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Nothing is Lost

Nothing is Lost

A sermon preached for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C,  4/17/16; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30.

“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”

Several years ago, before I began my journey through seminary, I set off on my own to India, traveling around the country and winding up wherever the Spirit happened to land me.  Completely unplanned was a month’s stay at a place call Bodhi Zendo, a Zen retreat center in the mountains of Tamil Nadu.  The Zen master who served as the community’s spiritual guide was Indian, which was perhaps a little strange, as Zen is a flavor of Buddhism found mostly in East Asia.  And maybe stranger, he was also a Jesuit.

While I lived in this community, we sat in meditation for six to eight hours a day, split up by garden work, cleaning, and meals.  It was one day, during one of these lengthy sits, that I was suddenly flooded with this whole host of beautiful memories, all pouring up from forgotten layers of my mind.  Flashes of past relationships, of my parents playing with me when I was a very small child, of friends from elementary school—moments that were all long since gone.

I was struck by how precious they each were, and after the meditation period I sat outside and just cried, passing over each moment again in my mind.  I was struck to the bone by the impermanence of life, how all of these moments were gone, and the question, “Are they lost forever?”  Were they held somewhere in God for eternity?  Or when my memory faded, when our memory fades, will the fragile existence of these memories, these moments, simply end?

Each week we were given an opportunity to meet with the Zen master, Fr. Ama Samy, and ask him a question.  The time was brief, as were his responses.  When my time came that week, I entered the room, offered my respects with a bow, sat down, and asked my question.  Are the moments of life, all of the beauty, the joy, the pain, are those moments held somewhere, or are they lost?

He paused for a moment, and then laughed.  “I don’t know,” he said.

And then he said, “The waves come and go on the ocean.  Are the waves lost?”

*          *          *

“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”

God is the ocean in which every wave is held, and Jesus promises us that in God’s economy nothing is ever lost.  No one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

“The Father and I are one,” Jesus tells us in this morning’s Gospel.  And we who are one with Jesus are also one with the Father, just as the wave is one with the ocean.  And everything that we are, everything that we ever have been, or will be, is held in that ocean.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, the veil is pulled back from Eternity (which is what Revelation, Apocalypsos in Greek, means—unveiling) and we’re given a glimpse of that Moment that holds all moments: “I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

No one has been lost.  Dancing and singing before the Lamb we see the prophets and saints and martyrs, all the lovers of God, and all those whom God loves.  Nothing has been lost—every beautiful moment is held in that eternal dance.

Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and our readings are geared towards that image of Christ as the one who cares for his sheep.  And yet, in this scene from Revelation, Christ is also the sheep, the Lamb who was slain.

He is both shepherd and sheep.  He is the one who leads us, but he is also the one who is one with us in our suffering and our joy.

*          *          *

Some of you may know the story of Steven Callahan, a man who in 1982 was lost for 76 days adrift on the Atlantic Ocean.  Callahan had set sail in a small boat of his own making, heading for the Caribbean from the Canary Islands.  And six days out, during the night, his boat literally exploded—apparently having collided with a whale.  Callahan was left on a five and a half foot life-raft.  Luckily, he managed to save a spear gun, and slowly he learned to shoot and spear fish from a school that began following his raft.

Nevertheless, he was becoming severely dehydrated and weakened, and eventually the spear gun broke, leaving him with only the spear itself.  And it was at this time that the school of fish—still following his boat—began coming close enough for him to spear them by hand.

Eventually, the spear too was lost, and Callahan grew dangerously close to dying.  But it was at this time that the fish began to come close enough to the boat that he could reach into the water and scoop them in.

It was only shortly after this—76 days into this journey at sea—that he spotted land, and was rescued by a crew of fishermen.  The fishermen had had trouble bringing in a catch, and Callahan pointed out the school that had followed his boat for all of this time.  And the fishermen cast their nets and brought them in.

Callahan came to see these fish as a Christ figure, sacrificing themselves to save him.  They shepherded his boat to shore and fed him with their own bodies, drawing closer and closer in order to meet his need.  This is what Christ does.  Christ is, of course, the fisher of people, but he is also the fish, the life given that we might live, drawing ever closer and closer.  He is the Good Shepherd, but he is also the Lamb slain.  He is the ocean, and he is the wave.  He is the oneness in which all things, all of us, all of our beautiful moments, all of our memories, are held.

*          *          *

In Revelation, the saints dance and sing, moving joyously around the Lamb and the throne, the heart of God.  We’re told that these are the ones who have come through the great ordeal; and yet, no one has been lost, all are here.  We see Martin Luther King, Jr. singing, Gandhi dancing, we see our young love and our parents, the child we lost, the friend who died, our moments of pain and beauty, we see everything we have ever known and held dear, all of it moving in waves around the throne,

and the sheep and the shepherd are one,

the fish and the fisherman are one,

the waves and the ocean are one,

Jesus and the Father are one.

And nothing, nothing, is lost.


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