A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (4:5-12)
The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
1 The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
A Reading from First Letter of John (3:16-24)
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Easter is the time for baptism. The Book of Common Prayer (page 312) lists the Easter Vigil as the principal celebration at which Holy Baptism is “especially appropriate.” For centuries, it was, except for emergencies, the celebration at which most or all baptisms took place.
Ancient baptisteries in the Middle East and in Europe were often decorated with Easter symbols; and one of the most frequently used was that of Jesus as the Good or Noble Shepherd. This Sunday, coming as it does at the center of the Easter season, offers us each year part of John chapter 10, which provides a variety of images pertaining to shepherds and sheep. And it is in this year, Year B of our three-year Lectionary cycle, that we hear Jesus describing himself as that Noble Shepherd.
Now we are accustomed to hearing of Jesus as the “Good” Shepherd, and that, of course, is the caption that we saw years ago in our Sunday School books. But most scripture scholars agree that the expression “Noble” Shepherd or “Honorable” Shepherd is a more accurate translation. The Greek adjective focuses on the noble or honorable actions of the one identified with the title. Here is a shepherd who will stop at nothing to provide food and water for his sheep, to bring healing to his sheep, to protect his sheep, even, if necessary, laying down his life for his sheep.
Not surprisingly, the image of the shepherd doing all these things for us is, and probably always has been, a tremendously popular image. After all, what’s not to like about it? What’s not to like about a God and about an Anointed One of God, whose whole focus is on us and on what that God can do for us? There’s just one problem with it: it’s only Part One of the story; and Part Two is just as critical as Part One.
Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at the great story that we have been hearing the past four months, especially as it is recounted in the gospel according to John. We began back at Christmas with the Word of God becoming flesh and living among us. Over the succeeding months, we heard selected excerpts from the story of Jesus’ life as John interprets it. We heard about Jesus being baptized by John and going out to do the work for which the Father had sent him: the work of announcing the coming of God’s reign or, as John puts it, eternal life. We heard about the Jesus who fed the hungry, who healed the sick, who reached out to the outcasts of society, and who brought hope to the poor. Finally, we heard again the story of Jesus’ last days and of his giving of his life in response to the Father’s call and for the sake of all. Now there’s a “good-shepherd-in-action” for you! And it’s a story that we love.
But that’s not the whole story, as much as we might like it to be. The narrative goes on to tell the rest of the story. It goes on to tell of the Jesus who appeared to his disciples even though, out of fear, they had locked themselves in an upper room on Easter evening. He stood with them, greeted them, and then announced the beginning of the story’s Part Two: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).
That’s the part of the story that we try to ignore. That’s the part that we don’t want to hear. We love to hear about the Good Shepherd: about what God and Jesus have done and continue to do for us; but we don’t want to hear and we don’t want to acknowledge that the risen Jesus has now charged us to go out and do the same things, to fulfil the same role, to be, in a sense, good and noble and faithful shepherds for the sake of others. Yet that is an integral part of the gospel story; and our attempts to stop at the end of Part One and to ignore Part Two is in fact a rejection of the entire gospel story.
Churches as a whole as well as individual Christians find all sorts of ways to try to evade that unavoidable part of the Good News of God in Jesus. Some surround themselves with lovely art-work and sweet-sounding hymns and sentimental prayers that focus solely on what God or Jesus does for me: reinforcing the idea that my Christian faith is really all about me and what believing can do for me, without recognizing Jesus’ commission to us to go out and do for others what he has done for us. Other churches and other Christians try to convince themselves that they’ll get around to Part Two eventually – really they will; but first, they say, we have to concentrate on ourselves or on our church community so that we get ready to do Part Two, to do the work that God has given us to do, some day. Of course, that “some day” never quite seems to come, and they continue to live in a narcissistic parody of a genuine life of faith.
In speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright insists (The Resurrection of the Son of God, page 603) that the message of the gospel is not “Jesus is risen, therefore you will be too,” but rather “Jesus is risen, therefore you have work ahead of you.” In the light of today’s gospel image and of the entire gospel story, Parts One and Two together, we can offer a corollary to that statement: “Jesus is the Noble and Faithful Shepherd of God’s people; therefore we, who have been baptized into his death and resurrection, must now be noble and faithful shepherds of God’s people today.” We must be the ones to carry on the work that he has begun: the work of feeding God’s people (in all the ways that they need to be fed), the work of healing God’s people, the work of going out and reaching out to those who (for whatever reason) find themselves cut-off from life with others, the work of dedicating our lives to serving the world as God in Jesus served us.
The image of Jesus as the Noble and Faithful Shepherd is a wonderful one, a comforting one, a supportive one; but we can’t forget the “so that.” Yes, we certainly need to build up our faith community in the love of which our reading from the First Letter of John speaks; but we need to build it up and nurture it so that: so that together we might be able to do the work that God has given us to do. Yes, Jesus is our Noble and Faithful Shepherd; but Jesus is our Noble and Faithful Shepherd so that: so that we might follow his example and be noble and faithful shepherds of the rest of God’s people.
As the risen Jesus once asked Simon Peter as the two of them sat together beside the Sea of Galilee, “Do you really love me? And if you do, then go out and feed my lambs; feed my sheep.” “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”