Safe with the Shepherd
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 10:22–10:30
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2022
“Safe with the Shepherd”
Of all the images that we have of our risen Lord – Savior, Friend, Messiah – the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved among Christ’s people. Even though most of us know almost nothing about sheep, except that they are wooly and fun to pet, there is something about this sheep-shepherd connection that speaks deeply to our hearts. Even though we live in a time and place far removed from the care and feeding of sheep, we still hold onto this in our life of faith. How else can you explain why so many people want those beautiful words of Psalm 23 read at a loved one’s funeral? And very often it is the time-honored and poetic words of the King James Version of Psalm 23. Even though we don’t talk in “thee’s and thou’s” anymore, there seems to be an exception to the rule with Psalm 23. I’ve shared this with you before, but I can’t let this day go by without telling a funny story related to the opening hymn which we sang together, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” (Lutheran Service Book #711). A family in our congregation, now living in another state, had one of their sons who came up with his own version of the refrain for this hymn. As a little guy, he heard that refrain, “Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus…” and what he heard was “Bless the cheese sauce, bless the cheese sauce…,” and he sang it with gusto! On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, often called Good Shepherd Sunday, we focus on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson under the theme, “Safe with the Shepherd.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In worship each Sunday, there are appointed Scripture lessons: the Old Testament reading, the Psalm, the Epistle reading, and the Gospel. But this looks different in the Easter season. There is no Old Testament reading; instead, in its place are readings from the book of Acts, or more properly called the Acts of the Apostles. Why this change? Because the power of the risen Christ is at work through his apostles to carry on proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God that has broken into our world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that reading today from Acts (Acts 20:17-35), Paul speaks to the elders of the church in Ephesus, exhorting them to remain steadfast in faith. In many ways, Paul served as the overseer, the shepherd, to the church in Ephesus, guiding and equipping them to live out their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. This was Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesians as he made clear that he would not see them again. Paul held up his own life and witness as an example to the believers of how they were to live as followers of Jesus. Paul’s Spirit-inspired words, written nearly 2000 years ago, continue to help us live as followers of Jesus today. That’s the first reading from the book of Acts. In this Easter season, have you noticed that the Epistle readings are all taken from the final book of Scripture, the book of Revelation? Our beloved hymn of praise in Easter, “This is the Feast,” is taken directly from Revelation (Revelation 5:12-13; 19:5-9). Today’s Epistle lesson (Revelation 7:9-17) reminds us that “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” (Revelation 7:17). This is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), who is also our Good Shepherd, whose blood cleanses us from all our sin (1 John 1:7). We are safe with the Shepherd as he himself tells us: “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” (John 10:27-28).
Back to the Epistle lesson from Revelation: the word “Lamb” is used four times here (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14, 17). The background of this word in the original language (αρνίον) is in the diminutive sense; a little lamb. This word is found only in the Gospel lesson that we heard last Sunday (John 21:1-19), where Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15), and again here in Revelation, where it occurs 29 times (including today’s Epistle lesson), where the exalted Christ is called the Lamb (see Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964; pp. 340-341). The original word for lamb “… in the diminutive case… means something like ‘Lamby-kin.’ Far from Revelation’s vision of a majestic, all-powerful emperor, this section has – at its center – a small, fluffy, cuddly lamb. This image illustrates Martin Luther’s theologica crucis in that it locates the center of power where power was never expected to be: in a fluffy animal. This lamb, though like a small stuffed animal that seems docile, is actually not. Rather, Christ Pantocrator (all-powerful) so vividly depicted in other parts of Revelation finds his home among the unexpected (mangers, crosses, tiny lambs). If Jesus can bob and weave between these two images of strength and weakness, what does that mean for how we continue the celebrations of the Risen One who was crucified (the ultimate diminutive expression of service) and brought forth as the life of the world?” (Sundays and Seasons: Year C – 2022. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2021; p. 177). Faith grasps this paradox and holds fast to the One who is both Lamb and Shepherd.
Today, Good Shepherd Sunday happens to fall on Mother’s Day, a happy coincidence. In a very real way, moms and those who serve in mothering roles take on that shepherding function with loving and leading, feeding and guiding, protecting and nurturing. There is a sense of safety and well-being under mom’s watchful care. This points us to a greater truth; namely, that we are under the watchful care of the One who loves us and has laid down his life for us. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we “have washed [our] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14b). Until we are joined with “that great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9), we will rejoice and give thanks that we are safe with the Shepherd. Amen.