Friday, October 13, 2017

The Shepherd

(Sheep on Iona)

In his commentary on the Book of Common Prayer (USA, 1928) Dr. Shepherd includes his remarks on the 23rd Psalm, possibly the most beloved and best-known in the Psalter:

Psalm xxiii. This Psalm is appointed in all the recent Prayer Books, and its selection needs no explanation. It is one of the first devotions every child of a Christian family learns by heart. It teaches us, by way of two simple but unforgettable pictures of the Shepherd (vs. 1-4) and of the Host (vs. 5-6), God's loving care and providence for each of His own creatures.

The figure of God as a Shepherd is very common in the Psalms and the Prophets (cf. Isaiah xl.11, xlix.9-11, Micah vii.14), and our Lord applied it to Himself (John x.1.ff.; cf. Heb. xiii.20, 1 Pet. ii.25, v.4).

The shepherd's devoted nurture and protection of his flock is a parable of God's guidance of us into 'green pastures' of spiritual nourishment and refreshment and of His safe deliverance of us from 'dark valleys' of danger and temptation. Each single lamb or sheep is as much beloved by the shepherd as his whole flock, and no exertion of the shepherd is spared in order to save and rescue one that is lost (cf. Matt. xviii.12-14; Luke xv.3-7).

Similarly in the figure of the Host, God's provident and protective care is pictured both materially, in His supply of more than we need, and spiritually, in the continual joy of His worship and service.

Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr., The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, Oxford, 1950, section on the rite "Burial of a Child" p. 338-339 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me (Coverdale/1662 version)

The LORD is my shepherd; *
therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture, *
and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul, *
and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for his
Name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me in the presence of them
that trouble me; *
thou hast anointed my head with oil,
and my cup shall be full.
Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the
days of my life; *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 23 King James Version

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; *
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
Name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies; *
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

In the Church's worship these last two verses have been mystically interpreted as referring to the heavenly banquet of the Messiah in His eternal Kingdom, of which the Eucharist is the earnest (cf. Luke xxii.24-30).

Op. cit., 339.

It seems especially poignant to me that this Psalm should have been specified, and commented upon, in the context of the Burial of a Child. It is also in the ordination rite of a bishop...

In the context of the Burial of a Child we are reminded that we are child, too, each of us, and ultimately in the care of the Good Shepherd who will see us safely home. That is reassurance.
In the meantime we are guided, and sometimes chastised, (thy rod comforteth me?) by that Good Shepherd. 

In times of trouble or danger, this, and the Lord's Prayer, and possibly the prayers of the rosary, if you are catholic, and possibly one or two passages of Saint Paul, come to mind - and breath. If you were going to memorize anything you would, and possibly did, begin with this psalm and Our Father...

Our Father, who art in heaven,
    hallowed be thy Name,
    thy kingdom come,
    thy will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
    for ever and ever. Amen

When a visitor came to the church a couple of hours early, just to have a look around inside a building he had often passed by, he came to the lectern and saw the psalm appointed for that morning was the 23rd. He said, he had learned it at the age of four and could recite it from the heart - and did.

If we were to carry around 'mass cards' with the picture of the church or of its patron saint Paul with us, we would probably want this prayer - and this psalm, until and whenever we needed their comfort and their sturdy encouragement.

The two passages from the letters of the Apostle Paul that come to mind are these:

Philippians 2:4-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

Romans 8:31-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
     ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
        we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pentecost XIX 2017 October 15th. St. Paul's, Tombstone. JRL+  

(Sheepfold on Iona)

Sheepfold on Iona, photograph by Allen Morris, 2014. 
accessed October 13, 2017.

Sheep on Iona. accessed October 13, 2017.

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