May 7, 2017
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is now our current book of worship, made many changes in our liturgy: Contemporary language, the centrality of the Eucharist, and a great emphasis on the laity as members of Christ’s body the Church. Those changes were in response to the studies of what was done in the early church. One of the great scholars of that liturgical movement was an Anglican Benedictine monk, Dom Gregory Dix, whose monumental work was a book called The Shape of the Liturgy. That book had a profound influence on the BCP we are now using.
One of the changes in our liturgy is how we view Easter. In the older prayer books, the Sundays following Easter were called just that. Forinstance, this day was once known as THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER. Easter was pretty much over, and it was ordinary time. Change came slowly. I was in church on Easter Day when priest said in the homily, “I’m so tired after Holy Week and Lent. I’ll be so glad when today is over and we are back to normal.” Then, I was in a church on the Sunday following Easter: The flowers were all gone, and the hymns were “The Old Rugged Cross” and “I Walk in the Garden Alone.” Change has always been difficult. Gregory the Great revised the chant used in the Eurcharist, what we call now Gregorian Chant. Two hundred years later, the Roman Schola Cantorum still hadn’t adopted Gregory’s changes.
Our present prayer book calls today The Fourth Sunday of Easter. For Easter is a time of 50 days and does not end until the Sunday of Pentecost on June 4th this year. There are so many facets to the Paschal or Easter mystery that the 50 days are needed if we are to understand more full the meaning of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, our attention is turned to one of the oldest representations of the risen Christ, older even than the cross or the fish – The Good Shepherd. We who live in a technological society do have to shift gears, because the figure of the Good Shepherd goes back to a pastoral age when the care of grazing animals was the major occupation. If a person is to succeed with animals, there is an intimacy that must exist. A shepherd has to know the sheep and always be on duty for them. And is what we believe about Christ – he knows us intimately, he loves us, and he is always there for us. The Good Shepherd can work with us only when he has our trust. This is an important facet of the Paschal mystery: that the risen Christ is always there for us and he wants out friendship and love.
In the Middle Ages, people viewed Christ as their judge, and he was one whom they feared and kept at a distance. That is why people didn’t receive Holy Communion but once a year in those days. Thank God we’ve moved beyond that. We need to be on intimate terms with Christ our Good Shepherd – He loved us so much he died for us and rose again. He us wholeness and life. As we get to know the Good Shepherd intimately, we become him and find that we are also shepherds. And through us others gain intimacy with Christ, and we are on duty for others, as Christ is on duty for us.