The Good Shepherd

John 10:11-13 (New Living Translation)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.
A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

The National Cathedral in northwest Washington DC is a great place to visit. I’ve been there many times since we moved here in 2013. The Cathedral has several large, beautiful worship spaces. The towering vaulted ceilings of the ground floor nave. The magnificent stained glass windows, each with their own fascinating history. The Bethlehem Chapel, built on top of the Cathedral’s foundation stone. The Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, with its vivid mural of Jesus’s burial. The Resurrection Chapel, a beautiful space with a blue and gold mosaic of a triumphant Jesus. The Children’s Chapel, with its miniaturized chairs and organ.

Good Shepherd Chapel at The National CathedralBut my favorite is a tiny chapel off the the beaten path: The Good Shepherd Chapel. It could possibly seat six people — if they didn’t mind sitting extremely close together. (Not a space for someone who suffers from claustrophobia!) Small and intimate, I find it to be the most precious room in the whole grand Cathedral. I have visited it several times: alone, with my husband, with my doctoral cohort, with friends travelling to DC.

Even in the heat of the DC summer, the chapel is always refreshing. It’s quiet, as most of the tourists are in the more spectacular areas of the Cathedral. It is calm. It is peaceful. It is lovely. The inlaid carved statue at the front is of Jesus tenderly holding a small lamb, looking down on it with compassion and care.

Each time I am struck by one small detail: the hands on the sculpture at the altar. Out of all the light-colored stone in that tiny room, the hands alone are a darker brown.

Years of people coming up to the altar to place their hands on Jesus’s hands have transferred oil to the stone, polishing it, burnishing it, until the hands look almost alive.

The “Good Shepherd.” That’s what Jesus calls himself in our scripture passage for today.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.

A shepherd’s job is to care for the flock, to feed and water them, to lead and guide them. And, if they are in danger, to protect them with all the shepherd’s might. Isaiah 40:11 says this: He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”

Intimate. Personal. Caring. Powerful. Loving. Protective.

It is no wonder that people are drawn to this image of God, that they are compelled to reach out their hands and to touch it.

There is something — deep inside each of our spirits — that yearns to be loved like that.

How loved and protected do you feel right now in your life?

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