Letter to parishioners, 7 May 2022

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

I should begin by apologising that I did not send the regular Letter to Parishioners last week. I’m afraid that benefice, deanery and diocesan commitments mounted up in a way that left me no time to write. Thankfully, this week has not been quite so ‘action-packed’!

This Sunday has a double focus for us to contemplate and pray about. Our gospel reading (John 10:22-30) opens with us being given a specific context in which Jesus is speaking. It is the festival of the Dedication, it is winter, and Jesus is walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. We are then given an account of the Jews gathering around Jesus to ask him for a specific declaration of his Messiahship. Jesus must have felt quite exasperated that, despite all he had said and done, there was still such uncertainty and disbelief. Then Jesus uses the imagery we find in Psalm 23, he speaks of his followers as his flock and, therefore, himself as the shepherd. Where the shepherd (Jesus) leads, the faithful flock will follow. Furthermore, those faithful followers will come to enjoy the greatest reward: the protection of Jesus’ heavenly Father.

The other focus for this Fourth Sunday of Easter is that it is celebrated throughout the Church as Vocations Sunday. The day on which we are specifically called to reflect upon Christ’s call in our lives. For many the notion of ‘vocation’ means nothing. They consider a ‘vocation’, particularly in spiritual terms to be a calling into ordained ministry, but they are wrong. Yes, those who have responded to God’s call by going forward into ordained ministry will use the word ‘vocation’ with a fluency which others may find challenging and uncomfortable, but the reality is that we are all called to pursue the vocation God has prepared for us. And we do all have a vocation!

Every person has the potential to be a faithful member of Christ’s flock. However, that can sometimes lead us down dark and uncertain paths. Sometimes we will find ourselves being challenged to stand up and be counted as we are called to confront abuse, injustice and a whole range of other social evils. Sometimes God’s call will simply be to care for family, friends and neighbours as they struggle with the demands of daily life. God’s call (our vocation) can take many different forms. It is our Christian duty to listen for that call, and to pray for the strength to respond to it. It is our Christian duty to allow ourselves to be led where God feels that we can serve him best.

This is, of course, an easy thing to say whilst not necessarily being the easiest of things to do. In our modern world, self-interest and the building of secure walls around ourselves is seen as being of paramount importance. That is where the Jews who question Jesus in this week’s gospel reading are situated. They are only willing to take the risk of following Jesus if it can be proved in empirical terms that they will be comfortable and safe. Jesus’ words suggest that there is another path, and on this Vocations Sunday we are called to explore that path through a prayerful engagement with the calling God has for us. Let us pray for the strength to do just that!

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen