Materials for Worship at Home on Good Shepherd Sunday

Nerys writes: Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the gospel reading is taken from the tenth chapter of John where Jesus describes his ministry as that of a shepherd. Unlike cattle who are herded from behind with shouts and prods, sheep prefer to be led. In Jesus’ day, a shepherd would know each of his sheep by name and they would respond to his voice as he called them to follow him to new pasture.

As you light your candle and prepare yourself for worship, you are invited to think about people who have been ‘good shepherds’ for you. Who shared with you the love of Christ and showed you His way? Who has helped lead you in right paths or walked with you in dark valleys? Who has given you comfort and calmed your fears? Who has shown you hospitality and grace, making a place at the table for you? Take a moment to give thanks to God for them.

Our three passages from Scripture today are very closely intertwined. It’s easy to forget that Psalm 23 which is so well-known to us, was equally well-known and loved by Jesus. He would have prayed it often, acknowledging the God of Israel as his shepherd, his leader and guide, especially as he walked through the darkest valley of suffering and death. By using the image of the Good Shepherd, so familiar to his listeners, Jesus in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel is identifying himself with God’s saving work of gathering up and caring for his flock, ready to lay down his own life for their protection. And John in his first letter reflects on this, calling his readers to imitate Christ by sharing with one another and with those in need the love he showed, a forgiving, self-giving, sacrificial love.

Listen to Hannah reading John 10.11-19 and her sister, Laura, reading 1 John 3.16-24.

The image of the Good Shepherd has captured the imagination of artists down the ages. In fact the three earliest images of Jesus, found in the Catacombs of Rome, portray him as the Good Shepherd. And over a thousand years later, artists all over the world continue to be inspired to create images of the Good Shepherd according to their own styles and cultures. As you reflect on today’s readings, you may wish to spend time with this print by the contemporary American artist Daniel Bonnell where the Good Shepherd and the Crucified Christ are one.

Today we join with many other churches across the world in keeping ‘Vocations Sunday’. In the main service in church, Godwin Chimara from Aberdeen Diocese, who is being trained for the priesthood by the Scottish Episcopal Institute, shared the story of his calling with us. You can see a video of him in conversation with Nerys below:

The Good Shepherd calls each one of us to use our gifts in God’s service wherever we are and whatever stage of life we’re at. Vocations are not limited to public ministry in the church. We are all called to ‘lay down our lives for one another’. Think back to those people who acted as ‘good shepherds’ for you. How can you be a ‘good shepherd’ for others through prayer or action? What new possibilities is Christ calling you to?

Many writers also have been inspired by the image of the Good Shepherd, including Jane Eliza Leeson whose hymn ‘Loving Shepherd of thy sheep’ was first published as a poem in 1842. It is, in fact, a prayer of thanksgiving and commitment to Christ, our loving Saviour. You may wish to make it your own by changing the pronouns to the first singular as you read.

Loving Shepherd of thy sheep,
keep us all, in safety keep;
nothing can thy power withstand,
none can pluck us from thy hand.

Loving Saviour, thou didst give
thine own life that we might live,
bought with blood and bought for thee,
thine, and only thine, we’d be.

We would praise thee every day,
gladly all thy will obey,
like thy blessèd ones above
happy in thy precious love.

Loving Shepherd, ever near,
teach us all thy voice to hear,
suffer not our steps to stray
from the straight and narrow way.

Where thou leadest we would go,
walking in thy steps below,
till before our Father’s throne
we shall know as we are known.

Here is David playing the tune.

During your time of prayer for others today, you are invited to
• pray for the nations of the world and their leaders, for the people of India suffering so badly from Covid 19 and for a fair and effective distribution of vaccines.
• pray for all those in need and those for whom the future is uncertain.
• pray for those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit.
• pray for our community and for those seeking to support our young people and the elderly.
• pray for your friends and loved ones and those you find difficult to love.
• pray for the Church, for those who serve in authorised ministry and those who support them.
• pray for the Scottish Episcopal Institute, its tutors and students, for those who are responding to their calling to ministry and those guiding them.

Merciful Father,
You gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the Good Shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us and all your children, always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps. Amen.

You may wish to finish this time of worship by singing along to the paraphrase of Psalm 23 from the Scottish Psalter as David plays Brother James Air. (The second half of every verse is repeated.)

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me,
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling-place shall be.