I seem to always get assigned the Revised Common Lectionary readings that are about sheep!
It’s the fourth Sunday in Eastertide (Shepherd Sunday), and the RCL has moved beyond accounts of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection. We’re now getting into the matter of what the resurrection means. We’re dealing with some deeper Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology this week. Who are the sheep and who is the shepherd? What does it mean to be shepherded? What does it mean to be saved?
We have the famous Psalm 23 — a stalwart of psalms, used by believers throughout the ages in times of discomfort and uncertainty. It’s a declaration of what it means to be a sheep in the LORD’s pasture. Of course, the picture isn’t always quite as rosy, but we lean on the hope that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”.
Acts 4:5-12 gives us the account of Peter’s rousing Christological and soteriological sermon to the council following their healing of a disabled man outside the Temple gate. Peter is here witnessing to the power of Jesus from both his own experience and by his deeper Christological understanding (thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit).
I John 3:16-24 lays out an ecclesiological ethic based on that Christological understanding. The true follower will have certain “receipts” to show for it — love of neighbor, obedience of Christ’s commandments, and the Spirit of God living within them. They’ll also show the kind of love that was shown to them — the self-sacrificing love of Jesus.
Finally, we have Jesus’s own words about shepherding in John 10:11-18. Jesus declares that he is not simply a hired hand; he’s much more invested than that. He’s the good shepherd, so good in fact that he will voluntarily lay everything down for his sheep. He’s going to collect his sheep — all of them — and they will recognize him.
It seems that, in the flow of liturgical time, word of Christ’s resurrection is getting out, and now we must grapple with the implications of it. We wrestle with what it means to have a Messiah who not only would willingly lay it all down for those who are his. We look at what’s expected of those who belong to him. It would appear to me that this week’s readings are finally taking us beyond the tomb — figuratively and literally. What does a faith that embraces a risen Christ now look like?
What threads are you seeing in the text? Where are you leaning in your preaching?