turn outwards and in and among the communities they serve. A Church turning itself toward the stranger, the traveller, onto our local community, onto London, onto our world and its life and especially onto and available to its suffering and pain. Our own architect has drawn attention to the fact that though this church has over sixty windows, through none of them may one look into the church or out onto the street. Maybe we can change this?
The Church is not just a lot of buildings with mock medieval doors, but people like you and me. The figure of Jesus as the Door of the Sheepfold is the one who is calling us to a greater realisation in our own lives of his loving compassion. As we meet Christ in this Eucharist this morning a prayer is being asked of us. That the doors of our own minds and hearts, closed off through fear may, by the gentle action of this Eucharist, be opened a little, and that the light of Christ’s Resurrection and its liberating power and radical acceptance may flood into those places which have been closed off. If we can experience God in this way there then lies the hope of a church which begins to truly live the Resurrection it proclaims. It will have experienced the renewal of heart and mind and welcome the stranger and the alien with open arms. Christ will have become ‘the door to the sheepfold’ where all may now be drawn in…