"The Gate" – Rev. Tony Romaine – April 26th, 2020
When I was a child in Elementary school, I can remember lining up by the doors to go outside for recess. I remember the anticipation of wanting to get out and get to the bag for the ball I needed, or to be the first person to race to the swing and get the best of all the swings. I remember the excitement I felt at being freed for even a little bit during the school day to go and run and play and be happy and joyful with my friends. And I like to remember that care-free, child-like nature when I hear this Gospel today about Jesus being our Gate.
But before we can talk about Jesus being the gate, we must also speak about Jesus as Shepherd. Why does Jesus make such a good shepherd? Because he is both at once the lamb and the shepherd. He is the one who will die to take away all of our sins, the innocent lamb that was led to the Cross in order to pay the ultimate price for our degradation of the gifts God gave us. He is, in the words of 1 Peter for today, the one who committed no sin and spoke no deceit. And he is the one who suffered greatly and did not answer back violence with violence, but peacefully laid his life down for all our salvation.
But at the same time Jesus did this, He was also the Shepherd who would lead us into the blessed fields of eternal life. The Shepherd who looks after His flock with unending watchfulness. The Shepherd who would go searching for the one lost sheep, the Shepherd who wants all of His sheep to be in the fold, and again, the Shepherd who puts His own life up against all odds for the sheep in His pasture.
This is why the metaphor of the gate is so wonderful. Remember from our Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Where once there were locked doors that disciples were hiding behind, now we have open gates. Where once we could not possibly know the way and the truth and the light, now Jesus is our gate and begs us come and find pasture. Where once we were lost and tumbling in a whirlwind of sin and greed, we are now saved through an open door to freedom.
But let us take this metaphor of Jesus being the gate even farther. In the beginning of creation itself, we were given everything, we lived in pastures of green and in the Garden of Eden, we had it all. There was not a gate closed to us at all, except as we know, the one tree we were not supposed to eat from. When we, through our own free will given to us by God, sinned and were forced to leave the garden, the gate was locked and we were not allowed to re-enter the garden ever again. This is not to say that God did not want us there in the garden, that God did not want us to be in pastures of providence, that God did not want us to be safe and in relationship with Him; but we had committed a sin which would forever taint our humanity and that meant the gate must be closed.
Let us fast-forward though, because to me it seems at some point after thousands of years of trying to get the point across to humanity that we must pursue God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul; that we were given free will to choose God; that after years and years and years of humanity still trusting in their own capacities and their own power and their own wealth, thinking that they were the ones who provided it for themselves; it seems at this point that God had a revelation of sorts.
God realized that because of the creation event and the gift of free-will, humanity will inevitably sin and not always choose the right and holy path. Thus, a new covenant had to be made, one based on pure grace where humanity would be saved not through destruction and re-creation, but through a gift from God of forgiveness and mercy; through the gift of an open gate and a forgiving God. As it states in Jeremiah 31:34, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” It was as if God was saying to humanity through the prophet Jeremiah, “Yes I know you are bound to sin from time-to-time, yes I know that there is goodness in my creation, and so in order for the goodness to shine I must be the one to forgive, the one to be Holy, the one to be almighty, and in return trust that through a gift of grace my creation will turn toward me.” This completely free gift of grace thus leads to the gate being opened and Jesus being our gate!
Theologically I cannot say whether that means we will return to Eden or if Revelations is correct and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. However, one thing I am sure of is that because God’s grace has shone through Jesus into our lives, because of God’s grace upon the Cross where our sins have been paid for by the ultimate price, the sacrificial lamb of Jesus, God Incarnate; that wherever that pasture of green and plenty is for us, the gate has been forever opened and can never be closed again.
See, this is the new covenant we talk about when we take Communion, when we take from the cup of the blood of the New Covenant; that we are forgiven by the sacrifice of Our Shepherd, and in that moment, the path is made clear for our eternal salvation.
Which is why the text from Acts for today is so powerful. When the people of ancient Jerusalem and the surrounding areas heard those words condemning them as the ones who had crucified the living Christ, they immediately were ashamed and heartbroken. So it should be for us when we hear these words, when we hear at what cost our lives have been paid, when we understand what it took for us to be given an open gate to an eternal pasture.
But, just like those Israelites of old that Peter was preaching to, so should we hear this lesson today not as a condemnation of our souls, but as a call for us to repent and to turn toward God; a call to re-commit our lives as sheep who have been given an open gate to the greenest of pastures. That through our baptism, we have received the Holy Spirit and through that baptism, we are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That with, and by, the power of the Holy Spirit, we can proclaim the resurrected Christ to the world and call the world to be a place of love where all God’s children can be welcomed into God’s eternal fold.
But more so for our present day and age, we can offer a tender message of comfort amidst adversity; of God coming alongside a lost generation, of God coming alongside his Creation and being there to walk through the pains and ills and abuses of life. For this is truly one of the most powerful pieces of our Trinitarian belief, that Jesus was God Incarnate, our open gate, and so was completely human at the same time. Which means that Jesus felt the same pains we feel, caught the same illnesses we catch, and certainly felt the loneliness we all feel.
Furthermore, Jesus suffered the same way we suffer, perhaps he suffered even more than we can know what suffering is; because, while we suffer from the anguish of physical and emotional pain, which Jesus surely suffered from also; Jesus also suffered as God knowing that his was the price to pay as Our Great Shepherd to open the gate for us. That this sacrifice was His and His alone, and that we to this day would still be, as our Gospel states, misunderstanding what Jesus was teaching us.
And what is Jesus teaching us today? “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is beckoning us, as the Good Shepherd He is, to come and be saved, to come and find pasture, to enter in and to go out. Jesus is calling us to never forget the cost it took to open that gate, to be that gate; but Jesus is also calling us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to share this Good News of the open gate with the world.
And like children who rush through the doors of the school, who race to the swing set or to the jungle gym or to the basketball court; like children who run free with arms wide open feeling every part of their creation, Jesus is calling us to come in, to go out, and to find that blessed pasture where we can roam forgiven and freed, Amen!