Extracts from the Service for 25th April 2021 being Fourth Sunday of Easter by Revd. Cath Atkinson
Call to Worship
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Response: He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Response: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Response: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy, as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Prayers of Approach, Confession and Forgiveness
Loving God, from our scattered places we gather together to worship you. We praise you: for all the wonders of your creation; for the changing seasons and the evidence of new life; for birds emerging from the egg; flowers pushing up from the bulb and blades of grass from the dark soil.
Spring lambs on green grass remind us that we too are your flock. One flock with one shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Forgive us Lord when we want to stay in the comfort of the sheepfold unwilling to hear your voice calling us out.
Forgive us Lord when we try to return to the old pastures relying on past certainties.
Forgive us Lord when we wander, or step out on our own paths down selfish lanes that lead nowhere.
Shepherding God, forgive us, help us to listen…
Hear the voice of the good shepherd, the voice of love and forgiveness ‘I know my own and my own know me,’ ‘I lay down my life for the sheep.’
Thank you for your love that Leads us on through changing landscapes down fresh paths and into new and verdant pastures.
Lord God, as we listen to the bible reading for today, may we hear your word for us. By your Spirit, may we take it to our hearts and live it in our lives for your glory. Amen.
Reading: St John 10:11-18
Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
Hymn: The Lord’s my Shepherd
The Lord’s my shepherd,
I’ll not want;
He makes me lie in pastures green.
He leads me by the still, still waters,
His goodness restores my soul.
And I will trust in You alone,
and I will trust in You alone,
for Your endless mercy follows me,
Your goodness will lead me home.
He guides my ways
and He anoints my head with oil,
and my cup, it overflows with joy,
I feast on His pure delights.
And though I walk the darkest
I will not fear the evil one,
for You are with me, and Your rod
are the comfort I need to know.
I wonder if any of you have been fortunate enough to have seen Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa? Created in 1503, It hangs in the Louvre gallery in Paris. People speak of her enigmatic smile and the qualities of the painting’s composition. Up until recent times hundreds of people each day would visit the museum just to view this one painting. Such is its reknown.
It does have a little-known connection with another painting by Leonardo da Vinci – ‘the last supper’ which is found on a wall of a monastery in Milan.
It has been claimed that Mona Lisa is the most reproduced painting of all time – the last supper comes a close second as the most reproduced religious painting of all time. Thousands of copies of the Mona Lisa have been produced over the years, all coming from that one masterpiece. Some copies closely resemble the original, some are poor imitations, some are out and out parodies but there’s really only the one genuine painting.
Our reading this morning starts half way through the chapter, as Jesus identifies himself as the one who is also the real deal. Jesus uses this image of the shepherd, so familiar to those people around him, to show us something of who he is when he says – I am the good shepherd – the real deal – the one good, true and perfect shepherd. And as Jesus says ‘I am the good shepherd’- there are echoes of something else – an encounter between God and Moses long before, when God reveals God’s name ‘I am who I am’. So, Jesus the good shepherd is an expression of who God is – the one good, true and perfect shepherd, one who comes to shepherd his people, one who will fulfil God’s purposes.
But what makes Jesus a good shepherd?
Jesus tells us that the good shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him – it begins with relationship.
One of the early lockdown TV hits was ‘Our Yorkshire farm’ – the story of the Owens family – Amanda and Clive and their brood of nine children on their 2000-acre hill farm in upper Swaledale. Filmed around the year, we learn that shepherding is not quaint, cute or cuddly. We see them looking after their sheep in all weathers, feeding them in driving wind and rain, on snow covered hillsides, and in sunshine – knowing the life and death of lambing season, wrestling and holding sheep for shearing, and all the other messy, muddy and backbreaking tasks in between.
At cattle auctions, we see stock bought and paid for and back at the farm, they are marked with an ear tag or stamp to show whose they are. It is interesting to think that Jesus could be this kind of shepherd to each one of us… finding and feeding us in rain, snow or sunshine, with us in the life and death moments, holding us, sometimes having to wrestle us into place, and with us in all the messy, muddy and backbreaking places we find ourselves. And for our good shepherd, there’s something more – we belong to his flock not through any ear tag, but through relationship. Jesus says I know my own and my own know me.
Nowadays many flocks on moors and hills know their ‘heft’- they know their patch and mostly don’t stray too far from it, but in Jesus’s day, shepherds would move their flock around, leading them to food and water sources, finding shade in the heat of the day and settling them safely in the evenings. So, there was plenty of time for the shepherd to get to know his sheep and as the sheep spent day after day with the shepherd, they would come to know his presence and his voice. As we spend time with the shepherd, listening, loving and being loved, we too learn to hear his voice. Jesus says I know my own and my own know me.
Then there are the hired workers – those engaged to watch the sheep but when trouble comes, they scatter. As the sheep aren’t theirs, they are less invested, less committed and so at the first sign of threat or danger, they save themselves. Who are these hired workers? The previous chapter might offer a clue – it tells of how Jesus heals a blind man and the Jewish authorities aren’t pleased, being more concerned that it happened on the sabbath, so they question the man and then his parents, and when they don’t get a satisfactory answer from him, they drive the newly sighted man out of the synagogue.
Like a good shepherd, Jesus goes to find him and the encounter ends with the man worshipping Jesus while the Pharisees seem blind to who Jesus is and his purposes, Could it be that, like hired workers, they were more concerned with the threat to their own interests, than genuinely caring for God’s people?
Today, we only need look around to see organisations, leaderships, and even nations that care more for their own interests than for their citizens, who function with closed minds acting more like the hired hands. But before we point the finger too much, I guess the truth is there’s a bit of the hireling in all of us – times when we act more for ourselves than others – yet for Jesus the good shepherd, the measure is love. What makes a good shepherd? Our reading says ‘one who lays down his life’.
Three times in our reading Jesus speaks of laying down his life.
First, he says ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. But as the reading progresses it becomes more direct, ‘I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes it from me…’ it is an intentional laying down of his life. In Jesus day, a sheep-herder would settle his flock in the sheepfold at night, lying down at the entrance, putting himself between the sheep and any danger, so too, the good shepherd will give himself for the sake of the sheep. We remember Christ’s journey to the cross – the Good shepherd who became the lamb who was slain.
Well as I read our passage today, it strikes me that the sheep here don’t do very much- we read that they are easily scared, easily scattered, but they do know their shepherd, they listen to his voice and they follow his lead.
As we think of Jesus laying down his life for the sake of others, we too are called to follow his lead in our own acts of loving service for others.
Over these months we have certainly seen many examples of costly love – of people laying down their own lives in costly giving– facing their own anxieties and fears, and caring for others despite the dangers. We think of medical staff, carers, bus drivers, retail workers, teachers and volunteers, and all the other key workers. Like Jesus the good shepherd, the measure is self-giving love – love for colleagues or patients, love for families or children, love for residents, love for their communities. We too, in acts of self-giving love can follow the way of Jesus and self- giving love.
But just as Jesus has the power to lay down his life, he also has the power to take it up again – here is the good news we celebrate this Easter season – we have a good shepherd who cares enough to put himself in the place of death in order that his sheep may know life. The one who rose again on the third day, who leads us beyond death to eternal life. A shepherd we can trust and follow.
So at this time of year when we look around and see young lambs skipping around among the green grass, we give thanks for the Shepherd who knows his sheep, the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the shepherd who leads us on, from death to life…
And to him be the glory, now and forever, Amen.
We pray for our world, our communities, and for each other.
Loving God, we pray for your creation – for places and peoples facing the impact of our changing climate, for the abuse on the natural world, and the pollution that threatens wildlife and spoils your planet. Be with those who seek to restore…
Loving Shepherd hear our prayer.
We pray for our world – for tension between nations or peoples, for places of conflict, violence and war. For the most vulnerable and those who suffer when we forget our connectedness. Be with those who work to bring peace.
Loving Shepherd, hear our prayer.
We pray for our communities – for those affected by unemployment, for families facing uncertain futures, for helping agencies and foodbanks. Be with all who support and help…
Loving Shepherd, Hear our prayer.
We pray for those around us who bear the scars of these past months – for medical staff and key workers, for all who have been bereaved, and those who carry the burden of caring, Be with those who listen and offer healing space…
Loving Shepherd, hear our prayer.
Finally in a time of quiet we pray for those people and situations we carry with us… (pause)
Loving Shepherd who knows us and loves us, who brings us together and guides us as one flock, hear these our prayers, in the name of the one who taught us to pray together saying…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, 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, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen
Hymn: Thy Hand O God Has Guided
Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891)
Thy hand, O God, has guided
thy flock, from age to age;
the wondrous tale is written,
full clear on every page;
our fathers owned thy goodness,
and we their deeds record;
and both of this bear witness:
one Church, one Faith, one Lord.
Thy heralds brought glad tidings
to greatest as to least;
they bade folk rise and hasten
to share the great King’s feast;
and this was all their teaching
in every deed and word;
to all alike proclaiming:
one Church, one Faith, one Lord.
Thy mercy will not fail us, nor leave thy work undone;
with thy right hand to help us, the victory shall be won;
and then, by all creation thy name shall be adored,
and this shall be their anthem: one Church, one Faith, one Lord.
Now may the God of peace, who… brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will…
And the blessing of God – Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with you and all those you are given to love
Now and always, Amen.