Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
"Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no dominion over Him." This is the sustained note of Eastertide. On this second Sunday after Easter, the Epistle bids us to think of Our Lord as the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. The Gospel gives us Our Lord's own instruction upon the subject. "I am the good Shepherd." We all love this Gospel. We find great comfort in it. It makes us very humble. But as a matter of fact it tells us the plain truth about ourselves.
In religious matters we are like sheep. Helpless if we are left to ourselves. Confused if we are left to the vagaries of a crowd spirit. Led astray if we are left to misguided leaders. There is something attractive in what is called rugged individualism. But there is also the danger of eccentricity. There is something inspiring in crowds. But there is also the danger of mob hypnotism. It requires vigilance and proper self-control to avoid the dangers of both.
We are conscious of this difficulty in the secular world. We need not be surprised if we encounter it in the religious world. But there is this difference. In religion we have a Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. If we unhappily err and stray like lost sheep, there is always the way of return to the good Shepherd.
This in itself would not be enough. There is need of the good shepherd who giveth his life for the sheep. When the hirelings have all fled at the approach of the wolf, the good shepherd remains to rescue his sheep, if need be at the cost of his own life. The good shepherd knows his sheep. He calls each one by name. His sheep know him. They recognize his voice, and follow when he calls. He leads, they follow into the fold and are safe.
The good shepherd's love overflows and reaches out to other sheep who need to be sought and found and brought into the one fold and under the protection of the one shepherd. The good shepherd loves the lost sheep. The lost sheep hear his voice because it is the voice of love. The good shepherd will not rest until all his sheep are safe in the one fold. They cannot return of themselves, because they have lost their way. They must be brought and he alone can bring them.
"Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no dominion over Him." The risen Lord is our good Shepherd. We are the sheep. The fold is His Church. It is all very simple. The Collect for the day sums it up. "Give us grace that we may always receive that His inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life."
There is the wolf. Yes. The wolf is the devil. Where we least suspect him, there he lurks. His attacks are as varied as they are unexpected. But we must always remember that Our Risen Lord has given to us the power to be alive unto God, to walk in newness of life. This new life is a victorious life.
The disciples learned this during their forty days of Eastertide. They became inspired by a victorious faith. All fear was banished. This change is impressively evident. They spoke and acted and lived confidently. They followed their Shepherd without hesitation. They were undaunted by a hostile world. They were in the world, but they were not of the world. They consciously and confidently lived within the fold which they knew to be under the protection of One who had overcome the world. They felt secure in the fold against which the gates of hell could not prevail.
When the time came, they left the upper room in which they first were gathered in fear, and they went boldly to extend the fold until finally it has reached to the uttermost ends of the earth. Into this fold the good Shepherd has called His sheep. The under-shepherds, under His direction, have sought and found and guided those whom He has called. And the sheep have heard and followed the one Shepherd into the one Fold.
So you are living your lives in the Fold. Within the Fold you are living with the Good Shepherd, your risen, victorious Lord. You are singing your raster praise within His courts. You are being fed and guarded. Your life within the Fold is the lasting joy of Easter. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.
Affectionately in Our Lord,