18 February 2020
The hymn we sang before the Gospel was an adaptation of the words of the 23rd Psalm. We know it most commonly to begin like this: “The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want”.
The image of the shepherd as one who cares for the sheep runs throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets. It is an image that Jesus himself draws on in more than one instance. He even says in the Gospel of John, chapter 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep”.
These are great words of comfort in regard to Christ’s love and concern for us, particularly in the critical moment of death.
I suppose the problem for us is that our notions of sheep rearing are so far away from the situation Jesus is alluding to. Here in Australia, we think of a shepherd as a pastoralist with thousands of head of sheep scattered over vast distances. There is none of the intimacy that Jesus is drawing upon.
I gained a greater insight into the care and concern of the shepherd for the sheep through my father-in-law who had a fat lamb stud and carried a much smaller number of sheep on the property. He knew them all as he had reared them from birth and had names for many of them. I fondly remember him walking out into paddocks in the morning and evening with his usual cry: “Come on the bebs! Come on the bebs!” and sheep would come running from all corners to be hand fed by him.
That is more in keeping with the biblical image of God or Jesus as shepherd.
As we mourn Jean’s death, we comfort one another with the conviction that Jesus knows his sheep, that he laid down his life for his sheep that they may enjoy eternal life with him. And his sheep, like Jean, know him and they come running to him to enjoy eternal life as he calls: “Come on the bebs! Come on the bebs!”
That is our faith as Christians, that as Jean has enjoyed a long and fruitful life here amongst us, she is now at rest with the good shepherd, and she will rise in glory with him when he returns to finally establish the kingdom of God in this world.
May Jean Elizabeth Semple, by the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory!
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen