Easter 4, Year A
3 May 2020
Rev Kate McDonald, St Andrew’s Church Jerusalem and Tiberias
Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; John 10.1-10
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m Kate McDonald, Associate Minister of St Andrew’s Jerusalem and Tiberias, and I pray you know the joy and peace of our risen Lord on this the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
O God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do your will, and work in us that which is well-pleasing in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Every year the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday, which means we read Psalm 23 and part of the passage from John’s gospel where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. This year, we also read Psalm 23 just a few weeks ago, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, when it was paired with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, which happens to immediately precede today’s gospel reading.
But before we look at the gospel for today, John 10.1-10, I’d like to read first from Psalm 23, only the first few lines in the translation from the Common English Bible:
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He keeps me alive.
I’ll confess: I don’t know much about shepherds and sheep. And we’ll see soon in the gospel that those listening to Jesus that day either didn’t either, or just didn’t understand the point he was trying to make through the metaphor.
But I do know something about the importance of keeping alive.
We all do.
And we’ve become a lot more aware of it in the past few weeks, haven’t we? Across our world, this pandemic has shifted our attention towards simply keeping alive, focusing on the basic needs of food and shelter, exercise and rest to keep ourselves and our loved ones mentally and physically healthy, while also doing all we can to protect the well-being of those in our communities who are most at risk.
We most often read that line in Psalm 23 as ‘he restores my soul’, which is beautiful and absolutely true, but in these days, this translation of ‘he keeps me alive’ captures with total clarity how vulnerable we are, and how radically dependent we are on God, the creator, redeemer and sustainer of our whole being, our souls AND bodies.
The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that the psalms create a world in which we find ‘trust, abundance, God-dependence, truth-telling, hope, memory and God’s faithfulness’.
And the Psalms help us, he says, to ‘relocate our desire’ towards God. Psalm 23 is a perfect example.
As I said at the start, our lectionary compilers have paired this psalm with both our gospel reading for today and the passage which immediately precedes it, the story of Jesus’ healing of the man who had been blind from birth, a story which is more about the reaction the leaders and community had to the healing than the healing itself. If you remember, in the end, they had driven the man out after he had been healed, and Jesus had come to find him.
It is in response to the questioning of the authorities that Jesus begins his Good Shepherd speech, in an attempt to give sight to them, to reveal to them who he is: the sheep know the voice of the shepherd and they will follow him. He calls them by name and will lead them, Jesus tells them. Still they don’t understand, so he switches metaphors, this time saying, ‘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’.
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus claims to be what is needed to live: living water (4:14), bread of life (6:35), light of the world (9:5), and here, shelter/safety (10:7, 11). But he doesn’t just promise life. He promises abundant life. He not only heals the man who was blind, but draws him into his fold.
A life of abundance has little to do with material wealth, and everything to do with being in relationship with Jesus and others. Jesus is the gate that invites people in and protects a community that is vulnerable. Jesus is the shepherd who cares for the needs of his flock. And when we his sheep are prone to wander, Jesus is the one who relocates our desire towards God.
In times of uncertainty and anxiety, may this assurance of God’s faithful provision and compassionate presence be a comfort.
Although our reading from Acts has no mention of shepherds, it too is connected to this gospel passage, but in order to see it, we need to jump to the end of John’s gospel, in the days after Easter. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, as he serves his disciples a breakfast of bread and fish, Jesus turns to Peter, who had denied him three times after his arrest, and asks him three times:
Peter, do you love me? Three times Peter says yes. Then feed my lambs, Jesus says. Then tend my sheep. Then feed my sheep.
By the time of Pentecost, that is precisely what Peter is doing, inviting people into relationship with Jesus. Through their teaching and their worship, in their breaking bread and acts of caring, with awe and praise, the early church was celebrating and sharing the abundant life they had found in Jesus.
So as the church today, especially in these difficult times, how can we not only listen to Jesus’ promise of salvation but also allow it to relocate our desire?
How can we not only seek comfort and security from the Good Shepherd, but also be guided by his compassion to care for and protect others?
How can we not only place our hope in the abundant life offered by Jesus, but also invite others into the fold to experience it for themselves?
The Lord is our shepherd.
We lack nothing.
He lets us rest in grassy meadows;
he leads us to restful waters;
he keeps us alive.
And on this side of Easter, he calls us to do likewise for one another and others in his flock.
Let us pray.
God of our salvation, you still the troubled waters and lead us to places of refreshment and tranquility. Anoint with your peace all who are in need of your healing touch. Draw your church closer in unity and fellowship in your name. And guide us as we seek to serve you and your people in this week to come. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
May the God of peace give you peace in all times and in all ways. And the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.