Good Shepherd Sunday.. as Pope Francis said to his tenant farmers & shepherds, his priests ; “smell the sheep!” “what must we do, brothers?”..brothers & sisters..”smell the sheep!”.. a leading question, then & now.. & Peter’s response, his wise counsel divinely inspired, is in three stages.. “repent “ come home, spiritually & relationally, to where we have & will always belong ; Lord have mercy “be baptised” become fully immersed in the present moment..join/rejoin the flock.. ; Christ have mercy “receive the Holy Spirit” the gift, to breathe in & become the very breath of God.. lambs skipping, fully alive, into a flock of life love & truth.. ; Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
As we complete our fifth week of physical if not spiritual self-isolation as a Community, & as if we are not experiencing enough blessings from deepening our mutual love care & belonging, Ian Mosey, our neighbouring farmer, who rents our farmland from us, has brought a flock of sheep & baby lambs into field in front of the monastery; pure joy, to watch them at work & at play; their good shepherd visits each afternoon, the flock hearing not his voice, but his tractor even before us, & expectantly they bleat & make for the gate; he enters carefully, aware of inquisitive lambs & hungry sheep; as he drives his tractor down field, he releases feed from hopper, & in no time you see the flock in perfect line eating all that has been brought; not instead of their rich juicy grass, but as well as.. vitamins minerals vital to growth of each in flock..& then the best bit..out of his tractor, he makes for a certain sheep, spotted remembered from yesterday [ all numbered ] one feels/senses is in need of a wise inspection..she is easy meat to catch as she is reluctant to run from the special food & moment..some first aid treatment & an eye on her for next few days..& they all live together, the lambs kicking over traces & skipping off in small groups into adventure, but never far from mother’s sight & call..& then natural lockdown times, when sheep lays down, her lambs nestling into her fleece as she takes brunt of cool breeze..”the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the sheep hear his voice/tractor, one by one he calls his own sheep, & leads them out.”..in Our Lord’s time, shepherd with his crook would lead flock, no sheepdog to muster them & control them, & when he had to leave them for few moments, he would stake his crook into the ground & flock would wait there until he returned..what wonderful imagery for Good Shepherd Sunday..one like no other we have ever experienced, because this year the gate, the door into our field, our Church, is closed/locked..how does it feel to be outside?..the flock seemingly dispersed/contained in a domestic lockdown with few of us privileged to have Skype or IT face to face connectedness “the sheep hear his voice”..last year Pope Francis wrote “Christus Vivit; to young people & to the entire people of God”..notice one flock..“may the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum [your skipping] your intuitions, your faith. We need them! & when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.” a call in good times & in crisis to keep together & to wait. The Good Shepherd, & the easing of restrictions, will come in good time, as long as we are patient & keep together..socially distanced, locked out of our beloved field but, dare I suggest, closer together spiritually than ever before.. some of you still remember my Christmas homily of some years ago, the annual moment of full Church as we welcome in those who only come once a year..two breeds of sheep now at one together..swaledales, who live protectively within a field/parish, keeping together well fed nurtured safe content..the shepherd daily watchfully present..& the herdwicks, the breed of Lake District who live out on the high fells in all weathers..a coarse fleece which withstands rain & snow..trusted by shepherd to look after each other ..themselves..with unique inbuilt sense called hefting..no fences out on fells, they have a sixth sense taught by wise seniors in flock, of knowing how far to go in any direction before realising it is too far..& yearly the shepherd brings them down to check them over lovingly caringly..this extraordinary time I suggest is surely Christmas in reverse..where us swaledales, far from being locked down are set free, spiritually out on the fells, with a freedom to taste adventure..to pray watch & live differently, frighteningly at first, but gradually, listening to that sixth sense we call our conscience, grown learned from our wise seniors at home & in parish, knowing how far to go, & when it is time to make for home..to that which is safe familiar life-giving in our ongoing different relationship with the Good Shepherd & with one another..& now at home literally with the herdwicks in our own families & in my Community..when someone refers to it as social distancing, maybe explain to them we are, for the time being, “fell runners” a new form of “re-creation”[ not recreation, passing the time ], but recreating, renewing the face of the earth, always making for home, where the race, marathon, lockdown, the journey, isn’t finished until one key person/sheep crosses the finishing line..the last, the slowest, the most disabled, the black sheep, skips over the line & is counted in joyfully..& then, only then, our Good Shepherd leads us all in to heaven together..”& when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us”..please..& wait by the gate.. [4th Sun Easter Yr A Jn 10;1-10]