Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57405 [retrieved April 29, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Good_Shepherd_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

RCL Year A, Easter 4
Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, I Peter 2:19-25, Saint John 10:1-10

Words from the Twenty-eighth Psalm: “The Lord is the strength of his people, * a safe refuge for his anointed. Save your people and bless your inheritance; * shepherd them and carry them for ever.”[1]

I chose to begin with those two verses, because they contain much of what I want to say today, especially the last line, “shepherd them and carry them for ever.”

Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is informally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The authors of the Prayer Book and the Lectionary have put together a number of things to give today that informal title. The Collect of the Day declares that “Jesus is the good shepherd”[2] of God’s people. The Psalm today always is the Twenty-third Psalm which familiarly begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.”[3] And finally the Gospel every year is taken from the first thirty verses of the tenth chapter of Saint John, where the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the principal figure of speech.

When you stop to think about it, very few of us are so literal as to interrupt and say, “Wait a minute. Jesus is the Paschal lamb.” or “Hold on. Jesus is the bread we break; we recognize him in the bread we break.” Or, “How can he be the Good Shepherd at the same time that he is the gate of the sheepfold?” We enter a different world when we try to describe God, when we perceive things beyond our five senses. When we try to describe our experience of God, we need metaphor, we need images, we need music and poetry; we need more than one way to describe the depth and the power of God. We need to enter that dimension within us which we call being made in the image of God.

And we need to know what all the figures and images add up to. We need to know what fundamentally we are trying to express when we describe Jesus as the Good Shepherd, when we enter that world beyond our five senses.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd expresses our experience of God as God in Jesus has revealed himself to us as loving, permanent, willing to sacrifice himself for our benefit, and reliable. The Good Shepherd gives us the opportunity to be in a relationship with our Savior and Lord that is like the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. In the First Epistle of Saint John, the figures and images have largely been stripped away, and we read, “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.”[4] The relationship endures and is permanent. It is indissoluble.

While God creates and sustains this relationship, we have a responsibility to respond to the love he shows us. The Lesson today from Acts tells us how to do this when it tells us that those that were baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”[5]

We stay in communion, in relationship, with God by doing what we are doing at this moment–celebrating the Eucharist in which we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers. For we are his; we are determined to remain faithful and never to stray from his guidance.

[1] Psalm 28:10-11.

[2] The BCP, page 225.

[3] Psalm 23:1.

[4] I John 4:15.

[5] Acts 2:42.