Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
25th Apr 2021
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2021
“I am the Good Shepherd”.
During these Sundays of Eastertide we forgo The Old Testament Reading. It’s substituted by a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. To reinforce the case for the experience of the apostles we have words which crown their experience of resurrection life with words from Jesus, revealing both his new identity under God and in turn the new relationship which the apostles have with their former teacher. For he is now in the words of Thomas become ‘their Lord and God’. The resurrection marks a sea change in their relationships not only with God but with their fate, their world and its future course.
Jesus does not leave them in any doubt as to how things have changed. They have changed because of him. And he is at pains to identify himself to them, to reveal himself to them in strong terms. In John’s Gospel we have the so-called ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus’. And in our Gospel reading ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. Jesus informs them and reassures them in equal measure, and repeats in the Gospel the fact that ‘he lays down his life’ as a ‘good shepherd’ and acts to protect them from the wolf – the one who snatches them away and scatters them; a powerful image of falling away from God.
Many hymns take up Jesus’ reassuring words and especially ‘The King of Love my Shepherd is’ :
Perverse and foolish ‘oft I strayed
But yet in love he sought me
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me
And directly to us individually is St Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer of serenity:
Let nothing trouble you,
The Good shepherd is the one who is carrying us, guiding and protecting us and helping us to realise that in God’s sustaining presence, we have all we need. The one thing necessary is God and without him we lack what we need to live authentic lives. For it is in God that what troubles and threatens to undermine us in this life finds its response.
This reassuring note is most necessary for the community of Christian Faith as we emerge out of a period of un certainty and upheaval. As I wander the streets of the parish there have been lots of conversations around ‘checking one another out’. Of course we have all been able to ‘tell it like it is’ but for Christians generally it must be possible to say that there has been a strong sense of ‘God being with us all the way’. We have been led through this current crisis to understand that our lives are - all of them on this earth – being lived provisionally. That our lives, even denied of the usual solaces of social ingathering and of satisfying old routines are more than these things. St Teresa is able to comment with startling truth. She reminds us that ‘all things are passing away’ and that life finds us, if we did but know it, in a very real state of profound waiting. But it is how we wait under duress that is important for her and for us. We may wonder when frustrated by the strain of events that ‘patience may obtain all things’. We wait under the care and guidance of the loving God - for God to heal and renew. We wait in vain if we wait for our own ‘wish fulfilment’.
A phrase repeated in this morning’s Gospel is the one in which Christ repeats that he has ‘laid down his life’ for the life of flock which is the community of faith. The epistle reminds us that
‘God laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. Little children, let us love , not in word or speech, but in truth and action’
The spirituality of waiting on God breaks forth into the spirituality of serving God actively. We mirror the activity of Christ the Good Shepherd when we too are mindful for the lives of others. It helps me in prayer to consider the lives of those in need and to ask myself how I might be feeling and coping or not coping in their situation? The case this week of a member of our congregation being forced to seek new accommodation at the age of 90 put me in this same place. How would I be feeling? Wouldn’t it gladden my heart if I thought I had friends who would understand a little of what I was going through and come and help me? The early Christians, those for whom John’s Gospel and letters are addressed, were motivated to see the Church in this way, as one organic body, and to mind it and mend it in acts of unfussy and unselfish care. It was this response to the human condition which gave the early Church the power to grow and to become so numerous and influential.
It was and is under the banner of loving care, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, that St Teresa’s English incarnation, Mother Julian of Norwich could say with all meaning and muster:
“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well”.