LAMB AND SHEPHERD – Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C

May 8, 2022

Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5 (3c)
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
John 10:27-30

The Good Shepherd has long been a deeply compelling image for followers of Jesus, reaching back into the first centuries of the Christian community, The very earliest artistic depiction of Jesus, found in the Roman catacombs—and most likely borrowed from pagan sources—was of the shepherd carrying a sheep around his neck. Even today we often see Jesus pictured as the Good Shepherd, giving comfort to bereaved family and friends at funerals and inspiring Christians who view stained glass depictions in their churches.

That image from the catacombs got me thinking about today’s reading from the Book of Revelation. I wondered, did those Christians who gathered underground in Rome to avoid becoming targets of persecution by the authorities think of this passage and draw strength from it when they looked at the Shepherd on the catacomb wall? The author of Revelation was writing after all for communities who were either experiencing Roman persecution firsthand or were at least aware of suffering and death in other communities.

Today’s reading presents a vision of the heavenly court in which there was “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9). While they may have been victims of persecution, they have now “come out of the great ordeal” and “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).

They have followed on the same path as the Lamb who was slain but now stands before the throne with God. In a stunning juxtaposition of metaphors, the author declares that the Lamb is also their shepherd who “will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17).

The Lamb, the Shepherd, has gone before us and has risen to new life. And so, those who are addressed in the Book of Revelation are called to take hope even in the face of suffering. Those who have followed the Lamb, the risen One, are safe from harm: “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (7:16).

Just as it was for communities addressed by the author of Revelation, so for us too, hope can be difficult in the face of so much injustice, suffering, and death. Today’s passage proclaims an important aspect of resurrection faith—that as we live out our new life in Christ, we have a Shepherd who knows our suffering and has risen victorious to a new life. In our difficulties, struggles, and griefs, we can gaze at the image of the Shepherd and trust that we are loved and cared for.

A Hymn for Today: “Such Perfect Love My Shepherd Shows”

Anglican priest Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877) was a prolific writer and translator of hymns who produced two complete collections of metrical psalms. Perhaps best known of all his psalm paraphrases is “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” (Ps 23). The text below is another version of Psalm 23 from his other psalm collection and resonates with the vision of the Good Shepherd who is the Lamb, slain for us out of “perfect love” and now risen to care for us in our every need.

Such perfect love my Shepherd shows,
whose goodness fails me never,
whose hand all things I need bestows
and watches me forever.

Where streams of living water flow,
my loving Shepherd leads me,
and where the verdant pastures grow
with food from heaven feeds me.

When vain and foolish I have strayed,
you, faithful Shepherd, sought me,
and on your shoulder gently laid,
then home, rejoicing, brought me.

I do not fear death’s shadowed vale
when you are here beside me;
your rod and staff and strength prevail
to comfort and to guide me.

You spread a table in my sight,
your gifts of grace bestowing;
and from your chalice I delight
to taste your mercy flowing.

And so through all the length of days
your goodness fails me never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing your praise
within your house forever.

Text: Henry Williams Baker, 1868, alt.

Image: Good Shepherd, Catacomb of Priscilla

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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