A Poem for Good Shepherd Sunday

The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, because of the gospel reading. In all three years of the lectionary cycle, there are readings about sheep and shepherds.

Those who were newly baptized at Easter should be first and foremost on our minds this Sunday because they are “the new lambs.” And of course by extension, all those who belong to the flock of the Lord reflect on their relationship to him on this Sunday.

Turing to the figure of the Good Shepherd himself, we see that he is a subject of great affection and attention in the tradition. The fact that he is invoked in the Easter season reminds us that the risen Christ continually cares for those who have been entrusted to him by the Father.

The gospel reading this year (Year B, John 10:11-18) presents the shepherd as the one who lays down his life for the sheep and takes it up again. The Good Shepherd is thus the Crucified and Risen One, the paschal Christ of the Easter season.

Year A presents the image of Jesus as the gate of the sheepfold, a more puzzling image yet one which is also evocative. Year C brings forward the theme of hearing the shepherd’s voice, being known by him.

Together, all three of these gospel passages over the three years of the Lectionary cycle offer a rich depiction of Jesus and his saving work.

A new poem by Malcolm Guite takes up the theme of Jesus as the gate, the door. Although this is not the image highlighted in Year B, I was moved by the poem and so wanted to share it with you here as a reflection on the mystery we celebrate this Sunday.

Our Easter joy continues. Have a blessed Good Shepherd Sunday, everyone!

 

I Am the Door of the Sheepfold

Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,

Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,

Not like the well-oiled openings that swung

So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,

Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face

From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,

Not like the one that no man may assail,

The dreadful curtain, the forbidding veil

That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.

Not one you made but one you have become:

Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam

To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach

Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,

You lay your body down across the breach,

Yourself the door that opens into home.

Guite, Malcolm. (2015) “I Am the Door of the Sheepfold,” The Yale ISM Review: Vol. 1: No. 2, Article 8. Available at: http://ismreview.yale.edu

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4 comments

  1. My recent reading has shed further light (for me at least) on the Good Shepherd image in Mark 6 : 7-52 – the mission of the disciples, the execution of the Baptist, the feeding of the 5000 and withdrawal across the lake. Kenneth Bailey in THE GOOD SHEPHERD, IVP 2014, draws out the reflections of Psalm 23 (22) in the Gospel account. There we are told Jesus had compassion on them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Mk 6 : 34.

    There is of course much more detail on the passage, and also a thoughtful chapter expounding John 10 as this book traces the shepherding theme through 1000 years of scripture from David to 1 Peter.

    Guite’s poetry, as the sample above shows, has a great gift of reaching the kernel of a scripture account.

    We owe these men a great deal for sharing their understanding with us.

  2. Much material for meditation here. Thanks for sharing this, Rita.

    The only thing that I might phrase a tad differently is the “dreadful curtain” image. I do see that it can be interpreted in a purely descriptive manner but it could also be interpreted pejoratively. Given the increased understandings in our day of the concepts of both modern and Second Temple Judaism, such language could be a simplified caricature.

  3. Thanks for the book recommendation, Mary! Sounds like a very interesting study. I shall look for it. What you’ve said here is intriguing.

    Joshua, point taken. I took it to mean “dread” as in “terrible awe,” which is closer to the mysterium tremendum than to something negative, but the multivalent nature of the English word does open up other possible readings.

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