Jesus said, ‘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.
(From the Gospel of St. John, chapter 10 verses 7-10)
It’s a shame we haven’t been able to enjoy, to quite the usual extent, the sight of lambs frollicking in the fields. Though on a walk recently, I did see some young calves, and they were pretty frisky!
In chapter 10 of John’s gospel Jesus famously describes himself as the Good Shepherd, but also as the Gate; a less familiar metaphor. A gate stands in the breach, both barring and opening the way to and from the sheepfiold. The gate keeps what is within safe from outside threats, and also provides the exit point, because sheep can’t live in a fold forever.
The world is urgently seeking a vaccine for Coronavirus. One which will effectively bar the way, preventing Covid-19 – which comes like an unseen thief to steal and kill and destroy from gaining a deadly foothold in the human body, and within the global population, devastating lives. Such a vaccine will open the way to a full return to social living for the billions of people living under a greater or lesser degree of lockdown. We can’t fully thrive as a global society, until there’s a reliable exit point; a safe way out.
Until then, our main defence is to distance ourselves from one another. To distance ourselves, but not – it must be stressed – to become fractured and disconnected. That’s why we’re working so hard as communities and as congregations to build new connections and celebrate the bonds between us.
It’s abundant life, a liberated life, that we long for. And it’s that very life which Jesus offers to his listeners. A life so abundant that it’s liberating in any and all circumstances, even the most desperate. A life made visible in the practical living of those first Christians; in the value they set on one another.
As a nation and as a world, we passed through perilous and dark days in the Second World War. The resolve of wartime leaders like Winston Churchill and King George VI,and of millions and millions of ordinary citizens of those and other nations – our forebears – saw this Commonwealth safely through its great trial. They stood in the breach, to bar the way against those who would wantonly steal and kill and destroy. All life is precious, and it’s to the credit of our forebears that, recognising this, the great majority of them then worked to lift the defeated from their knees, and help rebuild a civil society, just as we will need to do in due course.
We honour their sacrifice, their perseverance, their resolve to keep going until the job was done. May we prove to have that same mettle; that same collective character, which sees the job through, united in common cause. Like those first believers. Like Captain Tom and the wartime generation. And like Jesus, our Good Shepherd.