Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr of Carthage, 258
1 Peter 5:1-4, 10-11
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” — John 10:14-15
The Good Shepherd captured the hearts of the early Christian community living in Rome. There are images in the catacombs under that city of a beardless young man dressed in a short skirt and high boots. He stands in a meadow, surrounded by sheep, a lamb slung across his shoulders. This is Jesus. He is not shown hanging on a cross; there are no depictions of the crucifixion at all in the catacombs. Nor is he sitting on a throne surrounded by angels.
I imagine the Romans, a cosmopolitan people whose gods are distant, heartless and constantly demanding of sacrifice. It is not the idea of the death and resurrection of Jesus that gets them out of their warm, safe houses and leads them to the dangerous underground community of followers of The Way. At least, it isn’t that directly. No, what speaks to them is a relationship with a God who cares deeply and compassionately, always, for them. Jupiter and Juno and the Emperor of Rome sit far away on their golden thrones. The Good Shepherd is a hands-on working-class laborer, and we know his voice in the very heart of our being.
Following the Way of Jesus means pursuing our own heart’s deepest truth. Something familiar, that we would recognize anywhere, lays itself across the doorsills of the soul to keep away the wolves – that’s God. The Holy One is as near as the next breath or its absence and always attuned to us in the most intimate of ways. It is the presence we can always home in on, the Beloved.
The muttering of the gods of the 21st Century on their high, unattainable thrones – Beauty, Success, Power, Impeccable Parenthood, and all the rest – deafen us with their constant demands. If we worship them, we sacrifice endlessly. Like the Roman Christians, we, too, need to sneak away. We need to slink away from our busy lives, sidle down the alleyways to a dangerous underground of the spirit. Through moments of silence, or in prayer, or while journaling or taking a walk we may come to that place within where we meet the Good Shepherd.
Oh Holy One lying across our threshold, help us recognize you in all our quiet moments, and understand that we are called by you even as we call to you. In your name we pray. Amen.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. She will soon manage a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.