Reflection for the fourth Sunday of Easter

Reading: John 10: 1-11

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Jesus said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’.

Reflection

The picture shown above will be instantly recognisable to anybody who is familiar with St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim. It is our ‘national treasure’ the stained glass widow designed by Edward Burne-Jones of ‘The Good Shepherd’. It was donated to the cathedral in 1869 and for nearly four decades enjoyed pride of place at the centre of the east window where it could be appreciated by all who came to worship. It was moved to its current location at the west end in 1906 when the present east window was installed. Visitors to the cathedral today could well miss this beautiful work of art, but it is well worth the effort to climb the stairs to the gallery and view it from a close distance.

The inspiration for our window is largely today’s gospel reading from John, chapter 10, although the artist has included images based on other passages of scripture (e.g. Luke 15:1-7 and Psalm 23). The overall impression we have when we look at The Good Shepherd window is of a close bond between the shepherd and the sheep. The lamb carried over the shepherd’s shoulders is grazing at the leaves in his hat. The two sheep at his feet are following closely with one of them gazing up at the shepherd who leads them. This is an image of trust and dependence.

That sense of trust and dependence is brought out vividly in our reading. In Palestine, a shepherd would lead his flock during the day to find fresh pasture. There were no enclosed fields as we have and at night the sheep would be brought to a common, walled sheepfold for safety. A number of different flocks would be enclosed there overnight. In the morning each shepherd would call his own sheep who would recognise his voice and follow him as he strode ahead of them to find fresh pasture. ‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice’.

It is easy to miss the Good Shepherd window in our cathedral. It is easy too to miss the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, in a world of competing and clamouring voices. To say that we are living through challenging times is certainly an understatement. Isolated from our families and communities, bombarded by news bulletins and pronouncements of what may or may not happen in the future, it is easy to become confused, uncertain and disturbed. We may grow anxious about the future, or become despondent. It is at times like these that we need to keep faith in Christ, to focus on his words and to follow in his way. We need to learn to ignore the destructive voices that lead us astray from the abundant life that he has promised to his followers.

Yesterday’s announcement by our government of a roadmap for the reopening of society indicated that places of worship may reopen in phase 4, which could happen by 20th July if all goes according to plan. While that is over twelve weeks away it is good to have this light at the end of the tunnel and the hope of joining together in our church buildings as the people of God. In the meantime, let us continue to follow Christ the Good Shepherd and to heed his words.

In our prayers this week, let us remember all who exercise leadership, especially in government, national and international, that following the example of the Good Shepherd they may care for the welfare and needs of all people. Let us also remember all who mourn and grieve for loved ones that they may be assured that those who have passed from this life will be welcomed by the one who calls his own sheep by name. We continue to remember all who selflessly care for the most vulnerable people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices or at home. We offer our prayers in trust and confidence through Christ the Good Shepherd.

Collect for the fourth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
Raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again.
Keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are you, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ
you have broken the power of sin and death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Through Christ the Good Shepherd
you lead us from darkness into your glorious light
and you lead us to life eternal.
We rejoice that nothing can snatch us from your hand.
Blessed are you, One God, now and forever.

Father we give you thanks and praise for Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Help us to hear his voice and to follow him.
We pray for all who share his pastoral ministry,
for bishops, priests, deacons, chaplains and lay ministers.
Bless Pat, our bishop and the people of this diocese.
May we reach out to all in need and draw others to your love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for all who exercise leadership in the world,
for peace builders and all who work for the cause of justice.
Give wisdom and guidance to our government and all in authority
as they grapple with the Covid 19 pandemic and care for all who
have been affected by it.
Support and strengthen all who work in our health services
and caring professions.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for all who have cared and provided for us.
We pray for our families,
for parents caring for young children,
for older people who are cocooning,
for young people studying,
for all who are finding life difficult under present circumstances.
Help us to encourage, support and care for one another.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are sick, at home, in hospital or nursing homes;
grant them your peace and healing touch.
Be with all who are fearful or anxious.
Comfort all who mourn and assure them of your loving presence.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We rejoice that the Good Shepherd gives us life eternal
and that nothing can separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We join with the fellowship of saints
and our departed loved ones to praise you.
We commend them and ourselves to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father,
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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