4th Sunday of Easter
One of the Flock
By: Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell
I have been a catechist here at St. Basil’s with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program since we began in 2016. Since then, I have written a few reflections about the meaning of the Parable of the Good Shepherd and why it is such an important image in our understanding of, and relationship with, Jesus. Jesus the Good Shepherd knows each of his sheep by name. He knows his sheep intimately and provides them with all that they need. I always love asking the younger children the question, “what makes the Good Shepherd good? What does he do for his sheep?” They respond, “he plays with his sheep.” The Good Shepherd is here to experience our most joyful joys and our most profound sorrows. For the children, an adult who gives them their undivided attention and laughs and plays with them is, by definition, good. As they grow in their understanding of the Good Shepherd, they come to fully appreciate the act of love that is present in Jesus’ death on the cross. Joy, laughter, and love ground the children’s understanding of the Good Shepherd.
This year, things in the Atrium have been a bit different. They have been different for the children and they have been different for myself and my fellow catechists. We normally gather in person to experience and reflect on the Parable of the Good Shepherd, as one flock, and now we gather via cameras on our laptops. This separation has made the words, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd,” resonate differently then they have in the past for me. This parable does not work without the image of a flock. This imagery is present in the Atrium both in our sheepfold materials and in the children themselves. It is more difficult in a virtual world to feel the presence of the flock and to see ourselves as one of the flock. The openness of children to each other, and to the Good Shepherd, allowed us to overcome this obstacle this year and create a sense of togetherness while apart.
For us adults, this can be a lot more difficult. Normally, when we hear this parable on Good Shepherd Sunday, we have greeted each other on our way into the building, we have prayed together, we will receive the Eucharist together. We are one flock united in our love of the Good Shepherd. For many of us, we have not been able to come together in the Eucharist for over a year and have been missing the physical connection to our faith community, the church, and the divine. When we read the parable of the Good Shepherd it is easy to imagine the wolf as a creature of agency, such as the Devil who actively snatches and scatters us from the presence of the Lord. But in a time of COVID, it is possible to understand that the wolf can be a metaphor for circumstances in our lives that keep us from the Good Shepherd, such as being absorbed in our work or school, attachment to material possessions, or as we have seen, the pervasive fear and uncertainty of a global pandemic. During this time, I am sure I am not alone in feelings of isolation and being scattered. Not only from the flock but from the Shepherd as well. The reminder of the parable that Jesus speaks to us today is a timely one. Although I hear this parable every year, I feel a profound sense of relief in knowing that Jesus has promised to come and find me when I am lost. It can be hard to remember at the best of times that Jesus has claimed us as his own and that he will always love and protect us. It is important to our relationship with the Good Shepherd to have faith in this promise. Despite how it may feel we are never alone, and we are never abandoned. We can always reconnect with him by sitting with him in prayer, speaking to him in our journal, or by rejoicing in the natural world as it begins a new life this Spring.
Our individual connection with Jesus as one of his sheep inherently makes us part of a flock. Just as our separation from the physical Eucharist does not diminish our connection to Jesus, our separation from the physical church does not diminish our connection to our faith community. At our baptism we are called to join in Jesus’ ministry of priest, prophet, and king.
While we are each a sheep in our own right, now is the time to also be a shepherd to those around us. Being one of the flock means being both sheep and shepherd.
My bond with the Good Shepherd calls me to go out into the world and serve my fellow sheep. One of the ways that I have fostered my relationship with the Good Shepherd and the rest of the flock during this time of physical distancing is through being a catechist with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It has not always been easy to find the strength to minister to others after a long work week filled with fears of the pandemic. To prepare myself to minister to the children each week I set aside time to reflect on the lessons for the week with my Good Shepherd. I listen to prayerful music, I re-read the scripture, or I go for a walk to take in the beauty of the world around me. I spend time with the Good Shepherd on my own to strengthen my connection to him. Despite everything else going on around me, each Sunday, without fail, I am rejuvenated the moment the children’s faces appear in our meeting and they share the joys of their week with me. Our virtual gathering enables all of us to feel the connection to the larger flock that we have been longing to have again. It is in these moments that I can feel the Good Shepherd walking with me in my ministry.
We are all of us, at once, fellow sheep and guiding shepherd to someone in our life, and the task of holding both at once can be difficult. In the Atrium we often ask just one personal question of the children when discussing this parable,
“Who in your life makes you think of the Good Shepherd?”
Yes, often their responses will be adults that provide for them and bring them joy, but sometimes they will also name their siblings or friends. In other words, the positive relationships in their life that allow them to feel safe and secure. It is children, in their own innocent understanding, that willingly grasp the concept that we are all called to shepherd to each other,
regardless of age. As we get older it can be hard to see these shepherds in our life and therefore, difficult to know how and when to be a shepherd to others. But it is important to remember that it is when we serve each other that we realize how important our own presence is in the greater flock.
Ask yourself today, how will I rekindle my relationship with the Good Shepherd? What are ways I can care for and create connection with those in my life?