Watch this week’s service on YouTube by clicking: April 30 Worship Service Video
Join us for worship on Sundays at 10:00
- Please join us after the service in the Van Roon Community Hall for HeBrews Café, refreshments and fellowship after worship.
- Michael Wilson’s book “A Pastoral Pandemic: Remaining Connected in a Time of Disconnection” is now available in store and online through CommonWord Bookstore (Canadian Mennonite University). “A Pastoral Pandemic” is a collection of letters chronicling the two years Charleswood United Church suspended in-person worship. For more information visit: https://www.commonword.ca/go/3408.
Welcome to worship for Sunday, April 30, 2023.
Oddly enough, every year there is a Sunday tucked away in the middle of the season of Easter (the 50 days between Easter Sunday and Pentecost) called Good Shepherd Sunday. This is definitely a minor observance. No need to go shopping for Good Shepherd cards.
Not surprisingly, one of the lessons suggested for that day when it comes around is Psalm 23. It is quite possible that Psalm 23 is the most familiar text in all of scripture. But “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (which we will be singing on Sunday) is not the only place in scripture where the imagery of sheep/shepherds/lambs is used. Far from it.
References begin early in the Bible. In Genesis 4 Abel is described as a keeper of sheep. The story of a ram caught in the thickets and sacrificed in place of Isaac comes to mind. A lamb plays a pivotal role in the Exodus as the meal which enables a plague to pass-over Israel. David, the greatest ruler of Israel was known as a shepherd king not only because he literally was a shepherd boy when he was anointed by Samuel, but because he was thought to have ruled over Israel as a shepherd would. Isaiah describes the peaceable kingdom as one in which “the lion lies down with the lamb”.
We all know that when Jesus was born there were shepherds watching their flocks by night, the first to whom the birth was announced and the first visitors. There are two books in the New Testament where the sheep/shepherd/lamb imagery is used extensively. The early Christian Church saw many parallels between the Passover (or paschal) lamb and the death of Jesus. A sacrifice that leads to life. Thus the Gospel of John calls Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” and “the Good Shepherd” and “the gate to the sheepfold” and “the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep”. And the Book of Revelation which is both a more developed later tradition as well as highly metaphorical, refers to Jesus as the Lamb throughout.
There are 186 references to sheep in the Bible and a further 82 of shepherds. So one Good Shepherd Sunday a year makes a little sense.
What is ironic is that it often coincides with Earth Day. To be clear, the lectionary is much older than Earth Day and the timing of Good Shepherd Sunday has to do with Easter and nothing else. Furthermore, Earth Day cares nothing at all for the Christian Calendar. It began in the United States in 1970 and April 22 was chosen primarily because that was when university students would be on break and thus available for a little environmental activism.
But surely it is serendipitous that Good Shepherd Sunday and Earth Day often come close together. The spirituality of Israel, and maybe the psalms in particular, make clear that there is a inherent goodness to the earth. The Old Testament seems to provide witness to the idea that the human being and the earth are part of the same creation and that if we take care of the earth, it will take care of us. I think it a wonder that a person of faith, 3000 years ago, on the other side of the world, in a cultural context utterly opposite to our own, would recognize the serenity of sitting beside still waters and say so. Because all of us know just how eternally true that is.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Arthur Walker-Jones from the University of Winnipeg, wrote a book called “The Green Psalter”. In it he says, “Earth is alive and has a voice with which it responds to the Creator with joy and praise.”
They say that climate change is an existential threat and environmental sustainability is critical. It is also a path of righteousness that connects us to that which has always been true.
Grace and peace,
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- The reading for this week’s service can be found here: Psalm 23
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- For more information on earthquake relief efforts in Turkey and Syria please visit any of the following:
Mennonite Central Committee: MCC Earthquake Relief.
The Canadian Red Cross page link: Canadian Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.
The United Church Response link: UCC Earthquake Relief