The Shepherd of Israel

A Holy Supper Address by Rev. James P. Cooper


As we begin our celebration of Easter, our thoughts are naturally drawn to the stories we have loved since childhood: the story of the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a colt as the people welcomed Him as a king shouting their "hosannas" and laying their garments and palm branches in His path. We think of Him boldly preaching His message of peace and charity towards the neighbor in the synagogues and streets of Jerusalem during the day, but returning to the Mount of Olives at night while His enemies plotted His death. We feel the hatred and fear of Him that has been growing throughout His ministry beginning to focus and intensify as He enters the center of the Jewish church to challenge the scribes and Pharisees in the midst of their own strength. Once again we feel the grief and sorrow as the wolves and other wild beasts gather to attack and kill the shepherd, scattering the terrified flock.

The prophet Zechariah foretold the events of the Lord’s crucifixion when he wrote, "’Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion,’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’" (ZEC 13:7) And so it seemed to the disciples. The Lord had led them, taught them, protected them, and suddenly they were without Him. They were lost, afraid that the same mob anger that had crucified the Lord might turn against them next. They were indeed sheep without a shepherd, scattering in terror.

The prophet Ezekial was also inspired by the Lord to write of Him as the Good Shepherd: "For thus says the Lord God: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.’" (EZE 34:11, 12) Has not Ezekial eloquently described how we sometimes feel? It may be very well to speak of flocks of sheep contentedly grazing in fields of green grass, watched over by a gentle shepherd, but that is not always our state. Too often we feel instead the growing frustrations of too many things to do, and no time to do half of them. We can feel as if we are being pulled in a hundred different directions by the demands that are placed on us by our families, our work, our fears, our physical aches and pains, and our spiritual failings – both real and imagined.

At such times we don’t see ourselves as sheep grazing contentedly under the watchful eye of a gentle shepherd. Rather, we feel scattered, like sheep dispersed and lost during a storm in the night. At such times we should remember that the Lord really is our good shepherd, we should have the confidence that He knows our fears and our pains for He Himself has lived on earth as we live, and has felt as we feel. He has even given His life for His sheep, and in so doing has conquered death itself for our sakes. No more do we need to fear death, for we know that the grave cannot hold us, the Lord has gone before us to show the way to eternal life. He assures us through the prophet Ezekial that He will seek out His scattered sheep, and deliver them; He will bring them into a land all their own where He will feed them in good pasture; He will bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick. (EZE 34:16)

The Lord called Himself the "good shepherd" and told us that the "good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." (JOH 10:11) As we approach the Holy Supper at this time of year, having prepared ourselves by reflection and self-examination, we may find that we bear a considerable burden of guilt and sadness. And yet we should celebrate! for by shunning what is evil, and vowing to do what the Lord commands, we bring ourselves into the full warmth of the Lord’s love, for as He Himself told us "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." (JOH 15:13,14)

The Lord laid down His life for the sake of our eternal, spiritual lives, and He conquered death for us, reminding us that every state of genuine humility is followed by a state of glorification. The disciples came to the tomb full of grief and despair, but found that the stone had been rolled away and that He was not there. That Easter morning was the dawning of the disciples understanding of what had been happening during the past three years of the Lord’s ministry, that Jesus Christ was not an earthly Messiah, but that He was God with us.

Let us remember this as we prepare for Holy Supper this Easter season. The self-examination that we do in preparation is a temptation similar to that which the Lord Himself went through during the week before Easter. We, like Him, are battling against Hell. What we need to remember is that we too will pass through the temptations and make it to Easter morning if we trust in the Lord’s power to save us, a power which He has shown by doing something never done by any other, before or since – raising Himself from the dead by His own power. As the angels told the women who came to the tomb with balm and sweet spices that long ago Easter morning, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but risen!" (LUK 24:5-6) Amen.