Good Shepherd Sunday
While walking my dog at a different time recently, the behaviour of the sheep and their lambs in a nearby field stopped me in my tracks. At first, I thought something was wrong, but then I heard what they already knew: the shepherd was on his way with his trailer containing their food. When he arrived and opened the gate, he called to them and they answered back as they flocked to him – it was a wonderful sound to hear!
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, named after the Gospel reading:
“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep…. and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” St John 10: 2-3,11 NIV
Jesus later showed the reality of those words when his life was laid down that first Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Day. He also told his followers that this might be asked of them, too: “Greater love has no-one than this, than they lay down their life for their friends.” St John 15: 13, NIV.
In the contemporary version The Messenger, by Eugene Peterson, this is translated as “Put your life on the line” and as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, these words have a new significance. There were initially thoughts of promoting ‘herd immunity’ but what’s been striking during this pandemic is the number of NHS staff, care workers and key workers whose lives have been laid down for those in their care. They have put their lives on the line for the sake of others and it’s a costly business as we all come to terms with the huge human, pastoral and financial price being paid by so many.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus the Good Shepherd, bishops today still carry a crosier or pastoral staff as a sign of their care for the flock they also shepherd. The photo that follows is the crook used by one of the shepherds in this valley when he left it at the gate after moving sheep to greener pastures in another field. As we begin to ponder the complex implications of some of the restrictions upon us being eased, I use it with his permission, alongside these words from the shepherd boy David. A flawed character, like all of us, he later knew agony of mind and terrible suffering but was nevertheless able to trust that God would help him. David’s words may bring hope as we also face the uncertainties and perplexities before us as individuals and part of the flock:
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23: 4.
With my prayers,