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Readings: 4th Sunday of Easter

12 April 2013

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[Genesis 7.1-5, 11-18, 8.6-18, 9.8-13;] Acts 9.36-end, Revelation 7.9-end; John 10.22-30

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

ONE of the joys of hearing three readings on a Sunday and praying a collect is that the readings and prayers interpret each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. Children tend to hear the Noah story on its own as a vivid tale that grabs their attention because of all the animals, while in March a full cathedral at Durham enjoyed seeing and hearing the story sung in a wonderful performance of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde.

Recently, my baptism and confirmation group looked at the story of Noah and the flood in the context of God's saving actions, as recounted in the overall biblical story, and, in particular, of its baptismal imagery for Christians. Today, however, we hear it alongside a very different story - that of Jesus's being quizzed by antagonistic people, and of his reply, which refers to sheep hearing his voice and following him.

Jesus had been speaking about being the good shepherd, in the same breath as he spoke of thieves, bandits, and wolves. He faced the animosity of the religious leaders of his day, and his disciples could be forgiven for feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps they were tempted to slip away quietly. The opposition had ganged up and surrounded Jesus in the Temple - a malicious and threatening mob, which, in the very next verse, took up stones ("again", John tells us) to attack him.

In this situation, Jesus was a model to the disciples of how their shepherd was not afraid to face danger, and would not abandon his calling in order to protect himself. He embodied the commitment of a good shepherd who does not run away; no one would snatch them out of his hand, or, indeed, from God's hand. Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Lamb at the centre of the throne in the vision of heaven in Revelation, was their shepherd.

What does the story of Noah look like if we let it rub up against Jesus's words and example? When God created the world, he saw that it was very good; now (Genesis 6.11) he saw that it was corrupt and filled with violence. God, who had made such a glorious world, now considered the unthinkable idea of destroying it. Noah alone was righteous; so, as a corollary to the destruction of the world, Noah needed rescuing, like a sheep in danger. The question was: would Noah hear God's voice and follow?

In Noye's Fludde, it is Mrs Noah who refuses to listen, and mocks the idea of going into the ark because she is having too much of a good time with her friends - an early version of a girls' night out. The Bible, however, remains tantalisingly silent about how God and Noah debated the crazy proposition that he should build a large ark in the middle of dry ground, and then goad the animals into it.

It is easy to imagine the neighbours mocking as they watch him devote all his time and resources to this seemingly daft construction project. His reputation would be in tatters, and no attempt at explanation would be taken seriously.

Behind a good story with much dramatic potential, exploited by Britten, lies a more serious point, especially in the context of today's Psalm (Psalm 23) and Gospel reading. Sometimes, the call of God comes to us when we are living in a context that is hostile to this call, that mocks and laughs. Hearing and following in that situation takes courage.

Besides these two readings, we hear how Peter raised Dorcas. There is an interesting little detail in the way the story is told. Peter put all the weeping people outside, and turned to the body, saying: "Tabitha, get up." It seems that Peter was following Jesus's example when he raised Jairus's daughter from the dead.

Jesus put all the weeping people outside, and took the girl by the hand, and said: "Little girl, get up." Also on that occasion, the people had laughed at Jesus (Mark 5.40). Had Peter learned to ignore the mocking, to hear Jesus's voice and follow him, just as Jesus told people that his sheep would do?

 

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