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Fourth Sunday after Easter

[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act worship in our own homes]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my own and my own know me.” [John 10.11,14]

Collect

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading: John 10.1-11 

A reading from the Gospel according to St John

Jesus said, ‘Truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’

Reflection 

One of the things I’ve missed during this past year of lockdown has been making the regular journey to our Cathedral Church at Brecon. It’s the most beautiful of drives, up through the Tawe Valley, over the spectacular Brecon Beacons and down into the Vale of Usk. One of my favourite parts of the fifty mile trip is the Cray pass, between the Brycheiniog and Gyhirych Fans, when you leave the south and enter mid Wales. The mountain landscape is the nearest thing you get to wilderness in southern Britain and where the only inhabitants are the sheep!

Over the years I’ve been intrigued by a number of manmade structures on the western side of the Cray reservoir. They are the remains of square shaped stone walls in which grow the only trees on the mountainside. It was only when I served in a parish at the top end of the Swansea Valley that I discovered what these structures are. They are the remains of ancient sheepfolds [ffald in Welsh], reminding us of the days of the drovers and of one of the most important industries in Wales, sheep farming.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we think of two inter related divine claims of Jesus, ‘I am the Gate’ and ‘I am the Good Shepherd’.

Sheep farming was an important part of life in Biblical times. So much so, that the covenant relationship between God and his people was often likened to that of a shepherd and his flock. It’s what King David’s famous psalm proclaims, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ Though the flock of Israel often strayed God always sought them out and welcomed them back into the fold.

Today’s we read of how Jesus took this important Old Testament concept and applied it to himself. He did this a number of times in John’s Gospel in his seven ‘I AM’ sayings. We get two for the price of one in Chapter 10, ‘I am the Good Shepherd and I am the Gate’.

The word that John uses for ‘good’ means so much more than we understand in the English translation. He suggests that it’s more than being morally good or upright. A better interpretation would be, ‘I am the beautiful, the attractive shepherd’. Jesus knows his own and his own know him and, unlike the hired hand, the Good Shepherd is prepared to lay down his life for the sheep. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is pastoral and sacrificial love. He suggests that this should be the pattern of ministry for the Church too.

We also reflect today on Jesus’ claim, ‘I am the Gate [the door]’. It’s understood that, in ancient times, the shepherd really was the gate to the fold. Once the sheep were gathered in he would recline at the entrance to be ready to see off any wild predators or sheep robbers. In claiming to be the door Jesus tells us that he is the way to the Father’s fold and is our sure defence.

The reading also records our Lord’s promise, ‘I have come so that you may have life and have it in all its fullness’. As we take the first tentative steps out of lockdown we continue to reflect on the events of this challenging last year. It has been a time when we have not known ‘life in all its fullness.’ The hope of a post pandemic ‘new normal’ way of life is unlikely to offer a return to what we knew in the past either, in society or in the Church.

As we think of what the future might bring we celebrate today how the Lord is our Shepherd and that we are all precious members of his flock. We give thanks that he is the door to the sheepfold. This Good Shepherd Sunday we should also reflect on those great words of encouragement written so long ago by King David, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me’. These words take on a special resonance again this year. May they also encourage us and give us hope.

Prayers

 

God our Father, guide and strengthen your Church in its fellowship, witness and the desire for unity; that we may be one flock under you, our Shepherd. Bless John our Bishop as he and his family prepare for his retirement next week and all who serve you in word, in sacrament and in social outreach. May your kingdom of love come and grow through us.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we pray for the leaders of the world that they may be guided and inspired by Christ’s example of leadership as the Good Shepherd. May they so lead and care for their own flocks that peace might abound, righteousness flourish and injustice be eradicated.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, help us to reach out to strangers in our midst, especially to those in need; the homeless, the lonely and the outcast. As the early Church lived in one heart and mind and shared everything they had, may we be generous in or loving and always mindful of the needs of others. Give us the hearts to welcome the newcomer joyfully into our midst.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, as the United Kingdom begins to emerge from lockdown we pray for those countries where there are new waves and strains of Covid 19. We pray especially for India and countries in the developing world as they are overwhelmed once again. Bless the work of the World Health Organisation and inspire the nations of the world to share resources and research generously with each other.

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we pray for those who do not know your peace and for those who are struggling with their lives.  We ask for your healing on those who are sick, your strength for those who are tired and your love for those who live with despair and fear. 

            Lord, hear us...

Father, we pray for those who now walk in the valley of the shadow of death.  Guide those who are left behind in the paths of righteousness and uphold them in their sorrow with the assurance of your goodness and love. We remember before you our own departed loved ones and friends.

            Lord, hear us...

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.

Prayer for those unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion

O Blessed Lord, in union with the faithful throughout the world, at every altar of your Church where the Eucharist is being celebrated, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving. I present to you my soul and body with the earnest wish that may always be united to you. Since I cannot now receive you in the Sacrament, I invite you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to you and embrace you with heart and mind and soul. Let nothing ever separate you from me, so that I may live and die in your love. Amen.

[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]

Almighty God, we bless you for giving your Son to be the shepherd of your people. Grant that we who are strengthened by his risen presence may follow him in our daily life. This we ask through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will shine with glory where threatening clouds have been:
my hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free;
my Saviour has my treasure, and he will walk with me.

Anna Waring [1823–1910]

 

Christ the good shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep, draw us and all who hear his voice, to be one flock within one fold; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.

 

Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version [1989] - Intercessions: Costa Blanca Chaplaincy [adapted] - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - CCL Parish Copyright Licence:  753662

 


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