Scripture for this Sunday:
Acts 2.42–47; Psalm 23 (sung); 1 Peter 2.19–25*; John 10.1–10
* not used for online worship
Earlier this week, the church remembered the 19th century poet, Christina Rossetti. One of her poems seems apposite for today: The Lambs of Grasmere, which describes shepherds feeding starving lambs using teapots, and which concludes with a reference to ‘Scarce saved lambs of Westmoreland.’ Yes, but saved nevertheless.
Christina Rossetti wrote a lot of religious poetry, including a very well-known Christmas carol. Religion for her was a part of her writing. Perhaps she saw in the shepherds saving starving lambs in the fells and dales of Westmoreland a little lived-out parable.
On the fourth Sunday of Easter each year we uplift the nature of Christ as the Shepherd of his flock. In first century Palestine, the expectation was that the shepherd would lead the sheep, who would be accustomed to their shepherd and his voice, and would follow. This was learned by lambs following their mothers.
Shepherds, who might have been an odd lot, still cared for their sheep and lambs. There is a lot of imagery of shepherds in the Bible, from God as shepherd of the people, to David, the shepherd-king, culminating in Jesus, the self-described shepherd of his people.
What we are given, then, in scripture, is a picture of a God who leads the people, people who are encouraged to learn to recognise God’s voice, and to trust God to care for them. And leaders who are shepherds who care for God’s flock.
The image of starving lambs of Westmoreland struck a deep chord of remembrance in Christina Rossetti’s heart as she watched the lambs nurtured into healthy life by shepherds who exerted themselves to provide the care – and must have echoed her faith. Because we are sheep of the flock of a God who spares no expense, even the life of his own son, to care for lambs that are in desperate need.
God is always on the look-out for needy and disoriented lambs. And will come bringing the spiritual equivalent of those shepherds’ teapots. If we trust in the care of that shepherd, whose voice can reach us through the words of Jesus, we will find ourselves recognising the voice of the shepherd, we will find ourselves becoming used to the nourishment we are fed and the voice that feeds our spirits.
Then, like so many disciples of Christ before, we can grow from rescued lambs into sheep who accept the role of helping the shepherd to care for the flock.