We are now in week 5 of our isolation away from our Sunday Church services.
Despite our sadness at not being able to worship together it’s been very encouraging that despite our lockdowns that we are continuing to put a high priority on our Christian faith.
I realise that because of all the people who have been watching these and other church services in not just from our parish but elsewhere
And there has also been the sharing that’s going on – the phone calls to each other to make sure we’re all going okay.
People continuing to support the church through their offerings.
And last week we had a ZOOM catch up where we had around 30 members have a video catchup with each other.
We are all missing gathering together in our church building
But we are in a way going back to how church first begun – in our homes.
Just have a listen again to one of the earliest examples of church gatherings in our first reading:
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they also broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
And we can even think of St Paul who spent a lot of his worship time in prison where the Book of Acts says they prayed and sang hymns together.
We are all hoping that this pandemic is going to end soon so that we can gather together again in our church buildings.
Until then we have the assurance that we have Jesus as our Good Shepherd to watch over us.
And that’s his role as our Good Shepherd – to watch over us.
As St Peter says in our 2nd reading: For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
What we are going through at present is affecting us in physical ways – but Jesus, our Good Shepherd’s role is to guard over the non-physical – our spiritual wellbeing- the salvation of our souls so that we can dwell in the house of the Lord forever as we heard in Psalm 23.
In the Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd today Jesus uses an interesting image in saying that he is the gate for the sheep.
As the gate Jesus is the one by whom the sheep enter and exit the sheepfold and anyone who enters the sheepfold must go through him.
There are many concerns in this current pandemic and there are many measures that have been implemented to keep us safe;
Social distancing – lockdowns – hygiene and other practices – restrictions on mass gatherings.
At the heart of all this is the suffering people are going through.
And there are various levels of suffering:
The suffering of those who are severely ill, of those who are dying and separated from the comfort of their families and the suffering of those who care for them.
And then there are those who are suffering because of the economic toll: those who have lost their income, their security, their childcare; children unable to attend school; those who are suffering from the strain of isolation, including mental illness, loneliness and anxiety; those who cannot even hold funerals for their loved ones, let alone be with them at the end; those whose wedding plans have be affected;
those who cannot see their children or grandchildren other than by electronic means.
We are all sharing in the suffering during this challenging experience.
And while we are doing it for the good of all it is done with a shared suffering.
And for Christians there is the suffering of not being able to gather together, to congregate which is at the heart of the word “congregation.
The need to quarantine and self-isolate and social-distance affect the very heart of God’s purposes when he said in the beginning – it is not good for man to be alone.
This is not saying that these measures are done to attack God but they affect God’s purposes for us.
And let us remember, there are many people who live alone – who don’t have another family member with whom they live.
So in these times for some people it is particularly difficult for them.
But there are good and positive things we have experienced also.
In this different time of being church we have had an opportunity to act as shepherds to one another.
We support one another through our prayers.
We encourage one other in our phone calls to one another.
We support physically those who are struggling physically, as did the first disciples of Jesus.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need
We also maintain our contact with God in word and prayer.
And many I have spoken to have said they have used this time of isolation to read more and spend time in prayer.
They have contacted people they haven’t spoken to for a long time.
That’s what the disciples did in their very first gatherings:
Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.
And though we aren’t at this stage able to gather around the Lord’s Table to break bread we know that in time we will again.
And that’s where we are called to remain strong in our faith knowing that even though we cannot receive the body and blood of Christ in worship, the body and blood of Christ continues to protect us in body and soul as the gate for the sheep.
As the Gate for our faith community, Jesus is protecting us from those who seek to undermine and destroy our faith at this time.
Satan is surely trying hard at this time to dampen our faith and have us feel that God is losing this battle.
He is the one that Jesus says has come to steal, kill and destroy.
He is the one who is trying to enter our gated community by another way as a thief and a bandit
But he cannot.
Because he cannot pass through into the gated community protected by the Gate – Jesus our Good Shepherd.
The work of the shepherd is to care for the sheep.
And this would normally be through gathering for worship – receiving Holy Communion – gathering for fellowship – these are part of the care that our Shepherd gives to us in our normal conditions.
But they are not the only way in these very un-normal conditions.
And just because our gathering together has ceased for the meantime, it does not mean that Jesus’ shepherding of us has ceased.
No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who promised, I am with YOU always – till the end of the age.
Presently we are being kept inside the sheepfold.
We don’t know why God is allowing this, but we know that God is caring for us in this time of quarantine and isolation.
Maybe this is the breather God is wanting us to have.
Not that he has created this situation but he is certainly using it.
I can see that and I hope you can too.
It’s not easy.
For some it’s extremely difficult and challenging.
But maybe this is how God is going to create some changes in his church.
We don’t know what the church is going to look like after this is all over.
Will all churches survive?
Will people flock back to church after this is all over?
What will the New Normal look like.
None of us knows the answer to these and a myriad of questions we all have.
We don’t know.
But we don’t focus on what we don’t know.
We focus on what we DO know.
And what we do know is – the Lord is my Shepherd – I shall not want.
What we do know is that – even though we walk through the darkest valleys we shall fear no evil.
What we do know is that – Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
And he remains the Good Shepherd during this time of unprecedented challenges.
Being a Christian and trusting in God doesn’t mean life is always going to be comfortable.
But being a Christian and trusting God means that during those times of uncertainty and suffering we have the assurance of the presence of the Good Shepherd with us.
And that’s what we have before us now.
And we are assured in our Psalm today – goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.