Easter 4:  John 10: 1-10

“I am the gate”   we hear Jesus say  in this passage from John’s Gospel.  It’s one the distinctive features of John’s Gospel … all these I am sayings … I am the bread of life; I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the good shepherd; I am the true vine; I am the light of the world; I am the resurrection and the life. It says something about the community of John’s Gospel, about what they came to understand about Jesus that these words are placed on Jesus’ lips. 

“I am the gate.”  I wonder what this reveals?

In my mind’s eye, I find myself drawn to the Japanese Garden on the lakeshore in New Denver … where Bev and I have spent entire days in the course of a couple of summer holidays.  It’s a beautiful garden … and as so many Japanese Gardens are, a restful place … places to sit, places to reflect, places to be quiet, undisturbed because it is enclosed.  And there’s something about the gate that marks both the entrance and the exit to the garden.  It’s a feature in itself.  It stands as a welcome in a way.  On the way in, it tells you you are crossing over into to something special, as if to bless you as you enter.  On the way out, it invites your pause … you know you are leaving and that you are leaving with more than that with which you arrived.  It's the gate on your way out that tells you once again you are crossing over, this time back into the wider world … and once more, it’s as though it blesses you on your way.

“I am the gate,” we hear Jesus say, in this case[ as he works this metaphor of the sheepfold … that night-time enclosure and place of safety for sheep, where there’s not just an opening in the stone wall, but a gate … a way in that is passed through and secured, a critical feature in the creation and provision of a true resting place. 

“I am the gate,” we hear Jesus say.

But the fold is a resting place, not a forever place. Come the morning light, the shepherd arrives to release the sheep into open pasture, through the gate … that way out that is passed through into the expansiveness of pasture, a world of nourishment, of adventure, of wandering amidst beauty and danger. 

“I am the gate,” we hear Jesus say.

In both coming and going, in entering and leaving, the gate opens a way. The gate opens a way into rest and the gate opens the way into the day’s activity … into Sabbath time perhaps,  and into full engagement in the world.  “I am the gate,” we hear Jesus say, as though welcoming us into rest and ushering us into the wideness of the world.

Notice that either way, in both ways, it’s about passing through this narrowing, this narrow way.  This is the thing about Sabbath time … there needs to be a letting go to enter into it …  setting aside for a time the things we haven’t got to, for the sake of soul restoring rest; letting go of our sense that it’s all up to us, that we might notice and celebrate how so much of life is given; it’s the way of Sabbath time to make room for gratitude and ease and connection.  As it turns out passing through this narrowing, this gate, leads us into a great richness, a land of plenty.

But Sabbath time isn’t forever time, so there comes the move out of that protective enclosure to full engagement in the world.  What does it mean then that Jesus is this passage way, this narrowing way by which move out into the world? Well, there’s a letting go that’s asked of us in making this move too isn’t there, for Jesus’ way is marked by forgiveness, by justice, by generosity.  His is the way of non-violence, non-violence of action and non-violence of heart.  His is the way of self-giving; and the way of “not my will O God, but yours.”  You can hear it can’t you … in this narrowing way is in fact the way to fullness of life, abundant life for all.

We’re hearing a lot these days about opening up our economy, opening up businesses, schools … relaxing the restrictions on our movements, our activities.  In a gradual way of course in the hope of doing it safely.  There’s this growing eagerness to return to “normal life.”  It will indeed be lovely to see each other again, to meet in the flesh again. But what if getting back to life as we once knew it wasn’t actually our goal.  What if in moving out of this time of enclosure we actually make our way into a very different life … a new life, where we take with us some of the beautiful insights that have dawned upon us in this time.  Surely we are appreciating in ways we might not have grasped before how all of life is so interconnected … “we are all in this together” is the way we’ve come to speak of it.  We need each other, we affect each other.  We are discovering what it is to make sacrifices for the sake of life for others.  We are discovering how vulnerable we all are AND  if we didn’t realize it before we’re getting it now, how devastating neglect and poverty are, here and around the world.  We are also discovering the amazing capacity of the earth to heal as we slow our compulsive production and consumption of goods -- goods that it turns out we can live without. 

There’s a very real possibility that in moving out of this time of enclosure we could actually make our way into a very different life.  We already know that the old life is unsustainable, economically unjust and ecologically devastating. Meanwhile there is another way that leads to abundant life.  How might we find ourselves on that pathway? What would it mean for us … what would it take for us to go for it?

How timely as we approach this phase of moving out of this enclosure, how timely -- and surely not just coincidentally--  that today we would hear Jesus remind us “I am the gate.  Why don’t you let me usher you out … bless you by this narrowing way as you go!  And oh by the way, I’m not only the gate we hear him say.  I am your shepherd.  I’m here to lead you, to abide with you, to show you this way … for it is for this and this time that I have come, that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

Can you hear it … it is for us to let go and be led by the one who so loves the whole creation, who calls us by name, who knows us deeply, and so wills for us all abundant life.

So what if this was to become our prayer …

Gentle shepherd,
you who lead me to abundant life,
to live so others also may follow
and find green pastures:
help me know your voice,
recognize your calling,
hear my name.
Give me grace to listen
for your voice,
deep within,
so quiet, yet so clear,
the voice of One who leads,
leads to still waters,
leads through deathly valleys,
leads through all suffering, all joy,
leads to abundant life,
you whose very life is a leading,
whose love is a voice,
speaking to me,
speaking in me.
I quiet my soul.
I listen.

I listen for you.

I listen … for you. [1]

[1] Steve Garnaas Holmes, “The Shepherd’s Voice” 


(Photo Credit: Gordon Miller)