Reflection for Easter 4
To see and hear ….. https://youtu.be/Fh8zfTs7Rbg
Acts 2: 42-47, John 10: 1-10
(Genesis 7 and Psalm 23)
It is interesting to note that our lectionary gives us a wide choice of readings for each day of the year and even more for Sundays. The Old Testament reading for today is Genesis 7 – it is a story you know well and is always popular with Tiny Church as it tells of how Noah took his family and all the animals into the ark and 7 days later the flood started. We have never really understood why in Tiny Church, the giraffe is the most popular of the animals that we have, but there is often competition to hold it regardless of the day’s story! You may want to read the story again – we often find new things to learn about God by returning to bible passages that we thought we knew well. The chapter ends with Noah and his family being shut into the ark by God closing the door, and the flood destroying everything that is not on board. This is now the seventh Sunday that we have been unable to meet in church – or anywhere else for that matter, and I am sure that those of you who are completely shut in must know a little of how Noah felt! Although it is hard, it is worth remembering that when God shuts us in, it is to keep us safe.
There is a theme of caring in nearly all of the readings for today, because this 4th Sunday of Easter is also known as Vocations Sunday. We tend to think of a vocation as being something that an ordained minister and maybe a reader has, but the Church of England website describes it like this:
‘Vocation means what you are called by God to be and do. For some, this is a specific calling to ministry. For others, it could mean serving God through faithful discipleship in everyday life.
Everyone has a vocation. Find yours.
(I put the emphasis on the last 2 words as a challenge!)
The site goes on to say:
… the most unlikely of us can be called to extraordinary ministry.
We believe every Christian has a vocation, not just those called to ministry.’
Linked to vocations though, today is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday as a reference to both our Gospel reading, and the psalm set for today which is probably one of the best known passages in the bible anywhere in the world – Psalm 23 – again you might want to read it again to remind yourself of God’s unfailing love for you. As a part of my reader training I was lucky enough to have a day’s teaching from a man who works as part of a team of bible translators, and I remember clearly his telling us just how difficult it is to put the Bible into the language of people who have never seen a sheep and have no concept of keeping and farming livestock or the language that relates to it. The theme of the shepherd caring for his flock runs right through the Bible – both Old and New Testaments, and it is a picture of Jesus that springs readily to mind for us, even though the shepherds in first century Judea were probably very different from the way we tend to imagine them.
Sheep in Judea in Jesus’ day were kept primarily for wool and not meat. In this country we farm our sheep for meat and they are shorn to keep them free of parasites and disease and to keep them cool in hot weather. Most of them don’t live for very long. Sheep kept for wool though are allowed to live longer, and so the shepherd does get to know each one individually and call it by name. Each shepherd would have his own way of calling to his sheep – not in words but a series of sounds or a chant that would be instantly recognisable to them. It needed to be because the shepherd would call to his sheep as he led them from the front to keep them on the path in the dangerous rocky terrain. As Jesus says, the sheep will run away from anyone who doesn’t have the right voice.
I have always been a bit puzzled by the second picture that Jesus paints of his being the door to the sheep, but I have recently learned that on warm summer nights, sheep were not returned to the safety of the fold in the village or town but were led into a fold that was out on the hillside and enclosed by a rough wall. It had no gate, just an opening in the wall for the sheep to get in and out, and when all the sheep were safely inside, the shepherd would lie down and sleep across the opening keeping them safe from any predators that might have been around, and this is what Jesus is referring to here.
The Church that we hear about in the reading from Acts could not be more different from our current situation. It must also be a challenging description of a church to anyone considering a church leadership vocation. This was the church based in Jerusalem that grew after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Led the by apostles who were teaching daily in the temple and filled with people who were learning, worshipping and sharing together – and daily more and more people were joining them. This was a church that came together at every opportunity. – ‘Day by day they spent much time together’ (v46)
I think we are all missing the opportunity to come together – whether in church or in smaller numbers in our homes, but hopefully those times will return in the not too distant future, when it is safe again to do so. In the meantime I take comfort from something I learned a long time ago from George Carey when he was Bishop of Bath and Wells. I heard him preach in Yeovil, and have always remembered him saying that there could be no such thing as private prayer. When we come to God in prayer or worship, whether in church or at home, we should remember the words from our Eucharistic prayer that we use Sunday by Sunday:
Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you
It is worth remembering that if ever we feel that our prayers or worship at this time are weak and ineffectual – just think what a glorious noise is being made in heaven because you have started to pray!
The description we have of this church is only a few verses long, but it mentions twice the breaking of the bread. Again this is something that we are all missing during the time that we are unable to gather around the Lords table, and so I have added a photo to this that was sent to me by my friend Lisa Large who I am sure many of you remember, who is now living in Leeds. She sent it as an Easter greeting, and at first the picture puzzled me as it seemed to show the remains of her breakfast – until I realised that she was sharing her Easter communion with me. We can all learn from Lisa I think, and even though we bless and break our bread and ‘wine’ at our kitchen tables rather than in church, again we are joined by the ‘whole company of heaven’ and by the universal church on earth in obeying Jesus words when he said ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
If you would like to hear a communion service at home and you have access to the internet or to Facebook, there is a eucharist said by either Bishop Peter or Bishop Ruth on the Bath and Wells diocesan website (https://www.bathandwells.org.uk/) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/bathandwells/ ) every Wednesday morning at 10.30am. If like me you are not very good at finding the right part of the internet at the right time, you will find words to help your own personal eucharist at home in I Corinthians 11: 23-26 which forms part of our Eucharistic Prayer every Sunday.
However you chose to meet with God over the coming week, do remember that nobody ever prays alone, and no prayer ever goes unheard.
Let us pray together:
Loving heavenly Father, we pray today for all those who are considering whether you are calling them to ministry, and that you will show us all how best we can serve you and your kingdom.
Jesus, our good shepherd, we bring to you all those whom we love but are unable to be with at this time. We ask you to keep them safe from fear, loneliness and ill health of body or mind.
Powerful Spirit we pray for the church throughout our land and the world that it will continue to shine your light in dark places and bring your joy and truth wherever you lead.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit we ask for the constant comfort of knowing your loving presence in our lives now and always. Amen.
May the love of the Father, the tenderness of the Son, and the presence of the Spirit gladden our hearts and bring peace to our souls this day and all days. Amen