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Good Shepherd Sunday in a COVID-Shaped World

John D. Witvliet, director of Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, introduces resources on how to observe the Good Shepherd Sunday in the time of COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past month in this surreal, upside-down world, Christian churches have been scrambling to minister in times of anxiety, fear, and—in some places—especially intense trauma.

All the while, we were looking ahead toward Easter. It is good to have a milestone in the near future to look forward to. While we live in the context of Easter hope every day of the year, and while every Sunday is a little Easter, what a gift it is to commemorate Easter together, hearing people all over the world proclaim “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”!

Now, in the shadow of Easter, I pray for deep, Sabbath-like rest for all pastors, musicians, artists, and liturgical technical coordinators who have been working so creatively and resourcefully to prepare for all of this.

And then, it will be a gift to once again look ahead, to set our sights on another milestone.

Here’s a proposal: as we move together toward Ascension and Pentecost, let’s set our sights on on May 3, 2020: Good Shepherd Sunday.

Christian traditions that follow the most common lectionaries typically mark the fourth Sunday of Easter with Bible readings from Psalm 23, John 10, and other texts which help us envision the compelling image of the risen Lord as our Good Shepherd.

How we need this now! Truly, the Lord is our Shepherd even in the valley of the shadow of death. Truly, the Lord leads us beside still waters—even, surprisingly, when the waters of chaos are all around. Truly, the Lord sets a table for us—even when we are beholding the mystery of our Lord’s Supper communion online.

So find some bookmarks and place them in your Bible at Psalm 23 and John 10. Search for the most compelling shepherd references throughout your Bible—in Jeremiah and 1 Peter and more.

As time allows, ponder these questions: Which musical setting of Psalm 23 is your heart song? (Or which five are your top contenders?) Which icons and images paint the picture of the Good Shepherd in ways that resist sentimentality and open up new dimensions of awareness and gratitude?

Over at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website for church resources in a COVID-shaped world, we look forward to sharing several resources over the next few weeks for Good Shepherd Sunday, including several about musical settings of Psalm 23. Look for posts on hymns by Michael Hawn, on choral music by Pearl Shangkuan, and more. For starters, see these family devotions by Bob and Laura Keeley based on Psalm 23.

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