The nickname given to this coming Sunday, the fourth Sunday in the Easter season, is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Psalm 23 is always read and a different portion of John 10 is read each year. This year’s portion is verses 22-30.
If you read through John 10, you’ll see 14 uses of the word, “sheep.” You’ll also get the sense that the sheep’s job is to listen and follow and the shepherd’s job is to lead and protect. Jesus promises us that he, the Good Shepherd, will never lose his own, even when it requires laying down his life for us. He leads us by calling, guiding, and serving. He protects us by standing between us and that which would try to snatch us away, giving whatever it takes to save us.
If that sounds like a Good Friday message, it is, but it’s also a message for this side of the crucifixion. Our Good Shepherd didn’t leave us to wander aimlessly or be snatched away once he laid down his life or even after he ascended to the Father. He continues to call out to us and to take care of us. When we listen (if we know his voice), we are guided into abundant life. We learn his voice as does a sheep (by being in his presence – worship and prayer) and in ways that we learn an author’s voice (by reading scripture). We learn to follow by being part of the flock (gathering for worship, study, and service with other followers). When we follow, we realize that we’re never alone, even in the most challenging and difficult parts.