O God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd of your people: Grant that, when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This collect, new to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, is fitting in light of the lessons appointed for the day. They are the reason that the 4thSunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday.
The order of the petition is most significant. “Grant that, when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.” There are three parts to it.
First is the call, “Grant that when we hear his voice.” This tells us that the Good Shepherd is the initiator. He calls and we answer. We don’t find God, He finds us. We see this in His call to Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and we see it continued in Jesus’ call to each of the disciples. Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.”The Apostle John said, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Second is the relationship. “Grant that…we may know him who calls us each by name.” In the ancient world shepherds would join their flocks at nights. This offered greater security for the sheep and fellowship for the shepherds. At daylight the shepherds would call to their flocks, and because each call was unique and the sheep knew their shepherd’s voice, the sheep knew which shepherd to follow.
The line, “who calls us each by name” points beyond a general knowledge of the shepherd. It is so much more than that. Jesus’ relationship to the sheep is intimate. As astonishing as it is, He likens His relationship to the sheep with His relationship to His Father. He said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father.”“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”We know that “God so loved the world” but the fact that He calls us and knows each of us by name tells us also that “God so loved you.” The Hebrew word is “hesed” and it means a “steadfast, covenant love.” It is because of this love that the Good Shepherd says, “I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Third is the life of obedience, “and follow where he leads.” It cannot be overstressed that our obedience flows not from the law but from our relationship with the Shepherd. We are not driven by fear, rather we are led by love. And because we know that He loves us and wants what is best for us, it is a joy rather than a burden to obey. Obedience becomes second nature when we freely admit that we are just sheep and only the Good Shepherd knows how to find the green pastures and the still waters. So why would we not follow where He leads?
Our relationship to Jesus as our Good Shepherd is perfectly summarized in Psalm 23. If we will answer His call and follow where He leads, which includes “the valley of the shadow of death, ” we can still know that “surly goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
John 15:16 NLT
I John 4:19