The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Eastertide Worship at Home      3rd May 2020
Where is the Shepherd?
Ayla Lepine

READINGS:
John 10.1-10
Acts 2.42-end
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2.19-end
The separation barrier that runs across over 400 miles is one of the bleakest symbols of division on earth. One recent photograph shows a group of sheep next to the wall. The graffiti on the wall reads, ‘Open Sesame!’ as though a fairytale’s magic words could miraculously bring this wall down and destroy this violent division. In this image these sheep seem to have no shepherd. Weary and displaced, this doesn’t seem to be Psalm 23’s green pastures where God leads his people into peace.
Here is a greener hill, but maybe not so different. This is William Holman Hunt’s painting, Strayed Sheep: Our English Coasts. Hunt was a Pre-Raphaelite and this group of painters loved bright colours, details in nature, and strong political messages in their radical art. This painting was a response to concerns about mid-19th century military invasion. Hunt used the image of sheep without a shepherd to make a connection between the need for wise leadership and the need for protection. Regardless of the political message, this painting shows a group of sheep who have plenty to eat, but their situation is perilous. One is stuck in some thorns, some are pretty close to the edge of the rocky outcrop, and even though the sunlight is so beautiful that it illuminates their wool, their eyes, and their delicate ears, and even though they are marked as belonging to someone, the shepherd is nowhere in sight.
Both the photograph and the painting are asking a similar question: where is the shepherd? Whatever the situation, our scriptures tell us, trust in God. Dare to trust. This is not a passive thing. This is a trust that, however frail or uncertain, knows the bond between the sheep and the shepherd. When we are isolated, in pain, or experiencing suffering, we are not alone. Our community of prayer and action sustains us and seeks to work for the common good in whatever way we can. The Spirit’s love unites us. And the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is within us. Whether we are able to hear it or not, the Gospel is telling us that the sheep know the voice of the Shepherd, and it’s a voice that speaks with love. Listen, Jesus tells us. The love of God is within, and it is this voice that calls, leads, and guides. It is a trustworthy voice. 
Everyone will have had a different experience of lockdown this week, and a different experience of time. For some, the days blend into one another, structure has melted, and there is deep anxiety. For others, this is a time to rest and even to experience a kind of spiritual renewal. This may have been a week of suffering beyond words, measured in gruelling hours of work, or sickness, or grief. Whatever this time has brought you, there is no right way to experience the storm in which we find ourselves. Where help is most urgently needed, we pray that there will be support.
Where there is hunger, nourishment. Where there is sickness, healing. Where there is oppression, justice. All of this, at its heart, is about the shepherd and the sheep. The purpose of the shepherd is not just to herd the sheep, or even just to protect or to feed them. All of those things are important for safety and for community. But underpinning it all is the purpose of the Shepherd, and indeed the purpose of the sheep. In our Gospel today the last thing Jesus says to us is ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ The Good Shepherd is the one who doesn’t just give food, or shelter. The Good Shepherd gives life itself, motivated by love.

I’d like to end with a poem. This is ‘I Worried’, by Mary Oliver:

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

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