One of the wonderful aspects of living in this part of the world is seeing the new life in the countryside around us in Springtime. Trees which were bare are now covered with leaves and blossom. Watching lambs gambolling in the fields is a source of true joy. Yet, as we all know, sheep have a tendency to stray, to wander off. Livestock need to be looked after, cared for, fed, and protected. In the Bible Jesus uses metaphors to explain who He is, and what He does. One of the best-known is found in our readings this week: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Shepherds care for their flocks, and in St Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, it is the shepherds who are the first people to witness the Birth of Our Saviour.
In the writings of St John, Jesus is understood both as a Shepherd and also as a Lamb. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him, he exclaims:
‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn 1:29)
Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, which we celebrate during Holy Week and Easter, proclaim this sacrificial aspect of His Life and Death. In the Book of Revelation, St John has visions of heavenly worship which focus of Jesus as the Lamb, once slain, forever glorious. The worship of Heaven is offered to God the Father and the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
The people worshipping God are described as wearing white robes. White is a colour of innocence and purity, which they are able to claim because of what Jesus has done for them on the Cross.
‘For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev 7:17).
Here we see the two images combined: the Lamb will be their Shepherd. The one who dies for us will care for us. The image of living water brings to mind ideas of refreshment and healing, and points to our baptism. To drink living water is to experience the fulness of life in God, filled with the Holy Spirit. It is to experience healing and consolation, such is the love of God. This is what we look forward to: experiencing the fulness of God’s love for all eternity.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is December, and the Feast of Dedication also known as Hanukkah. This festival commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple after it had been desecrated by the Greeks who controlled Judaea in the Second Century BC. Judas Maccabeus led an uprising against Antiochus IV of Syria, allowing the Temple to be cleansed, rededicated and the lights rekindled.
Some of the Jews in the Temple ask Jesus if He is the Messiah, and He answers:
“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” (Jn 10:25-26)
Jesus’ works of healing, feeding people, and proclaiming the Good News, bear witness to who He is. The fact that people do not believe in Him marks them out as not belonging to the flock. Here the image of a shepherd is used as a metaphor for the King of Israel and the Messiah. Jesus’ actions show that He cares for God’s people. As well as talking about God’s love, Jesus demonstrates it and makes it real and concrete. There is a close bond between the shepherd and his flock:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”(Jn 10:27-30)
Jesus is able to promise that those who follow Him need not fear death, because they are under His protection and thus in God’s care. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: we do not need to be afraid of anything because God loves us. Also we believe that our earthly life is not all that there is. We are given the hope of Heaven, and a relationship with a God who loves us. Through His love we come to share in the intimacy of the divine life. As Jesus says, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30). As Archbishop Michael Ramsay once said, ‘God is Christlike, and in Him is no un-Christlikeness at all’ [God, Christ & the World: A Study in Contemporary Theology, London 1969, 98] When we see Jesus, we see God, when we hear Him speak, we hear the voice of God. Jesus shows us who and what God is: someone who loves us, and cares for us.
Grounded in this relationship we need not be afraid or troubled — we are free to live lives which proclaim God’s love and victory so that others too may come to believe, and share in His love. Through God loving us, we can truly love Him and each other. We experience this most clearly at the Eucharist when Christ feeds us with Himself, and we are united in Communion, with each other and with God. Through this communion, God’s grace is active in our lives, transforming us into His likeness, and preparing us for the joy of Heaven witnessed by St John and proclaimed in the Book of Revelation.
So as we see the lambs in the field, let us give thanks to God the Creator, Jesus the Good Shepherd and the Life-giving Holy Spirit, and let us share in the joy and love of the Triune God. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.