Morning Service for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2023


Shepherds – today’s mostly about shepherds – but why do we talk about shepherds so close to Easter – what has that particular simile got to do with resurrection.

Morning Service for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2023

HYMN Jesus where’er they people meet NEH 390 AMR 245- St Sepulchre

1 Jesus, where’er thy people meet,

There they behold thy mercy-seat;

Where’er they seek thee, thou art found,

And every place is hallowed ground.

2 For thou, within no walls confined,

Inhabitest the humble mind;

Such ever bring thee where they come,

And going, take thee to their home.

3 Dear Shepherd of thy chosen few,

Thy former mercies here renew;

Here to our waiting hearts proclaim

The sweetness of thy saving name.

4 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.

5 Lord, we are few, but thou art near;

Nor short thine arm, nor deaf thine ear;

O rend the heavens, come quickly down,

And make a thousand hearts thine own!

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


Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith, 

firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments and to live in love and peace with all.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour
in thought and word and deed,
through negligence, through weakness,
through our own deliberate fault.
We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
who died for us, forgive us all that is past
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. 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.


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. Amen.

FIRST READING – Ezekiel 34.11-16, 23-24

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice…

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

SECOND READING – Acts 2.42-47
So those who welcomed his message were baptised, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 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 Now the green blade riseth NEH 115 Noel Nouvelet

1 Now the green blade riseth, 

from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth

many days has lain;

Love lives again, 

that with the dead has been:

Love is come again like 

wheat that springeth green.

2 In the grave they laid Him, 

Love who had been slain,

Thinking that He never would awake again,

Laid in the earth 

like grain that sleeps unseen:

Love is come again like 

wheat that springeth green.

3 Forth He came at Easter, 

like the risen grain,

Jesus who for three days 

in the grave had lain;

Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:

Love is come again like 

wheat that springeth green.

4 When our hearts are wintry, 

grieving, or in pain,

Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts 

that dead and bare have been:

Love is come again like 

wheat that springeth green.

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.


Shepherds – today’s mostly about shepherds – but why do we talk about shepherds so close to Easter – what has that particular simile got to do with resurrection.

St John’s 10th chapter gives us Jesus’ parable of the shepherd. In a long and fairly involved passage Jesus equates his mission with that of the shepherd. To give us a realistic idea of that comparison we must, of course, have some idea of the shepherding practices that would have been known to Jesus and his first hearers. You’ve probably heard a lot on this subject from various preachers, but there’s nothing better than an eye-witness so I shall read the remarks of one G A Smith [p.168 Word Commentary on John’s Gospel].

“On the boundless Eastern pasture. . . the shepherd is indispensable. With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced tract, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character is indispensable. . . . Sometimes we enjoyed our noonday rest beside one of those Judean wells, to which three or four shepherds come down with their flocks. The flocks mixed with each other, and we wondered how each shepherd would get his own again. But after the watering and the playing were over the shepherds one by one went up different sides of the valley, and each called out his peculiar call; and the sheep of each drew out of the crowd to their own shepherd and the flocks passed as orderly as they came” (Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 25th ed).

So that explains a fair bit of the parable, about leading and calling the sheep. But as with most things in St John’s Gospel there are lots of contexts to consider. 

From the Sumerian kings 3,000 years BC on, rulers of the ancient Near East have referred to themselves as shepherds of their people. The prophesy of Ezekiel that we heard this morning is directed unambiguously at the rulers of Israel, the king and the officials, and probably the priests and the prophets also. They stand guilty of living off God’s flock, the people of Israel, and not taking care of them. God declares that he will himself become the people’s shepherd, protecting them, gathering them together, and leading them in the way. 

Such a task was quite considerable because the people were, by this time, dispersed to Babylon and beyond; the day of clouds and darkness, refers to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

And this is where resurrection comes in, for a people scattered to be found and lead to safety, and more than safety, to good food, clean water, safe housing – just imagine it – new life indeed. You can imagine it on the faces of the people of the thousands of refugees in our world, news that they could go home, to a home made safe and secure, and with food in plenty, just waiting for them.

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 does 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, 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 the promise of salvation. 

It didn’t happen like that of course, the prophesy was poetry of hope, poetry designed to bring in, to provoke the vision that it saw. It was, in the end, down to people to do the leading and the feeding, and the re-building. But they could be energised, inspired, given fresh heart and renewed zeal by knowing that they were not alone, that this work was the work of God, over and above any plots of self serving dictators.

This was the image that Jesus was invoking: this potent piece of prophecy that castigated Israel’s leaders and spoke of God’s own shepherding. By claiming the title and task of The Good Shepherd he was claiming the inheritance of all that Ezekiel had prophesied. He was saying that he was the one to lead the people to new pastures, new life, and that he was prepared to lay down his life to fulfil his role as Shepherd of his people.

As Shepherd he calls all by name who would follow him, all who recognise his call, all who would 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 – something that may require work, and familiarity. 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. Jesus says he is the door because he literally 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 for – 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 alone is – where the wafer thin divide between time and eternity breaks down into nothing, and the hope becomes possession.

Jesus as the Shepherd of his people, is all about resurrection, all about Easter because its all about following in the way that leads to new life – leads to resurrection, now and in the world to come.

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 The king of love my shepherd is NEH 457 AMR 197- Dominus regit me 

1 THE King of love my Shepherd is,

Whose goodness faileth never;

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine for ever.

2 Where streams of living water flow

My ransomed soul he leadeth,

And where the verdant pastures grow

With food celestial feedeth.

3 Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,

But yet in love he sought me,

And on his shoulder gently laid,

And home, rejoicing, brought me.

4 In death’s dark vale I fear no ill

With thee, dear Lord, beside me;

Thy rod and staff my comfort still,

Thy cross before to guide me.

5 Thou spread’st a table in my sight;

Thy unction, grace bestoweth:

And O what transport of delight

From thy pure chalice floweth!

6 And so through all the length of days

Thy goodness faileth never;

Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise

Within thy house for ever.


God our father, we bring to you our thanks for the blessings of the past week, our fears for this world and the anxiety we feel for those we know to be troubled.

We pray for all living in a war zone thinking especially of families in Sudan and Ukraine. The media present us with images horrific in our eyes. We pray for those leaders who see aggression as the right path that they may begin to comprehend the power which working for the mutual benefit of all would bring. 

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

Lord God who oversees all called to rule and govern, we pray for the king when at his coronation he accepts the sacred duty laid upon him. We pray for all ready to pick up the burden of public service as elections approach. May they all find a perspective that extends beyond factions to encompass all for whom they are responsible.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

With the three churches of our benefice worshipping as one this morning, we pray that in the future, together we weave our efforts to sustain the community of each church while respecting the unique nature of each parish. Lord we ask that you give us patience to listen, empathy to hear and understand and above all cheerfulness to support one another.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

God our father and mother, we pray for all who are frightened by a diagnosis, struggling with pain or lost in the black maze of loneliness and depression. In this benefice we bring to you Ray Hills. We pray that all who need the loving reassurance of a parent – turn to you to find it.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer.

We have all loved and lost and know the pain this brings. We pray for those who ache with a grief which is raw and those who despite the passing years still mourn. May they all find comfort in knowing their one loved is safe in your hands.

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.

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 NEH 351 AMR 222 – Neander

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 sea, 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.

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