The grave could not hold him. No one people could possess him. No one sect or religion or culture could claim the Christ as theirs alone. The Spirit of God, of Jesus the Risen One, continued to surprise and shock and amaze and scandalize—not just in Galilean synagogues, or Samaritan towns, or Centurions’ households, or the courts of the Temple in Jerusalem– but in a blessed rampage from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The Spirit prodded them and preceded them, beyond their boundaries, their ideas of clean and unclean, rich and poor, man and woman, slave or free, Jew and Gentile. This is the story we are following in the Acts of the Apostles.
But the Gospel we have been hearing along with Acts, prompts the question. What about the sheepfold? What of the safety in containment, the expectation of a voice they knew to guide them and guard them? What of their trust in the faithful presence of the one who called and named them? Jesus reiterates his abiding care, the comfort and clarity of a familiar call, his naming us with love. But now– the Risen Jesus has penetrated the walls, the Voice has dispersed into a hundred languages, the gates of the sheepfold have blown open in a mighty wind. Anyone can go out. Anyone can come in. The sheep to be gathered roam all over the earth.
The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of apostles and disciples dealing with surprise after surprise. The fearful preach boldly. Boundaries are crossed. Arguments ensue. The unacceptable becomes acceptable and then the norm. But even as their souls were seared and strengthened, their hearts opened in joy beyond any known dimension, they had lost the Jesus they thought they knew, as the Risen One sent forth the Spirit.
Through the Christian centuries two realities grate against one another: the comfort of boundaries and protective fences, the strength in a particular community and its norms, versus the disturbances of the Spirit (the rattling of our cages). We cover our ears against intruding voices, even as the Gospel demands new hearing and new languages. We retreat into the fold of the familiar, the peace of restful waters even as wars and hatred ravage the landscapes of our earth and demand our presence as active lovers and peacemakers.
Jesus is risen. His glory pervades the universe. His Word cannot be chained; his Spirit cannot be tamed. This is our faith. His promise is to be with us always, and that we will be brought together, one flock and one shepherd. The catch is, that on any given day, he hands the staff over to you or me or any number of sheepish humans, and tells us to carry it. Shall we open or shut the gate, shall we gather or scatter? It’s Divine Insanity, as Catherine of Siena told God, to love us enough to trust us as partners, so to speak, in the work of salvation. But that’s what we’ve been carrying on about this Easter Season. Earth unites with heaven, and humankind is bonded to God. It doesn’t demand human clarity. An Alleluia will be just fine. Yes, Alleluia!