A Service for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

If you would like to see this service run in YouTube, then you can watch it here:

HYMN Jesus where’er they people meet

Jesus, where'er Thy people meet,
there they behold Thy mercy seat;
where'er they seek Thee, Thou are found,
and every place is hallowed ground.

For Thou within no walls confined,
inhabitest the humble mind;
such ever bring Thee where they come,
and going, take Thee  to their home.

Here may we prove the power of prayer
to strengthen faith and sweeten care,
to teach our faint desires to rise,
and bring all heaven before our eyes.

Lord, we are few, but Thou are near;
nor short Thine arm, nor deaf Thine ear;
O rend the heavens, come quickly down,
and make a thousand hearts Thine own.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
In Baptism we died with Christ, so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we might walk in newness of life. Let us receive new life in him as we confess our sins in penitence and faith. cf Romans 6.4

God of mercy,
we acknowledge that we are all sinners.
We turn from the wrong that we have thought and said and done,
and are mindful of all that we have failed to do.
my neglect and forgetfulness of your commandments,
For the sake of Jesus, who died for us,
forgive us for all the is past,
and help us to like each day
in the light of Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE COLLECT
Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

FIRST READING - Acts 2.42-47
In this passage from the Acts of the Apostles we have the foundation of the life of the new Church - “teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers". It was the warmth of their community life that drew people to them. Sharing everything in common was the expression of their comm-union.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

HYMN The king of love my shepherd is

GOSPEL - John 10.1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

SERMON
Your regular flock of sheep don’t have much to worry about, the shepherd leads them to new pastures, the shepherd finds them water, the shepherd protects them against wild animals, the shepherd takes their burdens and lets them just be - just be sheep.

From the Sumerian kings 3,000 years BC on, Kings of the ancient Near East referred to themselves as shepherds of their people. But the prophet Ezekiel declared the rulers of Israel, the king and the officials guilty of feeding off God’s flock, the people of Israel, and not taking care of them.  God declares that he will himself become his people’s shepherd, protecting them, gathering them together, finding the scattered and leading them to safety; and more than safety, to good food, clean water, safe housing - an abundant life.

This is the task that God takes to himself.  Ezekiel sees that the only hope for Israel is God.  God as saviour, God who will directly intervene, who will do the work no one else will do; will intervene for the poor and dispossessed.  For Ezekiel this will mean the return of the now long dead David, as a Messiah King.  But it is God who will do the leading and the feeding and the saving.  In God was Ezekiel’s hope and in him was the promise of salvation.

This was the image that John was invoking in our Gospel reading today. By claiming the title and work of The Good Shepherd for Jesus he was claiming the inheritance of all that Ezekiel had prophesied.  He was saying that Jesus was the one to lead the people to new pastures, new life, and that he laid down his life to fulfil his role as Shepherd of his people.

As Shepherd still he calls all by name who would follow him, all who recognise his call, and recognise him as their shepherd and guide, protector and comforter.  Those who seek other kinds of leaders, other comforts, other protection will not recognise him, and will not follow him. The sheep must be able to do one thing - recognise his voice.  If they do not recognise it they are likely to be led astray and into danger.

But Jesus claims to be more than the Shepherd, he is also the gate, or the door to the sheepfold.  As the shepherds did in the Middle East, he himself is the door to the sheep fold. Jesus says he is the door because he is the way in – ‘I am the Way the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father but by me’. 

Whatever anyone’s faith, or none, we shall all come to God through Jesus, eventually, because that is his place, that is what he is – a bridge, a threshold, a crossing place from earth to heaven, from man to God.  As Shepherd he calls, as Shepherd he leads, he calls and leads to the place where he is – where the wafer thin divide between time and eternity breaks down into nothing, and hope becomes possession.

The security Jesus offers is not bound to a safe place, a sheep fold, his is not the security of the nursery, or the padded cell, it is the security offered to those who love life, who face its dangers, who suffer its worst and feel its best, and seek abundant life. The security Jesus offers is the security of the crucified and risen shepherd.

I suppose it's a question of what we're looking for. If we're looking for a way that avoids the vagaries of life, a talisman against disaster, then we’ve come to the wrong place. But if we’re looking for a better way through life, a better way to live life; if we're looking for a context in which to cope with the ups and downs of life, its hurts, its unfairness - even this virus and its consequences; if we're looking for a companion for our journey and a source of hope that is endless; if we're looking for a way not to make sense of life but to embrace life, then we have certainly come to the right place. Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
Let us declare our faith
in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

HYMN Loving shepherd of the sheep

1. Loving shepherd of Thy sheep,
Keep Thy lamb, in safety keep;
Nothing can Thy power withstand,
None can pluck me from Thy hand.

2. Loving Savior, Thou didst give
Thine own life that we might live,
And the hands outstretched to bless
Bear the cruel nails’ impress.

3. I would praise Thee every day,
Gladly all Thy will obey,
Like Thy blessèd ones above
Happy in Thy precious love.

4. Loving shepherd, ever near,
Teach Thy lamb Thy voice to hear,
Suffer not my steps to stray
From the straight and narrow way.

5. Where Thou leadest I would go,
Walking in Thy steps below,
Till before my Father’s throne
I shall know as I am known.

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
Let us join together in prayer.

Lord, you are our Shepherd and we pray that you will protect us from all danger, especially in this time of lockdown. We pray for our church leaders that they too may care for and lead us by following the example of your love and service. We especially pray for William and his team who through the internet are keeping us in touch and sharing words of encouragement.     
Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer        

Lord, you are our Shepherd and we pray for the world that was given to us as an inheritance, on the understanding that we would care for it as shepherds care for their flocks. Teach us to look after our beautiful planet and care for it wisely, whilst sharing its gifts more fairly and working together with all of its inhabitants to ease its sufferings.  Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with clarity and true concern for the well-being of all the people they are meant to serve.                    
Lord in your mercy : Hear our prayer.  

Lord , you are our Shepherd who seeks out the lost and the sick. We pray for those we know who are lost in illness and ask you to reassure them with the knowledge that you are watching over them in their suffering and that many are praying for them. We pray for their carers, for doctors, nurses, and all medical professional who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.                                                                                    
Lord in your mercy : Hear our prayer. 

Lord, you are our Shepherd so we pray for those who have died and for those who ache with sorrow in their loss of a loved one.  For those we bring to you by name find rest in your embrace as you welcome them into the great sheepfold, safe in your keeping for ever.                                                        
Lord in your mercy : Hear our prayer.

Lord, you are our Shepherd, and we offer these prayers for all people and their situations. For lives going through upheaval or distress caused by the Covid 19 pandemic and in circumstances that only you can change.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
May Christ, who out of defeat
brings new hope and a new future,
fill you with his new life.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
Amen

HYMN Come ye faithful, raise the anthem

1 Come, ye faithful, raise the anthem,
Cleave the skies with shouts of praise;
Sing to him who found the ransom,
Ancient of eternal days,
God eternal, Word incarnate,
Whom the heaven of heaven obeys.

2 Ere he raised the lofty mountains,
Formed the seas, or built the sky,
Love eternal, free, and boundless,
Forced the Lord of life to die,
Lifted up the Prince of princes
On the throne of Calvary.

3 Now on those eternal mountains
Stands the sapphire throne, all bright,
With the ceaseless alleluias
Which they raise, the sons of light;
Sion's people tell his praises,
Victor after hard-won fight.

4 Bring your harps, and bring your incense,
Sweep the string and pour the lay;
Let the earth proclaim his wonders,
King of that celestial day;
He the Lamb once slain is worthy,
Who was dead, and lives for ay.

5 Laud and honour to the Father,
Laud and honour to the Son,
Laud and honour to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever One,
One in love, and One in splendour,
While unending ages run. Amen.

TO END -

Let My Love Be Heard Jake Runestad - VOCES8

Text:
A Prayer (by Alfred Noyes)
Angels, where you soar
     Up to God’s own light,
Take my own lost bird
     On your hearts tonight;
And as grief once more
     Mounts to heaven and sings,
Let my love be heard
     Whispering in your wings. 

Let My Love be Heard - Stellenbosch University Choir

I Won't Give Up - Stellenbosch University Choir

Combined voices videos are not at all easy to put together, either in performance or editing - so hats off to these two for their fantastic achievement.

Taizé - virtual choir : "In resurrectione tua"

True Colors - Camden Voices (self-isolation/virtual choir cover)

And finally, for its pure simplicity

Sheep May Safely Graze, Bach/Petri