Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Good Shepherd

Since the 1979 prayerbook, the Fourth Sunday of Easter has been Good Shepherd Sunday (it was earlier before then) and it is a favorite of mine. Jesus' claim to be the "good shepherd" in Saint John's gospel is one that is well known - and so it should be. When we think of Him in these terms it brings all kinds of images to mind which recall the ways in which our Lord cares for us. If we're thinking very carefully at all when we read this, we are reminded of David's famous twenty-third Psalm in which God Himself is depicted in lovely ways as the shepherd of His people. In fact, there are plenty of other places in the Old Testament (particularly in the Psalms and the Prophets) where God is portrayed with this language. Perhaps most significantly are the promises which God makes through His prophets that, since no one else is worthy or able to assume the responsibility, He will Himself come and be His people's shepherd. In His care, His people will be safe, and they will be content.

With all this in mind as we hear Jesus' claim we cannot help but be struck by the significance of it. His claim is that He is God come to His people, as promised, to be their shepherd. He is the fulfiller of the long hopes of God's people. It is indeed a comforting message. Who could not like this wonderful Sunday?

And so in just a bit we will hear the familiar gospel passage and sing Psalm 23 and hymns like Shepherd of Souls Refresh and Bless, and The King of Love My Shepherd Is. And we will be reminded of the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd in the sermons we hear. And some of us will think of another shepherd reference from Scripture:

These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Rev.7:14b-17)

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