The 4th Sunday of Easter

The one and the many are constant themes and references at the moment. Families used to going shopping together are now represented by one person. Businesses have adapted to working from home where possible but often there is someone still having to go into the place of work. Large companies with various departments may be furloughing many employees but keeping one person per section or department to ‘keep things going’. Families used to simply dropping by for a cuppa are having conversations through windows and physical closeness is defined by one house. Who are the occupants in this house? If you set ZOOM to the Speaker View (as opposed to Gallery View) then the speaker ‘takes over’ the screen. One voice among many at that moment.

Recently I watched three online Dawn Services for ANZAC Day and, of course, there were no crowds, no marching and no processions. Yes, there were small groups of people involved – all practising physical distancing (or trying to) – the speakers, the Catafalque Party, wreathe bearers, the TV crews – but what I noticed particularly was how one person represented the many – be it a State Governor for the community, a single soldier for the Catafalque Party, a soloist or single musician in place of a choir or band. One ceremony had two wreaths representing all the armed forces past and present.

This weekend is usually a public holiday weekend but the United Kingdom changed this May public holiday by making next Friday (8th May) the public holiday to commemorate Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) – the official end of the Second World War in Europe. The public commemorations have now been cancelled but there is encouragement for people to commemorate at home or on their driveways and again I’m pretty sure there will be occasions around the country where one person will represent the many.

Christianity is also all about the one and the many. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the imagery of one shepherd and many sheep can be comforting – pastoral – idyllic in terms of green grass and cool, running water and sunshine with white fluffy clouds in the blue sky above as long as one doesn’t think too hard and long about it. (What? We’re sheep?!) We might need help from time to time but to have a shepherd – a carer – flies in the face of … what … ego? … pride? … our sense of self reliance? … responsibility? … self worth? We don’t mind a butler to help us. A cleaner. A magical genie would be nice. We can then say what we want. But a shepherd? Hmmm … that’s not how the arrangement works with a shepherd.

And then to hear that Jesus, who calls himself a ‘good shepherd’ is so because he dies for his sheep can be even more challenging! Let’s accept that sacrifice is amazing. Those who do it are amazing. They have their reasons – and if you are a recipient of a sacrifice then how you respond is up to you. No, the point that I hear from non Christian religious people about Jesus being a good shepherd and his death is to challenge the one and the many. In essence the argument goes that Jesus can’t die for everyone – for the whole of humanity – that’s a lot of people – because that isn’t the way the world works, it is not how justice works,

it is not how religion is supposed to work. One may guide, support, help others – even a group maybe. One may even sacrifice for another person or again a group. But to claim that one sacrifice can be for the many when the many is every single person who has ever lived (!) is just fantastical, magical, delusional.

And yet that is the message of one cross and one empty tomb – that God cares for us so much – not as pets but as people who have lost their way and with self delusion regard themselves as gods and poison themselves and their world and this will all end in death. But God loves us all – everyone – and us individually – and Jesus’ death and resurrection tells us that God wants us to live – with him – and with others. And then we – as individuals – can live so that the many around us can be blessed. GS