During this period of lockdown we are lucky to be able to go out and walk in the countryside surrounding Frodsham, a reminder both of our local agricultural heritage and the beauty of God’s creation.
On a recent walk along a track which took us from Simon’s Lane up to the Ridgeway we were not only able to enjoy the warmth of the spring sunshine but saw the young spring lambs out in the fields, protected by their mothers just in case they should stray too far from the rest of the flock.
We often think of that same image of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The disciple John reminds us of the words of Jesus which you can find in chapter 10 and verses 1-10 of his gospel, when he says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”
Jesus the gate for the sheep, Jesus who is not like others who came to mislead, who came to offer hope and life, but who were thieves and robbers. “I am the gate”, says Jesus, “whoever comes in by me will be saved; he will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Scholars tell us that the Jews did not understand the meaning of the story of the Good Shepherd. So Jesus tells them in plain terms by applying it to himself. He began by saying “I am the gate”.
Jesus spoke of two types of sheepfold. In the villages and towns of Judea there were communal sheepfolds where all the village flock were sheltered when they returned home. The folds were protected by strong gates, to which only one guardian of the door held the key. Jesus firstly refers to that type of sheepfold, where he is the guardian, the single person who can open up the way for us. In the summer the sheep were out on the hills and they did not return to the village at all, instead they were collected into hillside sheepfolds, which were just open spaces enclosed by a wall. There was a single opening by which the sheep came in and went out; but there was no gate. At night the shepherd would lie across the opening to the fold, so now the sheep could not get out or in without crossing over his body. The shepherd was the gate.
In this wonderful illustration we are reminded that we can only come in and go out through Christ, for he is the only way to God, he is the gate through which entrance to God becomes possible. Not the entrance to God like that of the High Priest, the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, but an entrance for all, at every stage of their life and experience. The Psalmist recognises this in Psalm 121, “God will keep me at my going out and coming in, henceforth and forever.”
Even in the uncertain times in which we find ourselves, we have that assurance from Jesus that he is the gate through which we come in and go out and find pasture. We have that sense of security and safety that as we bring our concerns and prayers to Him, the Good Shepherd, then not only do we have life, we have it more abundantly!
“This is the truth I tell you”, said Jesus, “I am the gate for the sheep”.
Listen to this setting of Psalm 23, which may sound familiar!
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.