RCL Year C Easter 4
Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, Saint John 10:22-30

Every year on this Sunday, I tell you that if the Church of the Good Shepherd observed the Feast of its Patron, today would be that Feast. For today, the Collect and the Gospel both mention Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The Psalm mentions the Lord as our shepherd. The Collect for today is the same year by year. It does not change. The Psalm on these Sundays always is the Twenty-third Psalm. We have three Gospels, one for each year of the Lectionary, and they all are taken from the tenth chapter of Saint John.[1]

Today, the crucial part of the Gospel I take to be this: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”[2]

That brief verse and a half sums our entire relationship with God. Like all relationships, covenants, contracts, and understandings, formal, casual, or legal, the whole thing depends upon the agreement of two parties. In this case, one party is the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for the life of the sheep. The other party is us, each one of us, who follow the Good Shepherd and who stray from time to time, each in his or her own way. All the boundaries of our relationship with God are right there. We cannot miss them.

I said the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the life of the sheep. It is no stretch of the imagination to perceive that exchange. We exchange our life, a life of slavery to sin, for his life, a life of perfect freedom and perfect service in following him. And in this exchange, we come out ahead, for we give up slavery to sin, with all its consequences—alienation, self-unfulfillment, meaninglessness, and, finally, death—for a life of joy, freedom, and peace, that requires our will to agree with his.

If you know all this and if you live all this, you are, as they say, all set. But if you are like me, living to make this your second nature, so that it will become, in time or in eternity, your nature, then you will lay your hands on every prayer, every scripture, every sacrament, every opportunity, and every turn in your life, to perceive the Good Shepherd’s love for you and the path he has prepared for you to walk in. For we need every means there is to exchange our life for his life, so that we may follow him and receive his promise never to perish. For we can trust him to do his part. It is our part that is a little less sure.

[1] In Year A, Saint John 10:1-10; in Year B, Saint John 10:11-18.

[2] Saint John 10:27-28a.