A small faith community in the western suburbs of Perth is grieving the loss of four significant members in as many months. Not only was their participation in the church’s witness and service strong, but they lived the church’s ethos of compassion and inclusion. In the wake of the latest funeral three days ago, we are looking at the text from John 10:22-30. It’s Good Shepherd Sunday.
These are my ponderings upon which I am basing my remarks.
We are asking “How does Jesus’ shepherd language speak into this congregation’s current experience of heavy loss? Particularly during this continuing Easter season?”
Here are some hooks to hang our hats on:
- The Christian story is cyclical – it is about transformation from “one degree of glory into the next” The first few centuries of the church called this “theosis.” The resurrection reminds us that change involves something dying in order that the new may be birthed. Change, whether expected or forced, takes on fresh meaning when seen through an Easter lens.
- Today’s text sees the Jerusalem Temple leaders demanding Jesus say clearly if he is the Messiah. It is during the Feast of Dedication, a commemoration of the successful Maccabean revolt that briefly restored a measure of sovereignty to Israel before the Roman occupation. Today it is celebrated as Channukah, meaning “dedication.”
- Jesus replies to his critics’ loaded “gotcha” question with “shepherd language,” the long-time common practice of ancient middle eastern potentates, including David, the shepherd-king of Israel. Such shepherd language reflected the duty of the king to lead and protect his people.
- Jesus completes his answer with the words “I and the Father are one.” The implications of his Messiahship extend far beyond Israel into timelessness and endless space. His shepherding role can now be experienced through the story of resurrection.
- All this takes place in Solomon’s Portico, one of the series of Temple colonnades in which Jesus taught and where the early church in Acts met. Marriage of incident and place is not a coincidence in John’s Gospel.
- Jesus’ shepherd language is about a “knowing” relational intimacy that challenges and absorbs external expectations. It is experienced as much as it is reflected on.
- It is an inner compelling driving force within a faith community. “My sheep know my voice.” A grieving community is strengthened to realise that the departed are still united with them through the shepherd-king’ s voice. Just as “the Father and I are one”, so we remain one together in the living Christ.
- This reality is glimpsed in our closest relationships and as our understanding grows into them through the living Christ. A retired missionary often reminded me we are all “little Christs.”
Are you him? The king?
Feel your grief and grasp my crook
Become one with Me!