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A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter

by Dr. Robert Crouse 

15 April 1956

St. Clements’, Toronto


The Good Shepherd


This Second Sunday after Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday, because in the Gospel appointed for today (from the tenth chapter of St John’s Gospel), Our Lord describes himself as The Good Shepherd.


“I am the Good Shepherd,”  he says, “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” A hired man who is not really a shepherd, and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, “and runs away leaving the sheep.”  Then the wolf comes and grabs some of them, and scatters the flock.  The hired man runs away, because he doesn’t own the sheep, and doesn’t really care very much about them.


“But I am the Good Shepherd,” says Our Lord, “I know my own, and they know me; and I lay down my life for my sheep.”


You have probably noticed that shepherds are mentioned quite often in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, God is often spoken of as the Shepherd of his people – for instance, in the 23rd Psalm:  “The Lord is my shepherd”.  King David too, is sometimes spoken of as a shepherd, guiding his kingdom like a shepherd guides his flock.  In the New Testament, Jesus several times refers to himself as a shepherd, finding and bringing back to the fold his lost sheep.


Sheep were very important in ancient Palestine.  The Jews were mainly farming people, and because much of the land was too poor to grow grain, many people supported themselves by raising sheep.  Sheep can live quite happily on rocky land which will not grow anything except a bit of poor grass.  But if you know anything about sheep, you know that they are really very stupid animals, and need to be watched and guided.  And therefore, the shepherd was a very important person.   In the daytime he had to lead the sheep along rocky paths to the spots where there was a bit of grass.  And at night he had to stand guard over his flock, like the shepherds in the Christmas story, so that wolves and other wild animals would not come and take his sheep.  And of course he didn’t have a gun with which to shoot the wild animals, he had to beat them off with a staff.


It is this kind of shepherd Our Lord has in mind when he calls himself the Good Shepherd, and it is this kind of shepherd his hearers would have in mind.  He is the good shepherd, who leads his sheep in the right paths, and stands guard over them in times of danger.  And Christ is the Good Shepherd, because the sheep, his people, are his own.  He is not an hired man, looking after someone else’s sheep – an hired man who might not care enough for the sheep to stay with them when the danger is really great.  A man naturally cares for his own things. He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs whose own the sheep are, to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand, he would beat off the wolf. Christ does not boast that he loves mankind, his sheep, more than any other man because he is better than they are.  He says that he cares for us as no one else can, because we are his.  We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him.


Because Christ cares for us more than anyone else can care for us – because we are his – he lays down his life for us.  When we are attacked by our greatest enemies, sin and death, Christ, the Good Shepherd, defends us to the extent of dying for us.  And that is what happened on Good Friday.


But if Good Friday had been the end, we should have lost our shepherd, and our situation would be worse than before. But in fact, our enemies were not able to conquer our shepherd.  He died on the cross, on Good Friday; but the third day he rose again from the dead, and ever lives as our Good Shepherd, leading us in right paths, watching over us to protect us from our enemies.


In his Church he claims us as his own, when we are signed with the sign of the cross, when we are born again of water and the Spirit, when we are made his own children.  And when we come to his altar, he provides us with the food we need.  But like sheep, we are sometimes very stupid – we never seem to know enough to stick to the right paths – and we never really learn to defend ourselves from our worst enemies.  So our Good Shepherd must always turn us back to the right paths, forgiving us, must always stand guard over us in danger.  This he does, because we are his own, and he cares for us as none other ever can care for us; and finally he brings us to the pasture where there are no wrong paths, where no dangers beset us.  And therefore to Christ, the true bread of life who comes down from heaven, Christ our King and Shepherd true, we pray:

Very bread, Good Shepherd, tend us

Jesu of Thy love befriend us,

Thou refresh us, Thou defend us,

Thy eternal goodness send us

In the land of life to see.


Thou, who all things canst and knowest,

Who on earth such food bestowest

Grant us, with Thy Saints, though lowest,

Where the heavenly feast thou showest

Fellow heirs and guests to be.