Meditation by Rev. Dr. Neil O’Farrell
A possible epitaph on my tombstone will read: “He strove to respect everyone’s piety—no matter how much he inwardly squirmed.”
So much misinformation is preached about sheepherding in the ancient Middle East. Entire articles and books, even internet sites, are devoted to erasing popular misapprehensions about subsistence sheep and goat tending. The kernel of reality is vastly more interesting than our gauzy romanticism. In John’s gospel, Jesus describes a reality that is noisy, confusing, smelly, and exhausting for shepherds and sheep alike. The real good shepherd was a nature-hardened man who could save his flock from a brutal bear or wolf. Not the gentle boy of artistic license.
Even today, sheepherding is hard and dirty. The monetary profit is hardly worth the effort. There is nothing to romanticize here. Ancient Palestinians had the first-hand experience of sheep husbandry, so I can’t understand the warm, fuzzy way that shepherding was chronicled in the bible. To consign Jesus to the role of the good shepherd is in truth to punish him to a job of mind-numbing boredom and sleep deprivation. Isaiah had it precisely right when he observed of humankind, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way. (Isaiah 52:6)”
The central story of this fourth Sunday after Easter is the linkage through Jesus between the sheep’s gate and abundant life. In this contemporary time of the pandemic, we are called to first celebrate life, in and of itself, without much filigree and prevention. Moreover, we are taught by Jesus to understand life in terms of abundant grace, mercy, and healing. Jesus’ promise to bring abundant life is something not of misty nostalgia, but rather based in muscular, courageous faith. Nothing warm and fuzzy. Rather, a celebration of the gift life and promise fulfilled, in flesh and blood. It’s not about the sock puppet Lambchop. It’s about the Savior alive, having vanquished sin and death.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Almighty and everlasting God, the Paschal mystery establishes a new covenant of reconciliation to all that is broken. Grant that we all may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith, as did Thomas. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
A reading from Acts, at the 2nd Chapter
Finding Fulfillment in the Ordinary — in Community
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
A Reading from the Gospel of John, at the 10th chapter
Jesus Reveals Everything to Mystified Apostles
“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.
A Confession of Our Sins to God
God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you,
opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world, you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
Almighty God have mercy on us ☩, forgive us all our sins, and
through the grace of Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.
Prayers of the People
O God of compassion, the giver of life and health, we pray your healing mercies upon all who are in any way affected by the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Comfort and sustain those who have been stricken; relieve their pain and restore to them your gifts of gladness and strength. Grant to all in authority the courage to make wise decisions that are essential for the common good and strengthen them to lead institutions that care for those whom they serve. Watch over all first responders and those in the medical professions whose duty it is to care for the sick; guard them against all danger and keep them safe in the knowledge that is through their sacrifice and service that the health of the whole community is promoted. Mercifully accept these our prayers, O God of all comfort, and our only help in time of need.
In peace, we pray to you, Lord God—
For all people in our daily life and work; for our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone and in danger.
For this community, the nation, and the world; for all who work for justice, freedom, and peace; health and wellbeing.
For the just and proper use of your creation; For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.
For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble; for those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy, particularly in the midst of this worldwide pandemic.
For the peace and unity of the Church of God; for all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth; for all who serve God in his Church.
For the special needs and concerns of our families and friends, loved ones, and for our congregation. Hear us, Lord; for your mercy is great.
We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life. We will exalt you, O God our King; And praise your Name forever and ever.
We pray for all who have died, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom. Lord, let your loving-kindness be upon them, who put their trust in you.
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom comes, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Loving God, we give you thanks for restoring us in your image and nourishing us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Now send us forth a people forgiven, healed, renewed; that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior. Amen.
Sisters and brothers, when we go out into the world in peace, we live and walk as part of God’s beloved community. May God help us all to be of good courage, hold on to what is good, return to no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, aid the suffering, do justice and hope, honor all people, and let our gentleness be known by everyone. May God, who raised our Lord Jesus from death, lift us up and restore us to wholeness. And may God bless us all, ☩ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Amen.