It is a Sunday of many visions, and with elders and ancestors, we pray by the Spirit’s leading to see God raise life out of death.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday every year. The readings change, but the metaphor of Jesus, of God as the good and faithful shepherd, caring for and protecting the flock - the people of Israel, Jesus’ followers, all humanity, us, endures. According to “Sundays and Seasons,” “The earliest depiction of Jesus that has been found is a mid-third century wall painting in the St. Callistus catacomb in Rome. Jesus is shown as a young beardless shepherd (carrying and) caring for the sheep.” (Day Resources - Visual Art, May 8, 2022) And it is an endearing image, especially Psalm 23, but so also in the words of John’s Gospel, including today’s, sheep who know Jesus’ voice, and Jesus knows them, and they follow, and Jesus gives them eternal life and they will not perish, and no one will steal them out of Jesus’ hands. A comforting, assuring, vision in life and in death. “God is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
But is it a vision that is too romanticized? We were at the Children’s Farm at Beacon Hill Park yesterday with our granddaughter and other family. Seeing all the animals was a delight, as was petting the goats. The Jacob sheep were especially vocal. Not so much a gentle baa baa, they were blaaa-ing the whole time we were there. They made me think of Good Shepherd Sunday and is this the true humanity, is this us! that God/Jesus/the Spirit the Good Shepherd must tend and care for and guide, as we go on and on, blaaa… blaaa….
The book of Revelation turns the vision to the next life and all those from every nation and tribe, people and language, gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb, singing and praising God with the elders and angels, in words that we sing each Sunday: “…Blessing and honour and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen. This is the Feast…” “And the one seated on the throne will shelter them…” no more hunger or thirst, no more scorching sun and heat, “For the Lamb… will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” God/Jesus, the Good Shepherd, endures and is endearing to many, and offers a vision of God’s care and protection, now and forever.
Today is also the commemoration of Julian of Norwich, “an English anchoress and mystic who lived from 1343 to sometime after 1416—and who spent much of her life in seclusion. As an anchoress, Julian lived in a sealed room attached to St. Julian’s Church in the city of Norwich, where she sought to devote herself entirely to prayer and union with God. During her lifetime, Julian experienced the first (1348-50) and second (1361-62) waves of the Black Death in England, which historians estimate to have killed 40-60% and 20% of the population, respectively. …Little is known about Julian’s real name or background. Her decision to become an anchoress followed a severe illness when she was 30 years old, characterized by a high fever, difficulty breathing and the sense of being paralyzed. But it was while fighting this illness that Julian began to experience the first of her many visions. … Julian would continue to experience religious visions or “shewings” throughout her life, writing detailed accounts of each. These descriptions were eventually compiled into Revelations of Divine Love, the earliest surviving English-language book written by a woman. … While Julian lived in her cell, Norwich at the time was a bustling centre of commerce, and St. Julian’s Church was right in the heart of the city. As a result, Julian could speak through her window to local residents. ‘There’s something very interesting about the image of Julian being somebody who was secluded and in isolation, very literally, with one window into the church and one window into the public,’ says Rev. Monique Stone, rector of Julian of Norwich Anglican Church in Ottawa. ‘How is it that we in our time…are in this liminal space of isolation, [which] asks us to look into our structures of church, and yet also look out into and receive what’s going on in the world around us?’” (The Anglican Journal, Matt Puddister, May 7, 2020) Julian may be the mystic/theologian for our time.
And it is Mother’s Day, honouring our mothers who gave us birth and life, and all women who give life-giving care and nurture and protection and strength and vision, like Julian. It was her vision of God as Mother that inspired the Song, “Mothering God” that we sang with the children. Julian herself wrote in Revelations of Divine Love: “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother; and that shewed He in all.” And of Jesus and the resurrection she wrote, “The mother can hold her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus can lead us in friendly fashion into his blessed breast by means of his sweet open side, and there he can show us something of the godhead and the joys of heaven with a spiritual assurance of endless bliss. This he showed us where he said, “See how I loved you!” Look into his blessed side, rejoicing. This fair, lovely word “mother” is so sweet and so natural in itself that it cannot truly be said of anyone but him, or to anyone but him, who is the true mother of life and of everything.” (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ed. M.L. de Mastro (Garden City, NY: Image, 1977), pp. 172-73.) God our mother, Jesus our mother, the Spirit our mother, a trinity of mothering love.
And we can’t speak of Mother’s Day without seeing the connection to the events this week in the United States with the leaked Supreme Court draft ruling on Roe verses Wade and the possibility of losing the reproductive rights of women and protection of women’s control over their own bodies, and the devastating impacts this will have on women in need to accessible reproductive healthcare across the United States. Our sign which reads, “God gives us stewardship over our own bodies,” was from a US Lutheran colleague which Pastor Lyndon shared and resulting in a comment from a UVic faculty member who said, “This church always has great signs, but this one is by far the best.”
And so also the connection on these lands to Red Dress Day this last Thursday, and the Commemoration of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, and events and gatherings calling us to greater action and response to prevent violence against Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people, and to implement the 231 Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. What is our Mothering God’s vision of safety and flourishing for Indigenous women, for all women, for all who are vulnerable leading us to, to stand together, to stand with, to stand up for, now, for life? Mothering creator, mothering Spirit, lead us.
And if there wasn’t enough for us to see and consider today, the ELCIC identified this Sunday as Vocational Sunday. A day for each of us to consider our God-given Baptismal vocation as followers of Jesus, who hear Jesus’ voice, and follow, every day of our lives. The prayer for this day is: O God, give us grace to set a good example to all among whom we live, to be just and true in all our dealings, to be strict and conscientious in the discharge of every duty; pure and temperate in all enjoyment, gracious and generous and courteous toward all; so that the mind of Jesus Christ may be formed in us and all may know that we are Christ’s disciples; in whose name we pray. Amen.
What is your, our vocation, or how might it be changing, moving in a new direction, in love and justice for women, for Indigenous women and girls and Black and other siblings of colour, queer folks, those differently abled, refugees, all God’s diverse, beautiful people like the vision of a great multitude from Revelation of every tribe, nation, people, language, all before the Good Shepherd, our Mothering God/Jesus/Spirit?
The last vision/connection is to the story of Tabitha, or in Greek, Dorcas. The tragic story of her death, and calling for Peter, and witnessing all the women gathered around her, grieving, holding the clothing she has made. And Peter, following the actions of Jesus for a little girl, the daughter of Jairus, Peter prays, and turns to the body of Tabitha and says, “Tabitha get up.” And she opens her eyes, and sees Peter, and sits up, and Peter takes her hand to help her up, and Peter shows her to the saints and widows, alive! What a vision!
Is this ultimately the vision of God/Creator, of Jesus crucified and risen, the Spirit of compassion and care, the Holy Trinity of love - Good Shepherd, Mothering One, bringing life out of death, joy out of mourning, hope out of despair, that gives us this same good shepherding, mothering, loving, vocation every day, with a great, beautiful, messy, diverse, multitude, singing, serving, forgiving, caring, healing, protecting – loving! Loving! Loving! for life-giving for one and all in this broken world; as our mothering God/Christ/Spirit, as our mothers, good shepherds all, first love, unconditionally love, graciously love, always love, us. Let it be so. As our mothers, and in all our loving relations.