A Pastoral Message – 10th May

Dear friends

I imagine that many of you, like me, have been making sure that you get your daily exercise and so you may well have been out walking, running or taking the dog for a walk and perhaps combining your walk with a need to visit the post box or the pharmacy or the corner shop.

On your travels, you may have noticed, as I have, the number of gates that are no longer open to us.  On the village green in front of our house, the gates to the children’s play area are locked with signs on them to explain why that is.  The same is true of another park on the route where I have been taking my regular run.  These areas which were previously full of laughing children and families are now silent, empty and inaccessible.

For some of us there may be a huge frustration that we cannot move around freely and go through some of the gates that may have formed part of our normal routines.  For others of us, the safety and security of staying behind our own garden gates or front doors might be reassuring at the moment and maybe we’re not that keen on venturing through them again too often just yet, whatever guidance we might receive today and over the coming weeks.

Last Sunday, we were taken in our lectionary bible readings to John chapter 10 where Jesus describes himself as both the Shepherd and the gate; the gate by which we, his people are able to enter the safety and security of the fold, but also from which we are led out by him into new and interesting pastures.

Perhaps this is a helpful image for us in these lockdown days?  Many of us are enjoying the safety and security that we experience behind our own garden gates and front doors, whilst at the same time perhaps, being mindful of and concerned for those for whom such spaces are not a safe place.  Many of us are longing to go out through those gates and doors again to new and fresh pastures, but perhaps not just yet!  And to know that Christ is the one who shares those experiences with us, who holds us in safety and who will lead us out when the time is right is perhaps a comforting image.

Comfort is something that perhaps we are craving at the moment.  Some of us may find that comfort in eating our favourite foods or foods that we might avoid at other times, having more regular conversations with our loved ones who live far away, indulging in our hobbies, spending more time in prayer or simply taking more sleep and rest.

We listen out for comforting words which may mean that we limit how often we listen to the news or to the government briefings.  We make choices about what we read and who we listen to, depending on how we’re feeling at that particular moment.  How wonderful then to hear the comforting words of Jesus, our Shepherd, who knows us by name and who is able to hold us within the safety of his fold and his loving arms.

But whilst we need the comfort of the safe space provided by the fold and the shepherd who knows us by name, we also need hope that one day we will be able to venture out again into whatever life will be like in the future.  We want to be able to go through those gates again and enjoy whatever awaits.  We want to meet our families and friends, we want to eat a meal in a restaurant, we want to feel the sand between our toes on the beach, we want to ride on a train, we want to go on holiday, we want the freedom to go where we want, when we want.  We want to experience the green pastures again.

That day will surely come.  Even our Prime Minister used the word “pasture” recently when describing what he saw ahead!  But for now we can rest in the safety and security of the fold, drawing comfort from our contact with loved ones, our favourite food, our online contact with our church communities, the bird song that we can hear more clearly and the good news of the gospel that Jesus our Good Shepherd is with us wherever we find ourselves.

Any shepherd will always do what is best for the sheep in their care.  Keeping them safe in the fold if danger in the form of wild animals or bad weather is lurking, or moving them on to new pasture when the time is right.  For now, we are being encouraged to stay safely within our own gates but in that experience we can know that we are held safely in Christ’s fold and use the time to get to know the Good Shepherd better.  One day, Jesus, who is both the shepherd and the gate will lead us on and lead us out and we look forward to that day for these days will pass.

Every blessing,

Gill Newton, District Chair