A Horizontal Path

Homily for April 22, 2018
Easter 4B
John 10:11–18

Naoya Hatakeyama-Slow

Slow, by Naoya Hatakeyama

The Japanese photographer Naoya Hatakeyama is known for his photos of cities and cityscapes.  To take his photos, Hatakeyama walks—and walks and walks—and he says that, as he walks, everything in his field of vision reduces to two things: things standing up, and things lying down.  Hatakeyama writes:

 

 

Generally speaking, two kinds of things exist in my field of vision: tatemono—buildings, or, literally translated, “things that are standing”—and “lying things.”  The things that are standing […] resist my vision….  They include street signs, trees, […] fences, walls and pillars, houses and buildings, forests and cliffs, hills and mountains […].

In contrast, the things that are lying down—horizontal things—encompass floors and corridors, grounds and streets, and railroad tracks, as well as sporting fields and airport runways, the surfaces of deserts and great rivers, and the expanse of oceans.  They do not resist my vision.

Hatakeyama considers even his camera to be tatemono, something standing.  The word “camera,” he notes, suggests architecture, deriving from words meaning “chamber” or “room.”  Thus, says Hatakeyama:

A photographer stands in front of architecture, he erects a tripod on the ground, and places his [own] small “building” on it. One architectural element—the object of the photograph—faces another architectural element that will swallow its light; they echo each other’s structure.  First and foremost, the photographer’s task must begin with deliberately listening to this echo.

Herod's Temple-Jerusalem_Modell_BW_3

Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem (model)

It may seem unusual to speak of architecture on “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  One might think that today of all days we would speak—like the Psalmist—of shepherds and pathways, of lying down in green pastures and being led beside still waters.  But… Jesus delivered his famous Good Shepherd lines, not in a rural landscape, but in an urban cityscape.  “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus, in the midst of the bustling city of Jerusalem. “I know my own and my own know me,” he says, surrounded by winding streets, walls, windows and roofs.  “They will listen to my voice,” says Jesus, surrounded by architecture.  And—just a few verses after today’s lesson—Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me,” while “walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon,” a tatemono, a standing thing, if there ever was one.  The Portico of Solomon was a double colonnade of pillars and capitals with a beamed ceiling that towered over the eastern portion of the Temple courtyard, impressing visitors from far and wide.  Jesus’ words about the “Good Shepherd”—as bucolic and rural as they may seem—were spoken within the context of architecture.

Which may have been intentional on John’s part.  John, aware of how difficult it was to accept Jesus, placed Jesus’ words about the Good Shepherd in a setting of “things standing up,” of things that resist, perhaps in order to heighten the contrast to those “lying down things,” like sheep, who do not resist.  There were plenty who resisted Jesus.  As John himself writes, “He came to what was his own but his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11).  But there were also those who did accept Jesus, who listened to his voice and who followed—Jesus’ “sheep,” if you will.

 

Newton Cemetery, October 2017

Photo Credit: Martha Bancroft

And so, to encourage his fledgling community—those seeking to follow, surrounded by a world of resistance—John places the Good Shepherd in the middle of architecture.  As if to say: “Look, Jesus is right here with us in all the ‘architecture’ that surrounds us.  No matter how much resistance we may see in the vertical things standing… Jesus invites us to follow his horizontal, ‘lying down’ path.  No matter where we may find ourselves in life’s winding streets, perhaps lost… Jesus is the gate whereby we may come and go and find pasture.  No matter how narrow the spaces or how imposing the walls that close down our vision… Jesus is the Good Shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly.”  Indeed, John’s Gospel is filled with “lying down” images that suggest Jesus’ “horizontal path:” the cripple lying down at the pool of Beth-Zatha and whom Jesus healed; Mary Magdalene bending low to anoint Jesus’ feet; the Beloved Disciple reclining on Jesus’ breast at their final meal.

 

 

Sometimes it’s hard not to resist God; there are so many “standing things” around us that resist our vision or that seem to suggest a better way than the Gospel.  And our relationship with God, like all intimate relationships, will sometimes be one of resistance.  But there is an “echo” between God and us:

First and foremost, the photographer’s task must begin with deliberately listening to this echo [when] one […] —the object of the photograph—faces another […] that will swallow its light.

There is an echo between our hearts and God, between God’s facing us and our facing God.  Even though we may at times be inclined to resist God, yet our hearts were made for God.  We were made to hear our Shepherd’s voice, we were made to respond to him, we were made to follow where Jesus leads.  The Shepherd invites us to deliberately listen to the “echo” and to discern what happens between our “camera” and his own “inner chamber.”

Chancel lamb medallion

Lamb medallion, stained glass by Charles Connick, 1915, Trinity Parish Photo Credit: Martha Bancroft

If in the Eucharist we swallow the bread and wine, Jesus’ body and blood, maybe in the Eucharist we can also, like a camera, “swallow his light.”  Maybe the Eucharist can help us to see—like Hatakeyama walking about the city—the extraordinary in the common, to see the Good Shepherd beckoning to us in our every-day life.  As much as deep-down our hearts long for him, so does his heart long for us.  Our Shepherd wishes to shepherd us and feed us; he yearns for us to follow.  He understands that, of course, we will sometimes resist—resistance is part of any intimate relationship.  Yet our Shepherd stands patiently before us, his “chamber” facing our “chamber,” inviting us to hear the echo.  The echo of Jesus’ voice calling.  Calling us by name.  Calling us just as he called “Mary” outside the tomb on Easter morning.  May we in our lives hear his voice; may we in this Eucharist “swallow his light.”  There is no sound more thrilling to the human heart to hear, no light more dazzling to see, no life more satisfying to live than is to follow the Good Shepherd and to serve him wherever he may lead.

 

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