Revd Gary's Pastoral Letter May 2021
Listed Under: Vicars Blog
For those of you reading this in the Powick Parish, I do hope you have taken the opportunity to complete your questionnaire on the future of the magazine. The parish magazines across both parishes are alive and kicking and are a rich source of social history. Who knows what historians will make of this period in time when they look at these magazines in the future: if they cross reference the magazine with church records, they will see quiet churches but also ones that supported local families with funeral ministry. It is humbling that we have been asked by so many families to help when so many other ways of handling a funeral exists today.
Over the last year, my reflection on the Lord’s My Shepherd or Psalm 23 has been getting used very regularly as families have requested it for a loved one’s funeral. This got me thinking….
Some of you may be aware, that as well as being your Priest and Vicar across these five villages, I am a Rural Mission Enabler (Eh? The Church loves its titles….) which gets me involved with farms and farming and matters rural - but on 3 hours a week, it is only skimming the surface of the innumerable issues affecting farmers and country living, to be honest. That said, I am getting to know a bit about sheep.
On my necessary lockdown journeys around the benefice during February and March I kept looking out for lambs. I soon realised that given how Easter fell at the beginning of April, the farmers must have cleverly delayed the lambing season to ensure a good supply of tender roast lamb for Easter Sunday lunches. We are such people of tradition, aren’t we, with our Christmas turkeys and our Easter roast lamb.
But when I did finally see new lambs in the fields, or curled up alongside their mothers, I found myself thinking not about roast dinners with mint sauce, but about why Jesus is called the Lamb of God. And even more confusingly, why Jesus is also the Good Shepherd. That took me back to my well-honed and used funeral homily. Think about that, how can He be both lamb and shepherd? Odd, isn’t it? Told you I shouldn’t be left alone to think. But let me try to explain.
Going back over the centuries, Jewish culture often involved the sacrifice of lambs and this animal had a very important place in the religion. A new born lamb with a pure white fleece is a symbol of purity. Despite Jesus being a mature man, he was unstained by sin and He too could symbolise cleanliness. So, by referring to Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’, we can see that he was the perfect sacrifice.
Now my advisor on sheep tells me that lambs are not in fact, perfectly clean. They are as fresh as a new born baby when they tumble into this world, but in no time at all, after snuggling up against their woolly mums, they don’t smell too good! However, when we see those little white lambs scampering across the grass, we just see unstained new life.
So now let’s consider the shepherd analogy. In His own words, Jesus tells us in John 10: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ Now I know our farmers are conscientious and care for their livestock, and my shepherd friend tells me that shepherds really do get to know their sheep as individuals, but I doubt that they would lay down their lives for them. However, they work through the night to help ewes lamb, they check their flocks at all hours for predators and parasites and show sorrow at the loss of a good ewe or a sickly lamb. They will bottle feed rejected or orphaned lambs and go to great lengths to ensure that a ewe accepts and feeds her offspring. And I am told that even a hardened shepherd’s heart warms to the sound of the unique snickering the ewe makes when she turns her head to greet and lick her newly born lamb.
And just as the shepherd of today, working with a crook that has changed not at all since Biblical times, knows his sheep, so Jesus knows us and cares for us. Again, in John 10, he said, ‘I know my own sheep, and they know me just as my Father knows me and I know my Father.’ It’s comforting to think that we are watched over, cared for and loved by the Good Shepherd, all the days of our lives.
And that message helps with my funeral and pastoral ministry immensely as I try to care for you all too. Where did I leave my crook? Every blessing. - Rev Gary