An “I” that makes you think

Suffering—hoping, being lonely—having friends: seldom in the year do these contrasts become more apparent than between Good Friday and Easter. And already for the second time, this period has been dominated by a pandemic that has now claimed the lives of over 2.7 million people.

The influential philosopher Karl Jaspers once said: “Hopelessness is the anticipation of defeat.” Sure, in the end there is always the hope for better times. Despite all the suffering, there is still that spark of confidence that drives us humans to keep going, to keep trying. Jesus Christ, who is the subject of the commemoration of Good Friday and Easter, has always conveyed this very hope. One of the central ideas of the New Testament contains only three words: “On the third day…”!

So how can we, who live today, claim for ourselves the hope that radiates from Jesus? Well actually, Good Friday encourages us to follow Jesus on His way to the cross. He took our guilt upon Himself and consented to die for us so that we could live. The mission for us as Christians is to connect with our Saviour Jesus Christ and disconnect ourselves from anything that could separate us from Him.

That might sound a little demanding at first, but only for those who are not prepared to refocus and consider the matter further. After all, the whole story has not yet been told. The first and second day are followed by the third day! And it is on that day that hope breaks fully into the life of the Christian: the tomb is empty! Easter attests to the omnipotence of God. For Christians the hope of the resurrection is an essential element of faith. It is one of the great Christian mysteries and exists in stark contrast to a world that is becoming increasingly rational. Such secrets of faith certainly merit further thought.

The “I am” statements of Jesus

The divine services followoing Good Friday and Easter are marked by a short series on the “I am” statements of the Lord. Jesus introduces Himself, tells us who He is, and what He wants. Each of His statements constitutes a self-revelation and self-introduction. The gospel of John puts special emphasis on these statements; they occur there 24 times, more often than in all the other gospels combined. In a sense, they are tantamount to literal quotations from the Son of God, like testimonies from the Lord Himself. It could hardly be any more authentic.

There are two elements that come together here, since His self-testimony is based on a kind of visual language capable of reaching all of His listeners: the ignorant and the well-educated, the little ones and the more experienced, the believers and those seeking answers.

  • “I am the door of the sheep,” we are told on the second Sunday. Everyone can relate to the image of a door to some degree. A door opens up a new space, it opens on to a passageway, it broadens our view, it changes our perspective. Jesus describes Himself as the door of the sheep, which is remarkable because this also promotes His pastoral function. A shepherd protects his sheep, brings them to safety. Indeed, a shepherd would even die for his sheep and defend them with his blood.
  • “I am the true vine,” the sermon says on the third Sunday. This sermon is all about an intimate and healthy connection with God. Branches cannot exist without a vine. The branches—that is, His disciples—are wonderful offshoots of faith: full of flavour, ripe, and fully grown.
  • “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This is the basis for the sermon on the last Sunday in April. Jesus not only proclaims a new doctrine, but also follows it step by step Himself. His way of faith takes Him through death, resurrection, ascension, and return. He is the way of salvation. And those who desire to join Him on this path will reach a higher goal.

Who are you?

The self-introductions of Jesus can be played back in our own everyday lives. Who are we anyway? Who are you? Here are some possible answers:

  • I am part of the flock to which Jesus is the door.
  • I am a branch on the vine that is God.
  • I am a pilgrim on the way to heaven.

And we can probably even make it a bit more to the point:

  • I am a Christian.
  • I am a person who prays.
  • I am your neighbour.

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Peter Johanning
Divine service