How is your inner sheep? Strangely, I’ve found myself talking about sheep quite a bit over the last few months. Some of you may remember there was a sheepish flavour to November’s Parish Praise. And if anyone was in Coddington on Easter Sunday you’ll recall how I mentioned that one of my favourite words is “frolic” and that I was a bit concerned at how little frolicking I’d seen so far this year.
Most of you weren’t in Coddington, I suspect so I’ll explain. What had happened, you see, was that during that warm spring weather we had so many weeks ago, Pam & I had walked the Worcestershire Way. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, flowers blooming, trees in bud and the lambs ... were all hiding behind hedges trying to keep cool. Was it to hot to frolic, we wondered. And then the following weeks it had been much cooler and greyer but we’d still got out on our bikes pedalling past fields full of sheep and lambs who now appeared all to be huddling together to keep warm. Could it be too cold to frolic, we wondered. And I really wanted to know so I asked the rural folk of Coddington, what is it with sheep these days - has the frolic been bred out of them or is there some optimum temperature which provokes frolicking? What’s going on?
Well after the service several people agreed they’d not seen a lot of frolicking either but one farmer told me - what it is, you need bumps in the field or tree stumps then one lamb jumps over them and all the others play follow my leader and that sets off a good frolic. So that’s it - the fields are too flat! It is plausible isn’t it? Isn’t it?
And what I really like about it is what a good analogy it provides. It is still the joyful Easter season, and what’s Easter all about after all? New life, flowers blooming in the woods, lambs gambolling in the fields and that resurrection story which brings joy to our hearts. It should at least inspire a little inner frolic even if we don’t all go dancing out the door at the end of the service. And if it doesn’t inspire a little inner frolic in me, perhaps my life is too flat, perhaps I’m playing too safe, maybe I’m failing to follow Christ’s example of engaging in the rough and tumble of the world around - perhaps I need to choose a bumpier field to live in.
I quite like that - it resonates with me, as they say. Be that as it may and coming up to date a bit, last Sunday we were in Central London, no sheep there, and we popped in to see just one room in the National Portrait Gallery, a collection of contemporary portraits. It was all interesting stuff but comparing notes afterwards we’d both been struck by the same painting. It was of Sir David Hare, who is a playwright, and he’s portrayed somewhat slumped in an armchair with two or three theatrical props around him. One of which is a stern looking... sheep with a shepherd’s crook, peering round the side of the chair. And amongst the accompanying blurb there was some explanation from the artist: Commenting on the lamb, a prop she made herself, she said: 'The things I couldn't get into David's face I put into the sheep's face…it goes well with him and looks after him.'
For me, that provokes quite a few lines of thought - the fact that no one image can convey the truth about anything, the idea of the sheep doing the looking after and so on. In Christian imagery of course, we have Christ portrayed as the Lamb of God and at the same time Jesus proclaiming himself the good shepherd, as we have just heard. So maybe this idea of Christ as both shepherd and lamb is one we need to get our heads round. And perhaps the clue is where Jesus says we will all know him and recognise him and his voice. Because just as no one image of Jesus can hope to do him full justice, so no one voice of Jesus will speak to each of us individually. If we accept the promise that we will hear and recognise his voice, we have to accept that we’re not all going to hear the same voice. On a fairly mundane level, for example, I’m sure we will all take different things away from this service. Some may have come looking for consolation and if you have, I hope you find comfort from some part of our worship this morning.
On the other hand some of us may need a bit of a jolt. After we’d been in the gallery last Sunday we went to Choral Evensong at St Martin’s in the Fields, hoping to revel in some uplifting music. Which we did - it was lovely. But the reading was the story of Lazarus and the rich man which I’m sure you’ll recall, makes uncomfortable listening for anyone who is reasonably affluent, especially when you step out afterwards and encounter beggars and homeless people on the streets of a place which is such fun ... if you can afford it.
Jesus does speak to us as we need - some times it will be words of hope and comfort and some times it will be telling us that it falls to us to do the looking after. I guess the main thing is to be sure we are listening and recognising when he does speak to us.
So how is your inner sheep? - I do hope that even, or especially if things are a bit bumpy in your life, you still find it in yourself to manage a little inner Easter frolic. Alleluia!