Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. This is the day that begins the season of Lent. We traditionally smear black ashes on our foreheads, in the sign of the cross, and proclaim, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” over each other.
It’s really an upbeat service!
Tomorrow presents an interesting challenge to me as a preacher. We follow the Narrative Lectionary, and this year we are working through the Gospel of John. The Lectionary calls for John 10:1-18 as text from which we should preach. This is the famous text in which Jesus proclaims, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
What does the Good Shepherd have to do with Ash Wednesday?
There are two problems with this text. First, it has no apparent connection to Ash Wednesday. Second, it is not a stand alone text, but is actually the climax and conclusion of the story of the man born blind that we preached on this past weekend.
Here are the visual notes I’ve put together to try to connect these things. Enjoy!
This is a painting I did after visiting Yellowstone National Park. Forests burn, and in the burning they bring new life.
We put ashes on our forehead to remind us of our mortality and to compel us to move deeper into the path of discipleship. It is a path that follows Jesus to the cross, to death, and then to resurrection.
Our text for today is actually the conclusion of the the sign of sight for the blind in John 9:1-10:21. It is all about the blindness of the religious leaders and the light of Jesus.
Jesus heals the blind man.
Jesus declares that he is the light of the world and there is a debate over how this could have happened.
Jesus explains the sign with two metaphors. First, he is the gate for the sheep. The religious leaders are thieves who jump the fence. The way of Jesus is the way of abundant life in relationship with God.
The second metaphor is the Good Shepherd. The sheep hear his voice, they see him, they know him.
Notice what the Good Shepherd is willing to do. He will die for the sheep.
This story is a foreshadowing of the journey Jesus will make to the cross. It is a journey we must all take if we want to be true followers of Jesus. We must go to the cross, because it is only through death that new life can happen. We must die to the ego, to the false self, to the fear, shame, and hatred that we harbor.
When we listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and walk through that gate, we will know the deeper riches of God’s grace upon grace in this life and forever.