3rd May 2020, St Anne's, Lewes
In these weeks after Easter we are sharing with Jesus's first disciples their own experience of lockdown, as they waited in Jerusalem after his death and resurrection to find out what was going to happen next. What would they have talked about in those long hours together behind locked doors? I think they would have wanted to remember everything that Jesus had done and said in the three years they had known him. And I'm sure that the words he speaks in today's Gospel reading would have been words that they returned to over and over again. 'I am the gate for the sheep' he says. In first-century Palestine the sheepfold was a hollowed-out enclosure, with a narrow entrance between rough stone walls. When all the sheep were inside, the shepherd would lie down across the gap to protect them. He was himself the gate. The resonance for the disciples in hiding in Jerusalem is obvious. They were huddled together like sheep, and the risen Jesus was their gate. He walked through their locked doors to show them that he was their protector, and he gave them his peace. I hope that you too are finding comfort and strength in the knowledge that Christ is our protector in these difficult and uncertain times. But sheep can't stay in the sheepfold for ever. The disciples discovered this on the Day of Pentecost when they were sent out into the streets of Jerusalem to share openly all that they had seen and heard. For us, there will come a time when our lockdown will be over, but the world we return to will be different, in ways we can't yet fully understand.
Facing the unknown brings anxiety. This week we have heard the good news about our two new bishops - Ruth who is to be Bishop of Horsham and Will who is to be Bishop of Lewes. In the video they made to introduce themselves, they both spoke movingly about how it felt to be moving away from the familiar to a new life with new challenges and responsibilities. They admitted to being excited but also a bit scared. Like Ruth and Will, we cannot be sure what the months ahead will bring. But we can be assured that Jesus will be with us. 'The shepherd calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out', says Jesus. 'They will find pasture. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.' In the meanwhile, let's take time to listen for his voice - the voice of the good shepherd who knows us and loves us - in whatever ways we find most helpful, whether that's in reading and quiet prayer, through music or gardening or watching this beautiful spring blossom around us, and in the conversations we can still enjoy with our families and friends even though we're separated from them. And then when he calls us out of the sheepfold, we will hear his voice and follow him into the abundance of life he came to bring. Amen.