I lived in Ireland at one time and, true to the stereotypes, there are lots of sheep. On my friend’s farm in Donegal, spring means lambing season. And the season of the rejected lamb, sweet and helpless, in a basket by the fire, hand-fed and cared for until it is old enough to be independent. In Denise Levertov’s poem, Agnes Dei (Lamb of God) she reflects on the ‘strangest words, O lamb of God that taketh away the Sins of the World’. She writes, “God, then, encompassing all things is defenseless? Omnipotence as been tossed way, reduced to a wisp of damp wool?” This mirrors the words in the Acts of the Apostles today where a stone is tossed aside by the builders. I am struck anew by the paradoxical images of Jesus as both lamb and shepherd, rejected stone and cornerstone, trusting and trusted, cared-for and care-giver.
Jesus says, ‘I know my sheep and my sheep know me’. This image of mutual knowing somehow mirrors the mutuality of caring. How do I truly know and then care for the people of God with same tenderness of the shepherd carrying a defenseless lamb and the fierceness of the one who fights off the wolves? How do I recognize and the Good Shepherd and experience the promised unconditional love and protection?
I believe that I recognize both the shepherd and the flock in the faces and lives of others. These images are a call to mutuality. In our lives, with those who are proximate, and those we have never met, we are being challenged to live out this paradoxical interdependence. But the reality of our mutuality is obscured by our systems of power, racism and white supremacy. This week, at the close of the trial in which the man who killed George Floyd was convicted of murder, there was a lot of conversation about accountability. But until two people can live out their interdependence with freedom and justice, accountability will be rare and fleeting. Jesus preaches the relinquishing of power in order to live out mutuality. Pay attention to the stone that has been tossed aside, it is the foundation of the whole. Feed and care for the one who is born helpless and powerless, because that one brings us salvation. These paradoxical images hold both promise and challenge for us as people living in the Easter season.
I invite us to reflect on how we are living out our call to nurture and care for Body of Christ, the flock, the people, with mutuality and interdependence. I invite us to ask for the capacity to trust in the Good Shepherd whose Easter promise can lead us through the dangers and challenges of today into the promise of new life.