Sunday Week 4 of Easter

The other years of the cycle of readings are a lot easier to handle than this one. They focus on the shepherd, on the one who guides us, the one who’s voice we know, the one we can be certain of. But today we have an image I find altogether more uncomfortable: ‘I tell you most solemnly, I am the gate of the sheepfold’. The gate. I guess it’s an image about safety and safekeeping: ‘anyone who enters through me will be safe; he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture’. But I’m not sure I like the image… I do want to be safe, I’m sure of that. But gates can be shut as well as open; gates keep out as well as letting in. Maybe our safety depends on thieves and murderers being kept out. Maybe for us to have life to the full some others have to have far less. Maybe.
We have a problem with gates here. They keep breaking down. They get stuck on open. The local kids climb them, fiddle them, abuse them. To us the gates are a necessary evil. They deter vandals and car thieves. They keep the grounds quiet so that John’s garden can be the place of peace we want it to be for our retreatants. They keep the grounds a safe place to walk in at night. Or at least they should. We want them to.
But for a necessary evil our gates are quite grand, all wrought iron and gold leaf, with the name of Jesus on each one: the gate of the sheepfold.
Retreatants often say they feel a real sense of peacefulness when they come through those gates to this oasis. But it’s an oasis won with iron bars and barbed wire.
What do our neighbours think? What do the kids who sneak past them think? How do they see this place? Forbidden? Mysterious? A place to hide? A place for pranks?
Robert Frost says, ‘before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence’.
We know here what we are walling out but what are we walling in?
I’m not talking about Loyola Hall but about the Church.