Fourth Sunday of Easter - Choral Eucharist

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd. Andrew Nunn

If I’m waiting for the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ to begin on a Sunday evening I sometimes see a bit of ‘Countryfile’ which is normally scheduled beforehand. Not being a country person at all it’s not a programme that, to be honest, I choose to watch, but there is something undoubtedly lovely about it.

Lections: Acts 4.5-12; 1 John 3.16-24; John 10.11-18

Who cannot be won over by the sight of spring lambs and the mother sheep, of the diligent and skilled sheepdog busy doing what they do and the shepherd looking over the flock. Last week they featured a young girl, brought up the whole of her life on a farm and caring for the orphaned or abandoned lambs, they chasing after her eager for the next bottle.  It was lovely.

There’s no escaping how powerful the image of the Good Shepherd is, even for those of us living in the centre of a city completely removed from pastoral delights.  Even for the earliest Christians it was a source of huge comfort – and they’d never even heard the tune Crimmond.  In their catacombs they’d depict Christ the Good Shepherd, young, vigorous, with a sheep across his shoulders, the one who would both protect and rescue them.  It’s an image that never diminishes in its power.

And as Jesus spoke to the crowds and said those most famous words with which the gospel began, ‘I am the good shepherd’ they knew exactly what he was talking about.  Even the city dwellers were familiar with sheep, with goats, with shepherds.  If you lived in Jerusalem you’d be used to the constant arrival of lambs and sheep, to the sheep pools at Bethesda and the temple courts for ritual purposes, to the table to feed families and at the heart of that most defining moment in the lives of the people and the nation, the festival of Passover.  They knew all about sheep – and they knew all about shepherds.

You may recall that at Christmas we often refer to the rather bad reputation that shepherds actually had.  They were outsiders to the rest of the community, smelly, rough, uneducated.  In Roman law what they said couldn’t be taken in evidence.  Which makes it so wonderfully remarkable and powerful that in St Luke’s Gospel it’s to shepherds that the angels appear and it’s to shepherds that the good news is told, that Jesus had been born.  It was also amazing that they told everyone what had happened and people listened to the testimony of the shepherds and, most amazingly, believed them.

Now Jesus calls himself a shepherd, a good shepherd.  In that incredible counter-cultural, world upside down creating way that Jesus has, he identifies with the people on the edge, with the ruffians who people wanted to keep at arms length outside the city wall.  ‘I am the good shepherd’ he says.

This gospel reading is one of total inclusion.  Jesus speaks of a number of folds, a number of flocks.  That is the way things would’ve been.  But Jesus has a bigger vision, a wider point to make:

‘I must bring them also .. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.’

None is left behind, the fold is large, the flock is one, all are gathered together.

St Peter in our First Reading had spoken about Jesus being the rejected one, there though the imagery was of the cornerstone, but it’s all the same theme, Jesus is the rejected one, chosen by God, who becomes the foundation of the temple, the rock on which we build, who is the shepherd, the outsider who draws the people in.  The rejected stone becomes the good stone, the rejected shepherd becomes the good shepherd. 

But it’s even more powerful than this.  In every Eucharist we recognise Jesus not as shepherd but as Lamb.  ‘Jesus is the Lamb of God’ says the priest as the host is raised before us and we are invited to share in the Eucharistic meal.  This is the Passover Lamb, sacrificed for us.  ‘O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world’ sings the choir.

The shepherd is the lamb, Jesus not only oversees the flock but is part of the flock.  As the poet, artist, William Blake wrote in his wonderful poem ‘The Lamb’


He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb: 

He is meek & he is mild, 

He became a little child: 

I a child & thou a lamb, 

We are called by his name.

         Little Lamb God bless thee. 

         Little Lamb God bless thee.


We are called by his name, we are lambs, part of the one flock of which Jesus is both Good Shepherd and lamb.

Last week was tough.  On Monday we watched the Panorama programme in which the journalist Clive Myrie exposed racism within the life of the Church of England.  On Tuesday we watched as the USA took a first step towards greater justice for African Americans and all people of colour who face day-in day-out the brutality and injustice at the hands of the American police forces as the murderer of George Floyd was found guilty.  On Thursday the report of the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Task Force was published; we heard of the terrible way in which men of colour who fought and fell alongside their white comrades in the First World War were not recognised by headstones or monuments; and we marked the 28th anniversary of the murder of our brother Stephen Lawrence on the streets of this diocese in Eltham.

Things have to change.  The Archbishops’ Report was entitled ‘From Lament to Action’.  Well the time for lamenting is over, now is the time for action.  St John has a word for us today in the Second Reading

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

The church keeps asking for forgiveness for the way in which we have treated women, the abuse we have allowed against our children, the hatred we have fostered against gay people, the way we have discriminated against black and brown people, whoever is not white and indigenous.  ‘Not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’

The Good Shepherd is a person of few words and of courageous, heroic action, ‘And I lay down my life for the sheep’, who stands firmly in place when the hired hand runs away, who will search for the lost in the wilderness of the world, who will be the lamb of sacrifice, who will be laid upon the altar.  Jesus demands that we act – and that includes us.

As your Dean I want you to know that everyone of you is important to us, but I want you also to know that Black Lives Matter and that we need to be doing even more, acting with even greater intentionality to make this true not just in word but in deed, ‘in truth and action’ to use St John’s words.

I a child & thou a lamb, 

We are called by his name.

That means all of us, equally, in one flock, in one fold, sharing in one bread, stood around one table, under one roof.  That is really what being inclusive, faithful, radical means.

And we do it for Stephen Lawrence and we do it for Damilola Taylor, we do it for George Floyd and for everyone who fell in the war who we simply decided it was ok to forget, we do it for everyone who every day faces the pain and humiliation of discrimination, we do it for Jesus, who lays down his life for us, for each one of us, and now gives us his life that we may live better.