I Pet. 2:19-25
I believe that today's Gospel can be expanded to include the next two verses, giving us a fuller context:
"Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father."
The scriptures we have heard today tie together very profound mysteries about Christ’s sacrificial death, His patience and suffering, and about the care for us that the Risen Christ shows even now by continuing to guide His Church.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” So wrote Isaiah in his famous Suffering Servant passage, the passage from which Saint Peter draws in today's Epistle. I have said before that the Suffering Servant passage goes beyond Christ’s atoning death, predicting as well his resurrection by telling us that he would, after death, “prolong his days” as the agent of God’s will.
It predicts the day of Pentecost by telling us that Christ would “divide the spoil with the strong.” This echoes words from Psalm 68: 18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us, through the prophetic oracle, that all of the grace, and, indeed every gift, that God gives to us has come by way of the cross of Christ.
St. Anselm taught that Christ did all the work, and after earning a great reward for his labor, gives all of the benefits of his work away. He gives all of the earning, profit and reward to us. For, he is God the Son, and has need of nothing. St. Peter puts it to us with great force: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” That’s the first message. Christ offered himself as the Lover of mankind, in fact, as the one who loves you. He is the sacrifice not just for the whole world, but for you; dying as much for each as for all. This is why I tell you so often; when you look up at the crucifix where he pours out his soul unto death, and you see his love there, take it personally.
We see in our Collect that we are to look upon Christ’s death and suffering as both an example of godly life and as the sacrifice for our sins. Unless we know that 53rd chapter of Isaiah, we cannot understand what Saint Peter is saying, nor can we fully grasp the meaning of today’s Gospel, or those other words of Isaiah from the 40th chapter: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” All that gentle care and goodness involved His death; and the Shepherd is the Risen Christ who cares for His Church until the Day when he comes again in glory. It is not enough to picture the Good Shepherd gently carrying a lamb in His arms, unless we see the print of the nails in His hands.
His goodness and love are demonstrated by His death. He has nothing else to prove. If His ways seem hard to learn, or His commandments seem burdensome, we must remember that He already has shown His love; therefore, we ought to trust that what He requires of us is due to His love- it is all for our good.
As the Shepherd He cares for us and commits the cure of souls to earthly pastors who represent Him. The true ministry of bishops and priests is to aid the salvation of your souls. Easy church membership is a disservice. We must not make everything too easy, because if we do that we frustrate the working of God’s grace in your lives. This is why even in Easter we may need to be reminded that we do not stop carrying the cross in this life. We cannot set our affection on things above (Col. 3:2) without the aid of the cross, that is, the cross we must carry as His disciples.
And, there is no Gospel without the cross. It is no coincidence that the religious bodies that have considered themselves too sophisticated to believe in the resurrection of Christ have become the ones who fit Saint Paul's description as "enemies of the cross of Christ." (Phil. 3:18) Their Christ has no nail prints in His hands, no cross, because the cross without the resurrection is the opposite of hope. They are left with "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Their happiness ends in sorrow, their party ends in despair. But, the carrying of the cross ends in hope; it ends in the resurrection. We do not join in with the Hedonism of modern society and modern religion, because we have too much to hope for.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." (I John 3:1-3)
Only as the Risen Christ, scars and all, he still leads us. With the marks of his death yet in his hands, his feet and his side, the living risen Christ, our Shepherd, leads us. So, we follow not only the example of patience and holiness; we follow His direction and hear His voice. Herein is a great danger: We can be religious without hearing His voice; we can build churches without hearing His voice. Remember, the Hebrew word sh’mai means both to hear and to obey. If we will obey Him, and make the effort, then we know Him as He knows the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” ( John 17:3)
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan and Lucy, upon hearing that Aslan is a lion, ask, “is he safe?” Mr. Beaver answers: “Lord love ya’ child. ‘Course he’s not safe. But, he is good.” As we all know, Aslan represents Jesus Christ. And so C.S. Lewis provides a true insight for us: The Lord is not safe, but He is good. Goodness means that he does not deal with us as we deserve, but for our well-being. To save your soul from eternal death He endured the cross; and to give you the full benefit of His cross He provides the cross for you to carry as His disciple, so that you may purify yourself as He is pure. That is, to live with the purpose of being made holy. This is goodness, not safety. Christianity is not a safe religion; it is, in fact, the stuff of which martyrs are made. There is no Gospel without the cross. There is no Gospel without the Risen Christ. To follow the Good Shepherd we must go through the valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil. We have this hope in ourselves, because we know that when we shall see Him we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
"Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps."