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Julia’s Newsletter for April 2016 – Good Shepherd Sunday

I love the festival of Easter, 50 days long, filled with resurrection hymns, music and readings on new life made possible through Christ’s resurrection. The psalmist gives us a beautiful picture of the whole of creation as an unfinished symphony, with God’s Spirit being sent forth to renew the face of the earth. This life renewing Spirit of God is intimately at work with the spirit of the individual to bring new life and transformation. On the 4th Sunday of Easter, better know as Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus describes this work in simple language. He asks us to imagine an attentive shepherd, whose sheep know the sound of his voice and learn to follow him as they recognise the sound of his call. The people who live in close proximity to God are those who make a commitment to prayer, and those who know his voice are those who reflect on scripture and in particular the good news of Jesus found in the Gospels. With this deeper familiarity and practice comes a gradual understanding of the message. The wonderful promise found in scriptures is that the call is by name, as even today the shepherds still know their sheep by individual names in the Middle East. This call however can be a tricky thing, as it’s a call to self-knowledge, which we naturally protect ourselves from because it can be so painful. Instinctively, we fall into self-justification, and the bible is full of people whose defaulted practice was this. For example, Eve blaming the serpent and Adam in turn, blaming Eve. The reluctance to perceive the truth about our own shortcomings is pride and this is the first thing that God’s Spirit sets to work on. Delia Smith in her wonderful book, A Journey into God, gives a helpful illustration in this respect. She says that the spiritual life is like getting into a lift and contrary to ones natural inclinations, you have to learn to push the going down button first. The only way up in the spiritual life, she says is down! This is a really helpful idea, but how sad that it’s not as easy as pushing a button. It can be fearful work and often a sense of shame or a feeling that we won’t measure up, gets in the way of us engaging in such work. This is why the imagery and symbols found in scripture and in particularly the Gospels, are so helpful to us. The good shepherd does stay close by, he does call each one of us by name, and he does lead us in our prayer. His voice will contain us as we wrestle with pride and anxiety and ultimately, reveal the new life of peaceful self-acceptance. After all, the shepherd’s promise is, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”           So we look forward to Good Shepherd Sunday on the 17th April, with a thankful spirit and a sense of anticipation listening for these words of hope from Jesus, “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 my sheep.”