Scripture Readings: Acts 9:36–43 | Psalm 23 | Revelation 7:9–17 | John 10:22–30
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28).
Today is Mother’s Day, when many of us celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, wives, daughters, friends, and others that we know who have nurtured us, and helped us to grow in many ways. It’s a day that many look forward to each year, lifting up the women in our lives, and expressing our gratitude to them for sharing with us all the gift of life itself.
But as we know, for some of us, Mother’s Day is complicated… stirring up all sorts of painful memories or feelings. For some, it is the pain of not being able to be a mother. For others, it’s a reminder of parents, or children we have lost. Mother’s Day can also highlight the strained parental relationships that some of us face… or the pain of long separations made much worse by the pandemic.
For all these reasons and more, days like today remind us that life is not always that easy to navigate. And yet, life remains a gift that all of us have been given. So whether today brings us joy or pain, or some combination of both, I pray we can all give thanks for the gift of life, and for those who have shared it with us.
In the yearly life of the Church, today is also Good Shepherd Sunday, where our readings remind us of Jesus Christ, who is both our Good Shepherd, who guides and guards us into New Life, and the Lamb of God who laid down His life to take away the sins of the world. Today, the Church calls us to remember that Christ Himself is the ultimate source of our new life with God, and that He continues to nurture and care for us every day… and one of the most common ways He does so is through people like you and me.
Last week, we explored the ways in which God’s forgiveness and new life, made known in Jesus the Risen Lord, is meant to re-shape and guide our lives. That is, God forgives us for a purpose: to draw us into His family, and then to share His forgiveness and holy love with those around us in the world. This forgiveness takes shape in each of our lives in different ways. For St. Peter, we saw God’s grace turned him from a fisherman into a shepherd of the growing Christian community called the Church. Today, in our first reading from the Book of Acts, we get to see an example of how through Peter’s care for Christ’s flock God brings about new life.
The reading today introduces us to a disciple named Dorcas, or Tabitha… who we are told was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36). Not much else is known about Dorcas, aside from the fact that she was well beloved by her Christian brothers and sisters in Joppa, and that she used her talents to make clothing. But this simple picture of a life of faithfulness, generosity, and genuine love is a beautiful example of someone walking in the way of Christ. As N.T. Wright points out, Dorcas “stands as it were for all those unsung heroines who have got on with what they can do best and have done it to the glory of God. Had it not been for Peter, she might never have made it into the pages of the New Testament, and we have to assume that there were dozens in the early years, and thousands in later years, who, like her, lived their lives in faith and hope, bearing the sorrows of life no doubt as well as celebrating its joys, and finding in the small acts of service to others a fulfilment of the gospel within their own sphere, using traditional skills to the glory of God… these are the people who form the heart of the church”. In her own ways, Dorcas embodied Christ’s love and gift of new life. And the Christians in Joppa are deeply grieved when she grows ill and dies.
Here the Scriptures remind us that even after the resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of God’s New Creation in Him, life is still hard to navigate. Devoted followers of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord still face illness and suffering. We all still face the pain of death. Even a few short years after the first Easter and the empty tomb, Christians have understood the Gospel does not make us immune to grief.
But the Gospel does promise us that in Christ, God has forever broken death’s terrible grip on us, and that in Christ, God has given us the hope of the resurrection… the hope that just as Jesus passed through death, once for all, and was made new by the life-giving Holy Spirit of God, so too we who trust in Him will share in His new life forever. Death and separations are still a sorrow we all must face, but they are temporary: because of the Risen Christ we know not even death can snatch us from God’s hands.
In fact, long before the first Easter, Jesus had already been pointing us to God’s life-giving power: the Gospels all recount how Jesus raised others from the dead. The stories of the widow’s son… (Luke 7:11-17), Jairus’ daughter… (Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44) all show Jesus restoring these people who had died to full and natural life. And though they would all one day again face death, Jesus had transformed their stories into signs of hope… giving us glimpses of God’s great gift of New and Unending Life that was to come… that came into the world through the cross and empty tomb.
So while from the first days of the Church to today, we Christians know that we still must die, we now do so trusting that in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death… and Christ Himself will lead us into life forever.
This is what the vision from the Book of Revelation reminds us: that even though followers of Jesus face suffering and death for His sake, the Lamb of God who gave His life for them will never forsake them.
John recounts this image from his vision: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, fully embodied God’s power over death: as He first restored life to others, and ultimately in His own resurrection to eternal life. And in our reading from Acts, today, we see Him continuing His mission of guiding and caring for His flock… and bringing life to God’s children… through Peter, who was now empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. To follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, wherever He will lead.
Today we hear how Peter is called to the deathbed of Dorcas, invited by the other disciples to be with them in their time of grief. And Peter comes without delay, much like His Master had done before… and going into the room, alone with God and the body of Dorcas, Peter prays. Then he calls her by name, tells her to arise… and she opens her eyes, and lives again.
How did Peter do this? How could he raise someone to life? The answer can be found in Peter’s own words, time and again, throughout the Book of Acts whenever he’s part of the wonderous happenings that fill its pages. In fact, right before our reading today, in Acts 9:32-35, Peter visits a man who had been paralyzed for eight long years. But as he seeks to help, Peter says to the man: “‘Jesus Christ heals you; get up and make your bed!’ And immediately he got up.” (Acts 9:34).
‘Jesus Christ heals you’. This isn’t a magic formula or a spiritual healing technique… it was simply the reality of what was happening in these miraculous moments: Jesus the Risen Lord Himself was at work in Peter… through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was making His own healing power known through the hands of His disciple. Peter knew full well that on his own he had nothing to give that could help bring Dorcas to life… but he also knew that Jesus the Good Shepherd was working through him to care for His sheep… and bring them signs of new life, and draw others to believe.
This leads us to our Gospel Reading for this morning, where Jesus speaks of His care for those who believe and trust in Him… as an embodiment of the love of God the Father. Far from the idea of God as a distant, disapproving parent on the one hand, and a friendly sympathetic saviour shepherd on the other, Jesus identifies His own care and compassion for His flock as fully united with the Father. “My sheep hear my voice.” Christ says, “I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30).
Again, Jesus our Good Shepherd is fully united with God the Father. Everything flows from the self-giving, holy love that they share. In Jesus, we are embraced by the arms of God, and no one, can snatch us away from His side. As St. Paul so beautifully writes in his letter to the Romans:
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39).
Jesus the Good Shepherd shares God’s saving love with us, and there is nothing, not even death, that can cut us off from Him. But as I said before, one of the main ways He shares God’s love with us is through our love for one another… through the ways we are to embody Christ’s care and compassion… His devotion, and generosity… His forgiveness and grace… loving each other as Jesus Christ the Lamb of God has first loved us.
As your priest and pastor (which is simply an ancient word meaning ‘shepherd’), I’ve been called to put this love into practice in a particular kind of way within the life of our parish. But shepherds don’t need to be ordained in order to tend their sheep. And mothers are not required to take formal training to raise their kids. What both shepherds and mothers need most of all is love for those in their care. In the same simple way, all of us are called, regardless of the shape or form that it takes, or of the particular roles that we play… all of us are called to share God’s love with one another: to seek the wellbeing of all Christ’s sheep, and care for all God’s children.
Whether we spend our days in quiet devotion, and humble acts of kindness, or are charged with faithfully nurturing and guiding a community of faith, the Risen Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is eager and able to share His saving love through our lives. Making His voice known through our words and actions as we follow His way. Drawing others into His flock through His grace at work in us. Offering signs of hope and new life through how we treat one another, as He leads us into the green pastures and still waters of God’s eternal life.
I’ll end now with the words of an ancient prayer:
“O sovereign and almighty Lord, bless all thy people and all thy flock. Give peace, thy help, thy love to us, thy servants the sheep of thy fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in thy divine and boundless love; for the sake of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep. Amen.”
 Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-12 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 154.
 Acts 9:41-42 “He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
 Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle C (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 116.