Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dismissed by the Good Shepherd

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Alleluia, alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!

During the Great 50 Days of Eastertide (and on other major feasts), it is our custom to sing the Dismissal at St. Timothy’s 10 AM Eucharist. It is beautiful. It is in keeping with the sung liturgy’s character. It underscores the festive character of this season. But, it is more than any of these reasons: it emphasizes the meaning of the Dismissal itself…much as having the Gospel chanted on major feasts forces us to “hear” it differently.

The last words of the Eucharist are those of the Dismissal. They conclude the liturgy with a resolve: to go into the world as people with a purpose. We don’t skulk off, back to our “normal” lives after Sunday worship. We are sent into our lives from the point of total reality that is the Eucharist. We go out renewed in strength and our mission as ambassadors of, heralds for, participants in the Gospel. Singing the Dismissal, with its joyful dialogue, draws this out in a more explicit, dramatic “tonality.”

The restoration of the Dismissal to the Anglican form of the Eucharist was one of the supreme gifts of the 1979 revision of The Book of Common Prayer. Having the Dismissal formally end the liturgy gave it much greater clarity of form. But, it did much, much more than that. It returned to the Eucharist an essential element of mission. After being blessed, we are pointed out the doors as people full of a gift meant not only for ourselves, but to be shared.

This Sunday is informally referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” due to the collect and the appointed Gospel lesson. This Sunday functions both to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s words about himself as the true, real, model, ideal, or good shepherd, and as a subtle re-orientation of the meaning of the Resurrection from being a hidden, inner event to something with global implications. In John 10, Christ speaks of “other sheep” that need to be brought back into the One Flock. The Cross and Resurrection are the necessary pre-conditions for this reunion of all the flock. This Sunday, then, begins to point our minds towards Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit that will unlock the Resurrection’s meaning for the Church so that those "other sheep" can come home. It is that pasture you and I are privileged to call home as part of Christ's Body, but that privilege assumes our desire to invite others to share in this life.

As we end the Eucharist this Sunday, we very much need to emphasize that the Good Shepherd—who is the true host of this meal—has fed us with his gift of New Life and now sends us out into the new week as intentional sharers of that gift. In so doing, we “love and serve the Lord” in exactly the way the Good Shepherd desires.
Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter 
O God, whose Son Jesus 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.

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