Worship at Home for Sunday 3rd May

Welcome to ‘Worship’ at Home for the 4th Sunday of Easter.

This morning’s service is available in the following video. `First download and print the service sheet so that you can follow the words.

If you would like to take part in next week’s or future services and you are able to use a camera or mobile phone to record yourself reading, saying a prayer or singing a song then please let me know and I will send you instructions.

Reflection: Jesus the Gate 

One of the readings this morning is very familiar to those of us who have been following Holy Habits! The reading from Acts describes the way in which the early community of Christ followers, learned to live and worship in different ways than they had before because they were trying to follow the teaching of Jesus. They had already by this time moved out from their own lockdown position – the hiding away after the crucifixion, especially after having received the Holy Spirit. It is a cause for hope that things will change, Lockdown will not last forever!

But I want to focus on John’s gospel for this morning, where Jesus describes himself as “the gate for the sheep”.  “Very truly I tell you”, he says “anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in another way is a thief and a bandit”.

A few years ago Julie and I had the opportunity to put this into context when we visited the Shepherd’s Fields just outside Bethlehem. There are caves there that occur naturally all over the countryside and the people used to live in these caves. In fact some still do. But the people also kept their animals in the caves.

Our guide told us how the shepherd would herd the sheep into the cave and then would sleep across the entrance, protecting the sheep from thieves and wild animals. The shepherd would literally act as the gate into and out of the sheepfold. We were also told about the special relationship between a shepherd and their sheep. The sheep get to know the shepherd really well. They feel safe with the shepherd and so they will come follow when he calls them and leads them, but this is a relationship that  takes time to build.

So this story of Jesus acting as the gate for the sheep is based on the actual experience of the people that Jesus was speaking to at the time. They would have understood exactly what he was talking about. But we have experience with different gates!

We have some gates that are designed to keep people out. These gates might have a lock on one side or the other. Tall, strong, intimidating gates that  seem to say “go away you are not welcome here”.  We see these sorts of gates in all sorts of places where people want to be private or protect their place or belongings. Sometimes gates carry signs warning of danger within – think of the gates you see at electricity substations serious warnings like: “Danger of Death”

Some gates have the opposite purpose. – to keep people in. When I was a teacher we had a gate at the front of the school that was shut and locked once all the children were safely in for the day.  A gate to keep the children in safe and sound. 

In the first century, when the sheep of the village were kept at night together in the cave, one of the shepherds would stay with them all night and act as the gatekeeper. In the morning the rest of the shepherds came to collect their sheep. Only the genuine shepherds would be allowed in. If anyone wanted to harm or steal away the sheep, they would have to find another way in. 

At the moment, we are all being forced to close and lock our gates, metaphorically speaking. We have been told to stay at home and not allow anyone who does not normally live with us to come in. We have to keep our gates closed to protect those inside – ourselves and to protect those outside – those who could be harmed by the virus if we were to pass it on. 

Some of us might literally have a gate to close, for others our gate might actually be the front door! But in the first century there was no physical gate or front door to the cave just the shepherd. Probably his very presence would be enough for them to stay inside. Anyone wanting to get to the sheep would have to go through the shepherd. Anyone who tried to get in avoiding the shepherd would be almost certainly up to no good!

This is the image that Jesus is giving us as he talks. But he is talking about the kingdom of God. In his metaphor, we are his sheep. We know him, we know his voice and we respond to it. As the gate he is there to prevent us from wandering away from the sheepfold, that is away from the Kingdom, away from the true path of salvation through him or as he puts it “Whoever enters by me will be saved”. He keeps us in the fold and he protects us from the bandits and thieves who want to steal us away from the fold with false words, lies and deception.

There is another sort of gate. One that we often see when we are out for walk in the countryside (following social distancing guidelines obviously). It’s the kind of gate known as a kissing gate. A kiss, even a peck, is a sign of love and affection so its a kind of gate that can remind us of the love that the shepherd has for his sheep. 

This is perhaps the most important gate of all for it holds the key to all the other gates: this gate represents his love for us: His sacrifice for us and his support for us in times of trouble. As we keep the gates of our homes closed for our safety at this time, we can remember that Jesus’ gate is always open. We can always enter and remain safely in his fold. The gate is open for us to ‘have life and to have it abundantly’.  

Rev Andrew Biggs 27/4/2020

Published by andrewpbiggs

Methodist minister currently serving the Gloucestershire Circuit. Married to Julie. Enjoy reading and playing the guitar badly.

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