The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people:
Grant that when we hear his voice
we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads;
who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 225)

The representation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is found in ancient baptistries.  Since we associate baptism with the Easter Vigil (BCP 284-294), the theme of Jesus as the Good Shepherd has become associated with one of the Sundays of Easter.   This new Collect, drawing from Luke 10 and Ezekiel 34, was written by the Rev. Dr. Massey Shepherd, Jr. for the Fourth Sunday of Easter to be used in the 1979 BCP (Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 181-2)

The Preamble of this Collect, like the one from the Third Sunday of Easter, is“O God.”

The Acknowledgement, “whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people”, connects Ezekiel 34:1-16 (which is currently not used as one of the Lessons for this Sunday but was used when this Collect was written); Psalm 23, which is the Psalm for this Sunday in all three Years; and the Gospel reading, in which Jesus declares himself to be the shepherd who will care for God’s people. 

Ezekiel 34 details the differences between the bad shepherds, who feed themselves at the expense of the flock, and God, the good shepherd, who seeks out the sheep who have become scattered, feeds them in good pastures, and provides them with safe places to rest.  From Ezekiel we hear how God, the good shepherd, cares for God’s flock: 

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.  (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NRSV). 

Psalm 23, familiar and comforting to generations of God’s people, poetically places this depiction of the Lord as our shepherd on our own lips; the Psalmist invites us each to name God as our shepherd.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity is how the God who speaks in Ezekiel 34, who is spoken of in Psalm 23 and the Acknowledgement of the Collect are in harmony.  In the Nicene Creed we profess that the Son of God is “true God of true God”, “of one Being with the Father” (BCP 358).  Through the mystery of God in three persons, blessed Trinity, both God the Father and Jesus are our good shepherd.

The Petition, “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads,” echoes the Gospel readings from all three Years.  In John 10:4 (Years A and B) we hear: “When [the shepherd] has brought out all his own [sheep], he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” In John 10:27 (Year C), Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (NRSV).

This Collect invites us to consider a different spiritual sense than we prayed about last week.  In the Third Sunday of Easter, we prayed that the eyes of our faith might be opened.  This week we pray that when we hear Jesus calling us, we will come to know him.  The expectation of this Collect is that Jesus calls us each by name—this is intimacy, to be known and called by name.  This Collect assumes that our spiritual ears are sufficiently attuned to Jesus’s voice and that when he calls we will recognize him.  How each of us hears and recognizes Jesus’s voice varies based upon our circumstances, our life experiences, and our present needs.  Some days, some of us hear Jesus’s voice most clearly through the Church, some through nature, some in the voices of friends and family, some in a mystical experience—the possibilities are endless.  The Petition graciously doesn’t attempt to explain the mystery of how our Good Shepherd communicates with us or set one of the many ways of hearing Jesus call us as the best way, but focuses us on the expectation that we will be called.  The Petition asks the Father to give us grace to recognize our Good Shepherd’s voice and follow where he leads.

The Aspiration:  we aren’t given an Aspiration in this Collect, so we will ponder the “for what purpose” as one of our meditation questions.

The Pleading, “who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever” also doesn’t provide us with additional information but reminds us that even though the Holy Spirit hasn’t been mentioned in the Collect, the Spirit is somehow also involved in our hearing, recognizing, coming to know and love, and following Jesus. 

Consider Psalm 23:  how have you experienced Jesus as your good shepherd?  How has the grace to recognize Jesus’s voice and to follow him shaped your life so far?

How have we as a parish experienced Jesus as our good shepherd? How has the grace to recognize and follow Jesus shaped the life of our parish so far?  For what purpose are we given the grace to follow where Jesus leads us?

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people:
Grant that when we hear his voice
we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads;
who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 225)

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick

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