The prayers and readings of today’s liturgy come together in the theme of the Good Shepherd. Each liturgical season– Advent, Lent, Easter’s 50 days, the time after Pentecost — returns again and again to Jesus under his this image. The wise and gentle pedagogy of the liturgy always brings popular piety back to the Good Shepherd. The image, which John attributes to Jesus himself, affirms that he is the shepherd of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the upright, non-predatory ruler through whom God cares for the chosen people. It is the figure of concern for the defenseless, leadership to safety, the very opposite of taking advantage. Shepherds ultimately work for owners who derive their livelihoods from these dumb beasts — wool, lamb and mutton, parchment, lanolin. We all know that. It is no use to romanticize the grazing industry. But while the animals are in the shepherd’s care they are assured life, growth, and security.

The opening prayer or collect of Sunday’s Eucharist is actually a quotation from the letter to the Hebrews (13:20). God is addressed as the “God of peace” – peace because we as a race are beset by anxieties, resentments, and evils of all sorts. We need to bring these realities to the surface in order that we may lay them before the God. Global wars that are none of our making, whole corporations stripping the earth of its resources, poisoning air, land, and water in a heedless rush toward consumption and profit, the displacement of millions by violence and climate change, addictions blighting the lives of young and old. We can become comfortable in our desolation or at least at home with it. The bible and the liturgy try to confront us with God’s dream for us: to clothe us with hope, strength, joy, to wipe every tear from our eyes; to lead us to a state free from all anxiety. This is not the promise of an earthly paradise. But there is in Jesus Christ the promise of peace.

The second reading is from the Book of Revelation. It affirms that “the Lamb at the centre of the throne will shepherd them….guide them to springs of the water of life….and wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It would be easy to dismiss this book as an airy-fairy collection of visions. In an important sense it is the most hard-headed book in the New Testament. It faces the fact of Rome’s hideous military and commercial power as none of the gospels or Paul or the people of Paul’s school do. Revelation’s author knows that little people die for no good reason other than that power needs to consume them. The huge crowd in long white robes, palm branches in hand are those who have been disappeared by dictators, left to languish forgotten in prisons. The Caesars ate up human lives as do contemporary dictators and autocrats the world over. The Christian prophet John of Patmos reminded a numbed, uncomprehending race of new believers: there is a Power stronger than power which has brought to its throne the innocent just, the victims of the Roman imperial war machine.

The fact of human sin with its resultant greed and lust for power has made of war a tragic necessity in every age; but in our time wars of obscene magnitude threaten to overtake us because we have trusted in the human capacity to avert them rather than pursuing peace through the God of peace. The Christian people are called to trust in God rather than armies, recourse to the Good Shepherd, the lamb who was slain and who teaches the bold will to love that is the essence of God. We may not resist the image of God as the rescuer of humanity in its lostness, the shepherd who takes risks for his people and is wounded by briars in a search for what is lost. But we’re not dumb sheep. We are thinking, willing people, whose will for peace may be no less than that of our God and his Christ.